Thursday, September 22, 2005

The U of I’s Students for Environmental Concerns

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It’s not unusual to see campus environmental activism portrayed as a thing of the past, a phenomenon of the sixties and seventies. But having recently checked in with the U of I group, “Students for Environmental Concerns,” I’m happy to report that, whether or not they are making headlines, students are working as hard as ever to make positive environmental changes on campus and in the Champaign-Urbana community.

The group, which goes by the initials SECS, is a program of the University YMCA, where it meets, and a UIUC registered organization. It currently boasts somewhere between thirty and forty active members, whose academic interests include everything from natural resources and environmental sciences to English, psychology and civil engineering. In the words of current president Joe Teng, who takes pride in the group’s diversity, “You don’t have to be a hippie to care about the environment.”

You may recall SECS as the group that persuaded the Illinois Student Government to allow students to vote on a two-dollar per semester clean-energy fee back in spring of 2003. The fee, which passed with nearly seventy percent of votes cast in favor, has generated approximately two hundred eighty thousand dollars so far. That money is being used to get the ball rolling on a large-scale project to install one or more wind turbines for generating electricity on the new South Farms.

Currently, on campus SECS is focusing attention on recycling and energy conservation. Members maintain collection sites for ink-jet cartridges, which are then sold in bulk to a reprocessor. Proceeds from this operation are then used to cover the costs of recycling worn out batteries.

SECS is also working to promote energy efficiency on campus, beginning with energy audits of select facilities. The purpose of these audits is to identify what upgrades to existing facilities would have the most impact for conserving energy. In addition, SECS is encouraging University Housing to adopt commonsense conservation practices in dorms—things like energy-efficient lighting, and the use of energy misers on vending machines, which reduce the average electricity consumption of cold drink machines by about forty percent.

In the Champaign-Urbana community, SECS members conduct activities with environmental themes for after-school programs about once a month. These include presentations on topics such as recycling, along with related games and crafts; for example, bowling for plastic milk jugs and creating Halloween masks out of recycled materials.

As I worked on this profile, I couldn’t help but think of a quote from anthropologist Margaret Mead, who said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” At the U of I, the efforts of Students for Environmental Concerns remind us that such an ethos is alive and well.