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UW-Eau Claire students usher in new sustainability efforts and education

| Denise Olson

Photo caption: A recent campus survey showed that only 12% of students arrive on campus in a car on their own; walking, ride-sharing and the city transit system free to students are preferred modes of transport.

Blugolds care a lot about the environment and issues surrounding sustainability, attitudes expressed in the many ways our students continually show up to both understand and educate on these important topics.  

In fact, this fall semester at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, there are several sustainability programs that began as student-driven ideas and have been funded by Student Senate approval of student segregated fees.  

More and more, Blugolds not only put their passions and energy behind creating a healthier environment and a sustainable campus, but they also vote to put their money behind those efforts as well.  

Student-driven projects for a greener place to live and learn

An exciting program this fall is an online learning module to introduce new students to the basics of campus sustainability efforts. So far, more than 375 students at the Eau Claire and Barron County campuses have chosen to complete the module as part of their orientation. Learn more about the orientation here.

This sustainability orientation was an idea initiated by students in recent years and built last spring in the campus virtual learning platform Canvas by geology and environmental studies student Ben Young.  

“Students at the Eau Claire and Barron County campuses can now quickly and easily learn about important campus efforts in overall campus sustainability, waste sorting, transportation and the BluBox program — four topics that impact their lives on campus.” 

“As a geology major, the environment is an important aspect of what I do every day. Our hope is that students will complete this orientation and become more interested in university efforts and explore more they can do themselves.” — Ben Young


students in hazmat gear sorting food waste and trash in research project about waste

Ben Young (left) was one of several students conducting research in 2021 related to the overall trash-reduction impact of the BluBox containers.

Young’s interest in sustainability was amplified by work on a collaborative student-faculty research project looking at student waste patterns in Davies Center, a “zero-waste” effort with Dr. Scott Clark, professor of geology and environmental science.

“I am proud of what he envisioned and created last year. Ben is a hard-working, dedicated student and I look forward to seeing what he does next in life,” Clark says. 

One of the first students to begin developing the sustainability module was Lily Strehlow, a 2020 Blugold economics and liberal studies graduate. She is now the campus sustainability coordinator with the Office of Risk Management, Safety and Sustainability.  

“I started brainstorming this concept in 2018 with other students in SOS,” Strehlow says. “We knew there was no aspect of new student orientation that highlighted sustainability efforts on campus, but we knew these issues are important to many students. Ben did an excellent job creating a finished product that emphasizes student needs and priorities.”   

More student projects in sustainability to come:

Whether it is through work in SOS or research projects like Young’s, UW-Eau Claire students continue to raise the bar on expectations for a sustainable campus. 

A few upcoming student projects and initiatives are: 

  • Upcycling vinyl signage and flags from the National Conference on Undergraduate Research last spring into reusable bags.
  • Spring compost pilot in Towers halls for spring 2024.
  • Four new internships fully funded by student segregated fees:
    •     A “Green Labs” intern focused on saving money, keeping laboratories organized and reducing laboratory waste.
    • A data collection intern who will collect greenhouse gas and other data.
    •     An equity and food security student coordinator who will partner with the Campus Harvest food pantry and the hydroponics project.
    • A waste reduction student coordinator who will work specifically with Strehlow on the composting pilot in the Towers halls.

If you have questions about the projects above or want to become more involved with general sustainability and green energy efforts on campus, please contact the Student Office of Sustainability at or Lily Strehlow at

A student removes a tray of very green, short microgreens from the hydroponics unit and places it on a nearby table.

The hydroponic garden towers in The Hub inside Davies Center provide sustainable fresh greens that can be available to students through the Campus Harvest food pantry or Marketplace.