By Holly Shanks
Webster students looking for an environmental and sustainability minded organization on campus might take a look at WSES. The organization’ s President Valerie Martin, says the group is working to educate about a sustainable lifestyle, but having some fun along the way too.
Webster Students for Environmental Sustainability (WSES) is a student organization looking to the future and providing an outlet for activism, education and community.
WSES President Valerie Martin, sophomore biology and French double major, explained WSES is a group that promotes sustainability in lifestyles of the students.
“We are definitely focused on education and discussion to get people to not just think about environmentalism in grand terms, but also in their lives,” Martin Said. “And not just the little things in their lives, but how can they be sustainable.”
Martin said the group, which formed in 2010, also acts as a liaison between the students and the university’s administration. One way the group does this is by meeting several times a year with Greg Gunderson, Ph.D., Webster’s vice president and chief financial officer. She said the meetings are held to discuss ideas Students have related to sustainability and if any budget is available for them. Also, WSES might be asked to give opinions and be part of a development board for different issues, such as if a new dorm building were to be considered.
Webster IT Project Manager Kris Parsons, graduated from Webster with her B.A. in International Human Rights and this year, completed an M.B.A., emphasis Finance. She joined WSES as a member in 2010 shortly after it formed.
Parsons has served as WSES vice president and led student groups to participate in Powershift events, including Midwest Powershift 2011. Powershift is an environmental justice movement organized by the Energy Action Coalition. Parsons said “WSES is also a participant group in the Missouri Coalition for Climate Justice as a result of attending these events and retreats.” She still acts as an alumni advisor to WSES.
“There were specific campaigns we ran that had goals we hoped to accomplish – 100 percent renewable energy by 2030, hiring a sustainability coordinator and fossil fuel divestment. Some were accomplished and some weren’t,” Parsons explained of her time spent as a member of WSES. “However, student activists and administrators developed a respectful and successful relationship and have worked together to advance sustainability at the University and I’ll always be proud of that.”
A couple of the Goals WSES is working on is waste reduction with Webster’s housekeeping department and also in the dining facilities, which is managed by Sodexo.
Martin said WSES officers have met with the director of housekeeping and they were “extremely” receptive in the discussion. They discussed what cleaning solutions are being used and different types of paper towels and alternatives for hand drying. At this time, the group has not yet met with the director of the kitchens and food staff to discuss ideas for reducing food waste and the use of disposable containers, especially ones that are not compostable.
Becoming a member of WSES is not all work without some fun activities as well, such as outdoor experiences, potluck dinners, and snacks at all the meetings, Martin said. Events like Girls Gone Green, which is an event where the female environmental and sustainability perspective is explored. Informational items and presentations are shown, such as a presentation about leading female environmentalists and the history of female environmentalism. Also, women’s natural beauty and hygiene will be a topic of discussion because, according to Martin, “those issues are not normally discussed or thought about when going to the store.”
“While we are formally focused on completing our objectives as far as energy efficiency, sustainability and waste reduction, we also are like, it’s a fun time to hang out also,” Martin said.
WSES has more female than male members and officers currently. Martin said she understands male students may not be interested in the Girls Gone Green event, but other areas of the club are inclusive of male involvement and participation, including the Natural Area volunteer workdays and general meetings.
Martin said the group is a place where different ideas and beliefs people have about sustainability can come together and be comfortable.
“Even among the officers we don’t all have the same vision of exactly what it means to be sustainable. I’m a vegan and one of our previous officers is also a vegetarian, but that does not mean that everyone in our club is a vegetarian for environmental reasons,” Martin said. “We definitely try to open it up and be like, we don’t want to dictate to you what you need to do, but here is evidence for what we think and if you have other ideas then we are all ears for those.”
Parsons answered a few questions that provide further reflection and insight about WSES and the time she spent as a member. Please click HERE to read the Q & A with Kris Parsons.