Ohio University

Student Climate & Sustainability Ambassadors promote environmental literacy and action

Published: December 9, 2020 Author: Jordan Schmitt

As the world becomes more cognizant of climate change, sustainability initiatives are growing. Ohio University’s Climate and Sustainability Ambassadors, a program launched in March 2019, aim to improve climate literacy among students on and off campus. Student ambassadors educate peers about sustainability and enact change throughout the Athens community. 

Nathan Kuhr, a member of the inaugural class of ambassadors, studies meteorology in the Honors Tutorial College. Kuhr saw the program as a chance to apply his knowledge of climate change. 

“The big thing I wanted to do with the ambassadors was not only enhance my own literacy on climate change and sustainability issues, but to go out into the community, educate and put sustainability efforts into practice,” Kuhr said. 

Ambassadors interact with the Athens community to increase sustainability measures, and members participate in at least three events per semester.

Ambassadors have visited Athens County schools to educate younger students about climate change. In addition, students help the community meet Environmental Protection Agency standards through marking storm drains. This advises citizens not to dump excess fluids into storm drains that may contaminate the Hocking River. 

The group has also hosted events to promote recycling at Ohio University sports events, typically football and basketball games. 

“We paired with Bobcats Recycle to ensure we maximize the amount of recycling that can be done at these sporting events, which obviously generate huge crowds and thus lots of consumption and subsequent disposal,” said Kuhr, who has helped out at two sporting events. 

Volunteers act as a first line of defense by standing in front of disposal stations and instructing spectators how to properly recycle waste. Other groups then sifted through trash for incorrect sorting and cleaned up waste from stands to be properly recycled.  

“It’s fulfilling to know that you are making a difference and really helping to affect change in the community,” Kuhr said. 

The Climate and Sustainability Ambassadors program was launched as part of a larger effort by the University’s Office of Sustainability to promote climate change literacy across students and faculty. In 2019 the office was organized into three “hubs” that tackle sustainability in different aspects of the university – sustainable administration, sustainable living and sustainable infrastructure. 

Dr. Ryan Fogt was appointed Ohio University’s Sustainable Administration Hub coordinator in January 2019 and oversees the Climate and Sustainability Ambassadors. 

“At its heart, sustainability is a tool for all decision making, not just those focused on the environment. The more students can think about the triple bottom line (the costs or impacts and benefits for people, planet and prosperity), the more conscientious they are of sustainability.  They are also more likely to make decisions that have a better result in the long term, without a significant negative impact on the planet or others,” Fogt said. 

During the fall semester, the Office of Sustainability has focused on four key themes to cover during the subsequent months: water, grounds, procurement and investments. The ambassadors partner with the office to implement education, action and engagement strategies.

In order to promote a more sustainable Ohio University, improving overall knowledge of sustainability is a key goal of the ambassadors. This semester, the group produced its first podcast series, the Sustainability Series. The series publishes a new episode each Thursday of the semester, and can be accessed via Apple or Spotify Podcasts, or through Ohio University’s YouTube channel. 

“They are created and produced entirely by the ambassadors and have been a great education and outreach tool,” Fogt said.

Graduate Assistant Olivia Wolff collects audio content from the ambassadors which she then edits for the podcast series. Wolff is working toward a master’s degree in environmental studies through the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs. 

The first episode of the Sustainability Series premiered in September. The podcast featured an interview between senior Liz Myers and her research advisor, Dr. Guy Riefler. Myers studies civil engineering and is a student researcher in the department. She works with Dr. Riefler on an ongoing investigation into acid mine drainage in Southeast Ohio. The prospective civil engineer has spent her past three summers dedicated to the project, gaining field and lab research experience. 

As a Climate and Sustainability Ambassador, Myers recognizes her professional benefits from the program. The podcast acts as a platform for Myers to share her research accomplishments with the Ohio University community. Myers also feels that the program effectively communicates sustainability needs across campus. 

I think that by having students involved as representatives for Ohio University, we’re getting people talking about sustainability. This podcast brings up topics that we normally wouldn’t discuss,” Myers said. 

The podcast series is also a networking tool for ambassadors. They are able to interview professionals and gain public speaking experience. In addition, it has also allowed the group to collaborate online and work together remotely.   

Through such efforts, the ambassadors keep busy with their dedication to combating climate change. These passionate students are accomplishing their goal of spreading awareness to protect the environment within Athens and throughout Ohio.

Students can apply to become a Climate and Sustainability Ambassador here