CU Boulder’s Student-run Environmental Center

In recent history CU Boulder has become a leading campus for environmental initiatives. At the heart of this effort is the university’s Environmental Center, established in 1970 by a group of students. 45 years later, it is the largest student-run environmental center in the country, and is constantly improving to reach its goal of making CU the most environmentally friendly campus it can be.

At the head of the “eCenter” is Dave Newport, the staff director. The Center is now staffed by ten full-time employees, as well as 120 student employees. If there’s one thing you can tell from meeting Dave, it’s that he’s proud of his student workers. “The students that are attracted to working here are, in my mind, the best, most caring students there are. Anybody that is willing to take the time, especially at such a young age, to care about something outside of themselves, is the kind of employee we need,” Dave said.

In keeping with history, the Center has stayed primarily student-run, with guidance from the staff. The ideas and initiatives still come from the students, and are organized by the staff. “My job is to take credit from the great work the students do,” Dave jokes, “Really, they come to me with an idea, and it’s my job to open up a hole in the defense so they can succeed.” This consists of working out how to realistically put initiatives into motion.

Dave’s office is tucked into the modest eCenter headquarters on the third floor of the UMC. Crowded with potted plants and ever-working employees, it is truly a place of environmental passion. But, with such a staff and so many programs, doesn’t the Center end up costing the University money somewhere? “Actually for every dollar spent, we give about $12 of value in return, so it’s pretty easy to convince the University that we’re necessary,” Dave replied.

One can tell from Dave’s excitement, as well as football analogies, that he really loves what the Center does. One program that has started during Dave’s time as director is “Ralphie’s Green Stampede,” an effort to make CU the first zero-waste sports program. With the aid of a hard-working campus recycling center staffed by students, this dream is quickly becoming a reality. The recycling center was one of the original initiatives of the eCenter in 1976, and to this day assists the campus with its recycling needs while employing students.

The Recycling Center is another unique part of the university’s eCenter, as CU had the first university recycling program. In speaking with Phoebe Thorne, a student employee at the Recycling Center, it became clear why the program is so special. “If you’re ever unsure about something being recyclable or not, just put it in there. We sort through everything that enters the facility to assure it’s properly recycled,” she said. Though the campus recycling center is a little out-dated, the team that works there is not. Luckily, the workforce behind the scenes is looking forward to some renovations. “Currently we are in a temporary site in a Kittredge parking lot while the new site is being finished,” Thorne told me, “but the new facility should have the upgrades to make the future of CU recycling more streamline and efficient!” With a current diversion rate of 42.7 percent, higher than the state and EPA average, there are even higher hopes for the new center.

You may be skeptical, maybe thinking “There’s no way you can just recycle things if you’re unsure.” But, this really comes into practice at Folsom Field, where the Buffs football team plays. In accordance with the “Ralphie’s Green Stampede” initiative, there are no trash receptacles inside the stadium, only recycling and composting bins. Part of the initiative is that nothing served within the stadium needs to be thrown away, and if you do bring your own items in that can’t be recycle or composted, you’ll be advised to just put it in recycling, to be sorted out by the recycling center team.

The Environmental Center has many initiatives on campus, working with different departments like the Leeds School of Business, as well as the Student Outreach and Retention Center for Equity (SORCE). These partnerships provide opportunities like events and presentations on campus, all in the name of environmental education. CU also reaches out past our community, especially with its mission to educate and improve environmental literacy. Another goal of the Center is to challenge other universities to reduce their footprint, this is done through their ‘Zero Waste’ presentation, accessible through their website.

The campus Environmental Center at CU has a large reach. The eCenter constantly pushes forward because of dedicated students, and is only a success because of the hard work put into it. Student initiatives, like the eCenter, are great ways for younger generations to innovate, and pass on knowledge to those who need it, like community leaders.

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