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Walking the sustainability talk

Eric Beeler holds his Pitchfork Award trophy
May 01, 2012

For their work to reduce water bottle consumption on the Tempe campus, students Eric Beeler and Natasha Yenina received this year’s Pitchfork Award for Outstanding Sustainable Project.

Beeler is a sustainability student and Executive Director of Campus Student Sustainability Initiatives. Yenina studies political science and Russian and is the Campus Affairs Coordinator for the Undergraduate Student Government.

The two had been separately working on bringing water bottle refill stations to campus – in residence halls, the Memorial Union, the Student Recreation Complex, and potentially libraries. In the fall of 2011, they decided to pool their resources and research capacity and focused on getting water bottle refill stations into the Memorial Union.

If you haven’t noticed refill stations in the Memorial Union, it’s because they’re awaiting funding approval. The pair’s award-winning proposal has been approved by the Office of University Sustainability Practices; they hope to fund the project through the Sustainability Initiatives Revolving Fund.

Relating education to practices

As is the case for many ASU students, a scholarship originally led Beeler to attend ASU. After spending some time as a finance major, Beeler switched his major to sustainability. His family had been sending him articles about the growing field of sustainability, and he took an interest in it.

He says he found his niche working on campus sustainability initiatives. In his work for ASU Housing, he was involved with the School of Sustainability Residential Community last year and continues to serve as a mentor to some of those students.

Beeler said something that sets ASU and the School of Sustainability apart from other institutions is the amount of practical experience students benefit from.

“I wouldn’t have gotten as much support and acknowledgement at another institution. Everyone on this project can say it’s been a learning process,” he said. “It’s rewarding that that desire and academic pursuit has been nourished at SOS and by the academic professionals.”

Beeler is also a member of Alpha Chapter of the Honor Society for Sustainability Society at ASU.

His advice to future students is to get involved on campus early. “If they see something that they don’t think is right on campus – like, why are the lights always on at night? – really question those things. Work with facilities management and Dr. [Nick] Brown’s office. They can work through their problems and submit proposals, and then that’s a real-world project.”

Beeler recognizes that the definition of sustainability is evolving. “It’s finding that healthy balance, looking at costs and benefits and trying to have social equity, economic balance, and environmental health. Not just for now, but also for future generations.”

In May, Beeler will graduate with a degree in sustainability, a minor in urban planning and sociology, and a certificate in public administration and public management.

In the fall, he will be a graduate assistant at the University of Kansas as he works toward a master’s degree in higher education. Ultimately, he wants to incorporate his passions for sustainability and higher education into his career.

Written by Kathleen Gormley

Media contact:
Carol Hughes,