4Qs: University of Alabama Leads on Climate

Margaret Wilbourne

University of Alabama

Role in SG: Director of Environmental Affairs

Major: Interdisciplinary Studies – Environmental Science Studies and Sustainability

Graduation Year: 2016

With our Climate Leadership Summit series just around the corner, we wanted to take a look at how campuses across the country are leading on environmental challenges. We talked to Margaret Wilbourne, Director of Environmental Affairs at the University of Alabama, about her role in their sustainability program.

What problems did you notice that you wanted to address?

As an underclassman, I knew I wanted to get involved the first time I noticed the lack of recycling on campus. I noticed we have maybe five cans total and I wondered why we didn’t have more. I wanted to make that difference. The longer I’ve been involved with SG, the more I’ve realized the gap between what the university actually does and what we see as students. You know we even recycle paper clips? I didn’t know that, and most of our students don’t. So I wanted to help bridge that gap, and show the steps the university is taking to be more sustainable.

How did you approach setting up this project? Did you have a source of inspiration?

I started on the Recycle Alabama Committee, and the goal was to increase recycling; but when I became director, I wanted to broaden our scope. Instead of just tabling and talking about recycling, we branched out, we tried to get broadened interest, expand our reach beyond those predisposed to our message. We work with Greek groups and environmental groups, and some of our best projects came out of this cooperation.  We hold Instagram contests every month, highlighting appreciations of the Tuscaloosa environment. We’ve had a Green Week celebration, where we pull together different contests. We have a farmers market on campus, we helped promote green events, tried to get the campus as a whole together.

How do you hope this program grows in the future?

What I’d like to see in the future is a whole new sustainability committee, one that works with the community of Tuscaloosa, and a policy team that works with our administration. This team could work to create more recycling opportunities, but also broaden our reach, and really create a dedicated sustainability effort on campus.

What advice do you have for other student leaders trying to replicate your success?

  • Don’t get burned out. Keep pushing for what you want to see happen, because eventually it’ll happen.
  • Tap into existing excitement. Culture now has such an interest in environmental sustainability. This is helping to push movements on campus. We see the effects this is having, and this drives our desire to improve our campus community.

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