March 4, 2008

U of C names Heineman to lead sustainability push

The U of C Sustainability Council has hired Eric Heineman, an expert on sustainable practices, technology, and education, to fill the newly created project manager position for the Council.

The Council, created in 2004 through student-initiated dialogue about environmentally sustainable practices on campus, is currently composed of student, faculty, and administrators.

“The whole [sustainability] movement that’s been happening across college campuses came from the students,” Heineman said. “I think the advantage is that we have the students.”

Heineman said that the responsibilities of the position will include increasing communication among campus organizations and units to streamline collaboration on sustainability projects. “Every department is doing a lot of different things but not necessarily all together,” he said.

He said that he will contribute his experience with green initiatives to the U of C’s Sustainability Report, which addresses environmental issues on campus and suggests future green initiatives. The Council is currently compiling the report.

He added that he plans to revamp the Council’s website, developing it into an information hub where students and organizations can come together and share ideas and resources.

The Council and University administrators hope to eventually make Heineman’s six-month position a permanent addition to sustainability efforts on campus.

Bill Michel, associate vice president for student life and associate dean of the College, said that encouragement from students and staff motivated the University to create Heineman’s position.

“One of our goals with having Eric in this position is to really tie a lot of the work that students, staff, and the University are doing to make it more visible and apparent,” Michel said.

“The University administration and student community has been pushing for a position like this for last five, maybe eight years” said third-year Zoé VanGelder, co-chair of the Sustainability Council. She added that the new administration has been particularly receptive to making the campus greener.

The University’s day-to-day operations already include many sustainability practices, said Venkat Kumar, director of energy and utility management at the University. Kumar said that currently the University’s main weakness in sustainability operations is the general lack of awareness of its new initiatives. Much of what the school does is not visible to University members, he said, adding that new construction projects on campus, such as the Center for Biomedical Discovery, include sustainability features.

Current efforts to improve campus sustainability range from composting programs in the dining halls to developing plans for new green buildings. Campus events like Battle of the Bulbs have also raised community awareness of environmental sustainability, and an upcoming Captain Planet–themed Earth Week is scheduled for the week of April 21. During the week-long celebration of green living, student organizations and community businesses will come together to produce an academic, interactive event tailored to the environmental interests of U of C students.

“The goal is to be as sustainable as you can, not to be perfect,” Heineman said.

“Part of the problem is that people tune out—students and adults—when you start talking about sustainability. Then you don’t do anything and become apathetic.”

During his time as a part-time computer teacher at Lincoln Hall Middle School in Chicago, Heineman created a seven-year sustainability timeline for the school that addresses academic programs, campus operations, and environmental outreach.

Heineman said that he looks forward to tapping into the sustainability opportunities that the University and the city of Chicago offer.

“We’re at such a good advantage because we have Mayor Daley pushing for a green city,” he said.

“I think right now our strength is that we’re growing and we’re growing in a more sustainable path,” he said.