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Power in numbers: UNH student groups launch Sustainability Alliance

This column first appeared in The New Hampshire, the student newspaper at UNH on Friday, September 21st.  The piece was authored by Climate Counts intern Ben Trolio.

With the recent news that UNH has been named by Sierra magazine as one of the Top 10 “coolest schools” for its commitment to sustainability, student groups recently came together to fulfill the need for a unified approach to on-campus messaging.

The Student Sustainability Alliance (or SSA for short) is the brainchild of the UNH Sustainability Institute, Climate Counts (a UNH-based nonprofit) and students who get the big picture. These groups realized that building relationships is the key to organizational success and to extending the sustainability message beyond individual programs.

“In order for students to engage in our sustainability ethos at UNH, they first need to understand what it means,” said Jackie Furlone, program assistant at the Sustainability Institute. “With groups representing food systems, climate change, ecosystems, energy and society, it will help get the message across that we are taking an integrated approach to having a positive impact on our community.”

Student groups participating in SSA include Slow Food, Get Real, Oxfam, Net Impact, Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC) and the Organic Gardening Club. Together these groups encompass all aspects of sustainability and can reach the entire student body.

With one meeting under its belt, the SSA has already struck gold in pushing the sustainability envelope even further at UNH. Net Impact and SEAC are considering a potential partnership around sustainable investments at UNH.

With the university investing over $100 million in the free market to leverage its financial savings, some of these investments are tied to oil and gas companies, which increase society’s dependence on the burning of fossil fuels, a leading contributor to climate change. SEAC is addressing this issue through the Divest for Our Future campaign, which is asking President Huddleston to commit to stopping investment in fossil fuel companies. Meanwhile, Net Impact is researching viable alternatives related to sustainable investment practices and responsible reinvestment. Potential collaboration between Net Impact and SEAC is a taste of things to come for SSA.  Through similar initiatives, the SSA hopes to mobilize students around a common vision.

The early success of the alliance is possible because of the realization that smaller student groups can have a much larger impact when coming together to tackle shared challenges. By making connections across sustainability groups with overlapping missions, there is less competition for the same audiences at UNH, and less confusion among the student body as to what sustainability means and how they can engage.

The SSA is ready to step into its role as a common voice for UNH’s student-led sustainability initiatives—not just for students of today, but to leave a legacy of sustainability at UNH. This alliance marks an opportunity for student groups to realize their collective vision around sustainability and to propel our university to new heights.

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