The Daily Illini

Center for a Sustainable Environment may be elevated to institute status

By Claire Hettinger

The University shows its continual support for environmental causes with plans to elevate the Center for a Sustainable Environment to the status of the Institute for Sustainability, Energy and the Environment, pending approval by the University Board of Trustees at its meeting Thursday.

The center, which was established in December, is currently transitioning into the institute because of pressing global issues surrounding sustainability and concern for these issues from the campus community, said Evan DeLucia, newly named director of the institute. He said plans for the institute have also received support from Chancellor Phyllis Wise.

DeLucia said the institute will have three main components that it focuses on: research, education and outreach, as well as a campus and community sustainability component.

“We are launching five major research themes — it is a little unclear exactly what they are going to be because we are defining those now,” he said.

Pending approval by the Board of Trustees and the Illinois Board of Higher Education, the center should be able to officially call itself an institute by the end of the fall semester, DeLucia said.

“I’m pretty confident that we are going to get through very quickly because a lot of people want to see this happen, and it’s gotten really strong support,” DeLucia said.

In recent years, there have been many attempts by the University to form similar environmental entities without much lasting success.

“I’m skeptical and hesitant because I’ve seen two iterations of similar things, and I’ve only been here for six years,” said Eric Green, Ph.D. student in the department of natural resource and environmental sciences.

DeLucia said the institute’s broad ownership and strong research foundation will help it last — factors the other entities did not have. The institute will answer environmental questions with its research, which will also generate the finances to support itself.

“(Research) is really where our educational pieces stems from; that is where we get students involved,” he said.

Tyler Rotche, co-president of Students for Environmental Concerns and senior in LAS, said he would like to see the institute give equal weight to on-campus action as they do to research.

“They are both integral to making a better campus that is going to reach the goals set out in the Climate Action Plan and also for transparency,” he said.

Rotche said he hopes the institute will stay in touch with student groups better than its predecessor does, explaining that he would like to see the institute allow students to be more involved in their environmental efforts. He said Students for Environmental Concerns requested to be a part of the center’s steering committee, but never heard back. He added that members of Students for Environmental Concerns did not even know the center was becoming an institute.

“I think any aspect of decision-making on campus should have different avenues for students to be part of the decision-making process, to give commentary and for that commentary to be acknowledged,” he said.

The Center for a Sustainable Environment supports itself through a donation from the Alvin H. Baum Family Foundation. DeLucia said the University has given them some start-up money for the institute, but he hopes to partner with both private sector and public entities to make the institute self-sustainable so it is not a burden on the University.

“We have to practice what we preach. We can’t have the best sustainability research in the country and then not have a very sustainable campus,” said Marika Nell, executive chair of the Students for Sustainability Committee and a senior in Engineering.

Green said it’s hard to raise money for research if the University is not implementing its discoveries — something he believes DeLucia recognizes.

“I think he feels strongly that it is important for us to be operating in a way that is in line with the research that we think is important,” Green said.

Nell said the institute will be good for the campus as a whole because it will bring students, faculty and staff from many disciplines together. She said she thinks the institute will be more prominent than the center and have more influence on the community than the center did.

“It is important for (the institute) to contribute to a cultural change here on campus so that more people are aware of sustainability issues and more people are thinking about that and going out into the world with that perspective.”

Claire can be reached at [email protected]

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