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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Lot 60, a key component of the West Campus District Plan, is the university's largest surface-area parking lot.

ASM Sustainability targets ‘social sustainability’ amid climate crisis, campus redistricting

With a West Campus redistricting plan on the horizon and continual global climate concerns, ASM Sustainability is encouraging student engagement and communication.

As the climate crisis escalates, the Associated Students of Madison (ASM) Sustainability Committee and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Office of Sustainability seek increased student input for this upcoming school year. 

ASM Sustainability’s primary goal this year is to “empower students' sustainability organizations,” said Anna Silverman, one of the committee’s co-coordinators. “We want to promote social sustainability.”

Record-breaking heat, unsafe air quality and stretched-thin energy grids were at the center of Wisconsin sustainability concerns this summer. After working on fossil fuel divestment for the past two years, ASM Sustainability is focusing on “tangible campaigns,” Silverman said. 

Based on student feedback, they’re moving toward projects where students can see the impact of their activism within a year or less.

Upcoming campaigns include working with the Food Recovery Network to end food insecurity and increasing microwave accessibility in all campus buildings. They’re also working with environmental group Re:wild to make UW-Madison a pesticide-free campus. 

Another major sustainability issue on campus is the continued development of the West Campus District Plan (WCDP), a sweeping 30-year project to reimagine and redevelop a research-focused campus area that encompasses numerous laboratories and the University Hospital. 

WCDP planners increased communication about the project’s sustainability with nonprofit climate organization 350 Wisconsin following environmental concerns from student and community activists, said Winston Thompson, ASM Sustainability logistics coordinator and former 350 Wisconsin intern.

“Our role has shifted from more of an advocate standpoint to [a] more collaborative [one],” Thompson said. 

WCDP planners held a meeting with representatives from the Office of Sustainability and Wisconsin 350 in early September to discuss continuing conversations on the subject.

Paul Seitz, UW-Madison director of strategic initiatives for financial administration and a member of the WCDP planning team, told Thompson he wanted student engagement, but they disagreed on what it would look like. 

WCDP’s committee wanted student climate leaders to advocate for the student body in a smaller setting, Thompson said. 

Christina Treacy, ASM Sustainability chair, preferred student advocacy to take center stage at a larger public event, like a town hall. 

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“I wouldn’t feel comfortable speaking on something that I know a lot of students have a lot more opinions and knowledge on,” Treacy said.

The WCDP will continue to hear more feedback in many upcoming events. A student town hall hosted by ASM Sustainability and the Office of Sustainability is in the works, and there will be a session where environmental nonprofits and other city and state environmental groups brainstorm high-level goals for the WCDP team. 

The Office of Sustainability wasn’t immediately available for interview but said in a press release they plan to minimize environmental impacts from construction. Demolition will be determined “as this planning process moves forward,” the office added.

Thompson said communication from university parties working on the WCDP has been spotty. When he went to one public town hall on the plan, he said there was “a lot of deflecting when answering questions that arose around sustainability and affordable housing.”

"They definitely do need to work on student engagement and being able to answer the question,” Thompson added.

The project’s proposal date has been pushed back several times, initially from the end of summer to October and now to December. While Thompson said upcoming meetings and project presentation delays show work from WCDP on improving sustainability within their project, he felt the outcome will only be seen in the infrastructure.

“If they didn't want any of this, then they would have already presented back to the Board of Regents in summer,” Thompson said. “I do really believe that having these conversations, providing technical information and plenty of advocacy and showing them that people are watching and care will make a difference.” 

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Mary Bosch

Mary Bosch is the photo editor for The Daily Cardinal and a first year journalism student. She has covered multiple stories about university sustainability efforts, and has written for state and city news. Follow her on twitter: @Mary_Bosch6

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