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Student pursues sustainable living, organizes efforts campuswide

November 19, 2010

Dumpster diving isn’t on most people’s list of favorite activities, but Natalie Fleming actually enjoys it. She and a handful of other ASU students recently poured out the contents of several trash cans and campus recycling bins to find out what students throw away.

Their findings: students are making a strong effort to recycle, placing more items that can’t be recycled in the recycling bins, such as Coke cups. Fewer recyclables make their way into the trash. Contamination can result in entire bags of recyclables being thrown away.

The Waste Audit was part of a student-organized No Impact Week, in which students helped each other to live greener by trading goods, riding bikes, eating local foods and lowering their electricity usage.

Fleming, a junior majoring in sustainability, is one of about 200 ASU students living in Sustainability House at Barrett (SHAB), the sustainable-living community at Barrett, the Honors College. Her push for the environment extends campuswide, however, as she organizes events and leads a team for the student-led Center for Student Sustainability Initiatives, which she helped found.

Fleming was a high school senior in Mauston, Wisc., doing research on the Internet, when she found out that ASU was opening a School of Sustainability. As a youngster who had grown up doing 4-H projects, she was fascinated, realizing the school meshed with her burgeoning interest in the environment.

She applied and came to ASU on a Leadership Scholarship, becoming an intern for the campus environment department of Undergraduate Student Government. She moved on to be director the following year, organizing events for Earth Week and Campus Sustainability Day, overseeing the Green Team.

As her efforts snowballed, she founded the Center for Student Sustainability Initiatives, which recently gained its own space in Matthews Center.

“We’re covering a lot more ground now, getting more students involved, looking to solve some of the challenges at ASU,” says Fleming. “One of the biggest challenges is mobilizing people, finding those who are interested in sustainability and getting them together. Another challenge is waste reduction. We must find ways to overcome obstacles to composting food waste.”

Her group coordinated recycling and composting for Family Weekend and Game Days, and currently they are developing a recycling program for Dutch Bros Coffee, a local shop. They also are coordinating a campuswide bike registration campaign.

Fleming lives and works as a paraprofessional with about 45 freshmen in SHAB, organizing hall events and study sessions, hosting lunches with School of Sustainability faculty. One of her favorite professors is Hallie Eakin, who has come to eat with the students and teach them about sustainable foods.

SHAB students harvest food from their own rooftop organic garden, growing tomatoes, arugula, squash, broccoli, artichokes, eggplant, mint and basil. Twice a month they take turns cooking a community dinner, using their harvest.

The students also use energy monitors to keep track of their electricity usage, drape their colorful laundry on clotheslines across the central courtyard, recycle and compost their food waste and maintain a free store to trade goods. SHAB has a gray-water system for landscaping, and low-flow sinks, toilets and showers.

Fleming hopes to earn a master’s degree in food studies and public administration, after a possible stint in the Peace Corps. Eventually she’d like to have a career in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, helping make the nation’s food systems more sustainable.

Sarah Auffret
Media Relations