UM Students Conceive and Pursue Eco-Friendly Projects

By Alexandra Bassil

UM Students Conceive and Pursue Eco-Friendly Projects

By Alexandra Bassil
Passionate, professional, and driven ECO Agency members pursue the same goal: to make the U more sustainable.

Recycling. Food waste management. Reduced electricity usage and on-campus water consumption.

Working together with University of Miami administrators and the university-wide Green U effort, the Energy and Conservation Organization (ECO) Agency creates positive sustainable change on campus.

ECO AgencyCreated as a result of the Green U referendum passed by Student Government five years ago, the ECO Agency has successfully changed UM business practices in several areas. ECO has worked with UM’s Dining and Auxiliary Services, Housing and Residential Life, Parking and Transportation, Facilities, Athletics and the Wellness Center on initiatives that create positive change for the present and future. The effort is funded by each student with an allocation from the student activity fee to ECO.

The twelve member ECO Agency board is currently led by undergraduate student Josh Lomot and junior Kristin Butler. Both Lomot and Butler want to pursue careers in the environmental field. Lomot will graduate with a master’s degree in ecosystem science and policy and aspires to find a position to use the skills he’s learned studying environmental management, business and policy.

Butler, who prior to coming to UM was a student leader at her high school, seeks a career in environmental law, and is currently pursuing her degree in marine affairs and ecosystem science and policy. 

“Last year ECO Agency accomplished more initiatives than any other student agency,” said Butler. “From the fall 2015 semester to the conclusion of the spring 2016 semester, our environmental campaigns have yielded 24 distinct sustainable improvements to the UM campus. As a student it’s very empowering and exciting to work with a team of people who are equally issue-driven.”

Walk around campus and check out the positive effects on student life brought about by ECO. “We’ve built great relationships with Dining and Housing,” said Lomot. 

Over the years, those relationships with ECO working in partnership with Housing and Residential Life resulted in installing shower heads in the freshmen residence halls to reduce water consumption, while spreading awareness.

Another program, “Weigh the Waste” in partnership with Dining and Auxiliary Services, focuses directly on curtailing the massive amounts of food waste in the dining halls and created awareness about the issue. Co-sponsored with Green U, Food Day in 2015 promoted organic, local and healthy food. Some other projects that ECO has worked on include the solar panels installed and visible on the roof of the Hurricane Food Court. The solar array panels offset a portion of the food court’s energy consumption.

ECO Agency’s focus on education includes the annual week-long Earth Week program leading up to the national celebration of Earth Day every April. The events educate and excite students and encourage students to embrace environmental advocacy. The event is held in the center of UM’s Coral Gables campus and includes many on and off-campus organizations brought together to acknowledge both the beauty of our planet and the threat to the planet posed by human behavior.

Food waste has also been addressed in partnership with Dining Services. In a country where forty percent of all food that gets produced goes to waste, one in four citizens are also food insecure. This is not a problem of food scarcity in America, it is a problem of food distribution.

“By incorporating the Food Recovery Network (FRN), UM students will be able to help bridge the gap between food waste and starvation by packaging and shipping the leftover untouched dining hall food to the local homeless shelter: Miami Rescue Mission,” said senior Meredith Frost, who spearheads the ECO food recovery effort. “Chartwells already recovers thousands of pounds of food a year, however it is now time to get students involved in the process as well. FRN helps tackle issues in both hunger and waste disposal simply by the mechanism of redistribution.”

ECO further reinforces their mission to promote the importance of recycling on campus with student-athletes on many of UM’s sports teams, the stars of a fast-paced video shown on the video boards at Miami Hurricanes football games. The video has already reached more than 100,000 views.

ECO also spearheaded the expansion of LED lighting in campus facilities. The energy-saving effort led to the retrofitting of the Wellness Center to implement the new LED fixtures, a move that in the Centre Court area alone has reduced electricity usage by 66 percent.

“I had a remarkable experience with ECO last year,” said senior Derek Sheldon. “We facilitated a number of big developments around campus to enhance UM’s standing as progressive and a creator of more sustainable practices. I focused on convincing the Wellness Center to install LED lighting over their courts as an energy efficient and cost effective way to reach greater sustainability.”

While UM had already begun retrofitting pathways and parking garage lighting with LEDs, the Wellness Center is an auxiliary facility and therefore had to opt-in to the lighting changes.

"ECO is not like any other organization I've been a part of on our campus. Never have I been part of such a passionate, professional, and driven team, where everyone has the same goal—to make the U a more sustainable and environmentally-friendly place to live,” said Lomot. “These changes are not just for the students today, but for the class 2021, 2022, and beyond. As the University of Miami continues to be a center for innovation, I am incredibly proud of what ECO has become over the past five years, and I cannot wait to see what we can do in the next five.”