Sustainability campaign spreads across campus

By Anna Toth

Students coming back from winter break were greeted by small, square signs near almost every elevator, prompting them to take the stairs and save electricity. The most noticeable sign isn’t on the elevators, but is affixed on the first flight of stairs in the Student Center.

The signs come from the Office of Sustainability, a fairly new department at Cleveland State University run by Director Jennifer McMillin. She is the sole member of the department but is in charge of  making the university more energy efficient and environmentally friendly.

“My position was created to pull it all together and engage the campus community in these issues,” McMillin said.

The current energy campaign is the latest attempt to engage the community in energy-saving techniques. The signs all reference burning calories or exercising, and the campaign is partnered with Vike Health, the employee health program at Cleveland State — but health is not the main goal of the campaign.

“I want people to get little reminders throughout the day about the things they can do that would make a difference in terms of environmental impact,” McMillin said.

The campaign checked a couple boxes for McMillin and allowed her to partner with Vike Health, which McMillin thinks is important. It allows people to be aware of the sustainability program at Cleveland State as well.

She also thought that the health part of the campaign opened the doors for her message to resonate with more people.

“It’s an environmental sustainability initiative from my perspective. However, partnerships are always really valuable,” McMillin said. “For some people, the whole electricity, energy variable doesn’t resonate, but if they resonate with a health campaign, that’s a good way to kill two birds with one stone.”

There were other noticeable changes made over winter break as well, like new stickers on recycling bins to help students distinguish what type of trash goes in to what bin. However, stickers on recycling bins didn’t impact the student body as much as the green signs around the elevators.

Cleveland State student Matt Horning, a junior journalism and promotional communications major, does not like the signs at all.

“I think it’s stupid,” Horning said. “We get it … we need to take the stairs more.”

He found the signs posted everywhere to be annoying, even though he knew that it came from an energy standpoint. However, a lot of students were confused about whether it came from a health perspective or energy perspective. While Horning knew it was the latter, he still thinks the signs should come down.

Horning also said that the signs would be more effective if they weren’t everywhere, especially on the student center stairs. The stairs are the most noticeable sign of the campaign and have generated the most talk.

McMillin generally doesn’t hear a lot of feedback on the campaigns she runs, but she has heard a lot of feedback about the addition on the stairs. She doesn’t know how long the sign on the stairs will stay up, but the signs by the elevators are meant to stay up for a while.

“If the stairs last the full semester, I’ll be happy,” McMillin said. “But the signs by the elevators aren’t going anywhere just yet.”

The signs are strategically placed in almost every building around campus, but they only occupy the first two floors of the buildings. In addition, the signs are only posted on elevators where the stairs are a very clear and visible option.

Being told to take the stairs can make some students, like Horning, feel a little put-off. In addition, there are students who are disabled and physically can’t take the stairs. To deal with this, McMillin did get guidance from Student Affairs.

“I did have meetings with Student Affairs and Disability Services before launching the campaign to get that perspective,” McMillin said.

The campaign isn’t meant to offend anyone with the signs or make them feel bad for taking the elevator. In her eyes, it’s just an energy campaign. Part of her job is to make Cleveland State a more energy efficient place — especially when it spends so much on electricity alone.

“Our annual electricity expenditure is roughly $4.2 million,” McMillin said.

While the high electricity bill is certainly another incentive to bring electricity use down, it is comparable with universities of similar sizes.

McMillin understands that people might have a variety of reactions to it, and at the end of the day, the signs might not be enough to get students to take the stairs. She hopes that it’ll at least make them think about it.

“My intent was just to have a little reminder by the button so you think about what you’re doing instead of just autopilot pushing the button,” McMillin said. “If you’re only going up one or two floors, you know, take the stairs, but make a conscious decision about it.”