Sustainability at the University of Alaska Anchorage: A Student’s Perspective

The Declaration, Volume 7, No. 1: Summer 2004  [Spotlight]

By Calvin Sweeney

After having called Alaska home since 1979, I decided to stay in state for my undergraduate studies, choosing to attend University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA). Having interests in conservation issues prior to enrolling at UAA in 2000, I was familiar with how polarized Alaskans are when it comes to environmental issues, with the pro-development choice representing the majority. Prior to enrollment, I had assumed that the university was more progressive with respect to conservation issues, especially with its well educated administration and faculty. However, I was astonished to find that environmental awareness was to a large degree a hidden agenda in the campus community. For example, with the exception of a few individuals, even basic paper recycling was nonexistent on campus until last semester when a few professors pushed it as a service learning option (a valuable program to get students involved with sustainability on the campus and in the community). Unfortunately, one of these professors left UAA and only two students are currently involved with the paper recycling program; the sustainability task team is currently working on this issue.

To credit the efforts by a select few, UAA does offer well designed environmental studies minor, which I will have completed at the end of this semester. I feel that the environmental studies minor classes have been categorically the most important classes that I have taken in my university experience. For instance, not only have these classes have enabled me to become acutely aware of many social, economic, and environmental issues that we face today, but more significantly, how critical it is to understand the interrelationships between these issues to find sustainable solutions. Furthermore, I am certain that the understanding and set of values instilled by these classes will help to guide my internal compass as I apply principles of sustainability to choices I will make with regard to employment, lifestyle choices, and community. As a result of taking the environmental studies minor, I hope to be a better person and contribute in some small way toward helping to make the world a better place.

As a student of UAA, I am proud to announce that last April we joined the ranks of more progressive institutes of higher education by becoming an official signatory to the Talloires Declaration. During the multi-day event, Dr. Anthony Cortese was not only our inspirational keynote speaker, but he also spent considerable time with the UAA students, faculty, staff, and community members helping to build the foundation we would need to succeed. We owe a great deal of our sustainability accomplishments so far to Dr. Cortese’s efforts.

Since the signing of the Talloires Declaration we have been progressing forward with the implementation process. For instance, we had a Chancellor appointed Task Force on Sustainability (TFS) last summer charged with developing a comprehensive campus-wide strategy to implement UAA’s commitment to the Talloires Declaration. In addition to a small group of faculty and staff, I was one of two students who was offered and accepted this appointment. My summer Task Force position has inspired me to stay involved with the implementation of the Talloires Declaration. This semester I applied for and was accepted into a Community Service-Learning Advocate Program. This program is a win-win: The University wins because I am going to research how to integrate systems thinking concepts, especially with how economic, social, and environmental issues are interconnected, into UAA’s curricula and campus community. I win because in addition to receiving a 3-credit tuition waiver, I have the opportunity to be involved with a very inspiring project that allows me to contribute in a meaningful way to sustainability at UAA.

Having limited staff and resources, our summer TFS had to prioritize our projects. We ranked these by order of importance. We choose coalition building as one of our first projects. In addition to working to expand our campus and community networks, we secured funds to join ULSF and the Education for Sustainability Western Network (EFS West). As members of ULSF and EFS West, we look forward not only to gaining new ideas and collaboration from our new colleagues over the coming years, but also to the power of synergy that results from these alliances. A group of us from UAA, for example, will be attending the EFS West conference from October 21-23, in Portland, Oregon. We are all looking forward to this great opportunity to learn and network with so many other individuals and organizations committed to a sustainable future.

Another project that we began working on this summer was looking at what other institutions of higher education have done to implement the Talloires Declaration. From this research the TFS compiled a number of both short and long-term goals. Had this information not been so readily available (e.g., on the web), we never could have made as much progress as we have so far. We want to express our admiration for what others have done to implement sustainability on their campuses and our gratitude for their willingness to share this information.

Although we feel an urgency to accomplish more sooner, at least we are traveling on the right path. Some of our other projects to date include increasing our visibility and accessibility by setting up our website. We also secured funding to purchase sustainable furnishings and a comprehensive book, journal, and video collection for a sustainability resource room in our new library building. An ongoing project we tried to initiate was a campus-wide 100% Post consumer content, chlorine-free recycled paper program for all campus photocopy machines. We had campus support and supplier interest in the program, but unfortunately we were only able to secure enough paper to run a few pilot programs. (Ideas are welcome.) An exciting recent development is that we secured funding to host a “Sustainability” conference at UAA that is scheduled for February 11-12, 2005.

Calvin Sweeney is a student intern and advocate with the Sustainability Task Team at UAA. He hopes to teach environmental studies at the college level. Calvin can be reached at

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