By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau
He’s the campus’ first student director of sustainability. But don’t expect Austin Rockwell to table pound during Green Week.
“My responsibility isn’t to save the planet,” said Rockwell, a communications major from Madison, Wis. “My responsibility is to inform students and make GCU more sustainable.
“Students are very passionate about the earth. There’s been a lot of press on climate change and it can get emotional and heated. But we don’t just get together and point fingers. Students need to feel listened to, but we also need to point the finger back at ourselves.”
What students can do individually for the environment is the focus of Green Week, which runs through Friday, and Rockwell’s newfound passion.
He worked for Associated Students of Grand Canyon University (ASGCU) President Sam Yonan’s campaign, which championed green issues.
They were important to students who were surveyed last year and raised questions about recycling on campus, said Courtney Sharp, ASGCU’s Administrative Vice President. That’s when the idea of a sustainability director was launched.
Rockwell wanted to help but said he needed to do more research over the summer.
“I learned a lot in three months, really studying sustainability,” he said. “We as Americans produce way too much and consume too much and do not dispose of it properly.”
What he wants students to take away from this week is what he has started to do in his own life after a summer of enlightenment.
“It’s a lot of little things,” Rockwell said. “Turning off the lights when you leave your room. Put in for maintenance if you have a dripping sink or shower faucets. Don’t always use a plastic bag; bring your own reusable bag.”
He suggests thinking how much plastic you are using while buying that 24-pack of water bottles. Or consider shopping at thrift stores to buy second-hand clothes.
It all adds up.
But perhaps the biggest issue for the campus, he said, is recycling. He wants students to be aware of which bins on campus are for recycling items and make sure not to throw trash in those bins. He’s also working with Facilities on increasing the number of bins.
In 2018-19, GCU recycled 580 tons, or about 12% of its waste stream.
“We are looking to do better this year. Working with Austin, we are going to increase the number of recycling bins on campus, particularly in the food areas,” said James Kossler, Vice President of Facilities Planning and Operations.
“Austin has the right mindset and recognizes that if we want to make real progress on green initiatives that both the GCU administration and students each need to do their part and work collaboratively to enact change.”
One way to do their part is not throw nonrecyclable trash in the recycling bins, which means an extra cost for the University.
Some Green Week participants want to tackle larger global issues, too.
An Instagram contest, Save Tommy, has a troubled turtle as its mascot. Students are encouraged to snap photos doing environmentally friendly actions to save the turtle, who doesn’t especially like swimming in plastic, and tag #SAVETOMMY @ASGCU. Then, they have a chance to win a T-shirt.
Other student clubs will be involved on the Promenade tables from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. through the week.
The Environmental Awareness Club started with only one initial meeting when it formed last year. It already has had two this year, and dozens of students have shown interest, said Kailey Neesen, the club’s president.
She hopes to swing the conversation beyond recycling to talk about climate change. It isn’t about whether it’s true that it’s human caused, she said. “We still need to be aware of our actions, if there is a better way of going about things. We have to do this for healthy future generations.”
Rockwell’s mom always told him “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” So he’s working on getting the word out with an ASGCU video and potential podcast segments. He has plans for an attractive GCU reusable bag to use instead of plastics at eateries or store locations on campus. He also helped launch the Sustainable Lopes Coalition, which met Tuesday night to talk about green issues.
He also has taken it personally, lugging his own mug to GCBC for coffee instead of using another disposable cup.
Rockwell will give a heartfelt reason on why it matters to him, but he won’t get self-righteous.
“My responsibility as a sustainability director isn’t to pitch students on caring. I’m an evangelist for Jesus Christ and not many more things. But if someone were to ask me why I recycle, I would say when God created the earth he purposed man to take care of the earth," he said.
“It is very much our responsibility to steward what God has given us and if it’s going in a negative direction make sure we do what we can do to preserve it.
“All it takes is a quick minute video on YouTube about trash in the ocean. Those videos are heartbreaking. Whether you are conservative or liberal, you know it’s not supposed to be there.”
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.