Jen Kleindienst ’09 returned to Hamilton on Oct. 21 to speak to the community about her career in environmental activism and give advice to those interested in the campus sustainability movement. She graduated from Hamilton with a bachelor's degree in public policy and holds a master's degree in environmental studies from Antioch University New England. Her lecture, titled “Challenges and Successes of Promoting Campus Sustainability,” was sponsored by the Arthur Levitt Public Affairs Center.
As Wesleyan University’s first sustainability coordinator, Kleindienst works with students, faculty, and staff to promote sustainable practices, focusing mainly on energy, waste, and water conservation efforts. Although her position at the university began just over one year ago in July 2012, she has already overseen an impressive number of initiatives aimed at reducing the school’s environmental footprint and lowering long-term operating costs.
For example, Kleindienst has compiled data using the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, & Rating System (STARS) that allows the college to better evaluate its sustainability practices and identify areas for development. The school currently holds a silver rating with the STARS system, a standing that Kleindienst hopes to improve. Wesleyan University has set a goal of 100% carbon neutrality by the year 2050.
During her talk, Kleindienst discussed her path toward a career in environmental sustainability and gave students advice for encouraging environmentally efficient practices on college campuses. She talked about the importance of relationship building for the success of sustainability initiatives and encouraged student leaders to bring as many voices to the table as possible. Kleindienst pointed out that each of her projects involves thoughtful coordination between a variety of campus departments including the Communications Office, the College of the Environment, and the school’s Sustainability Advisory Group for Environmental Stewardship.
Addressing the broader environmental movement, Kleindienst stressed the importance of framing the sustainability conversation as one of “hope” as opposed to “despair.” Critiquing many environmental activism campaigns as excessively negative in tone, she argued for an approach that focuses on climate change solutions instead of problems.
Kleindienst also discussed the need for the sustainability movement to address the public’s perceived barriers to environmentally friendly practices, like time and cost. As an example, she pointed to her efforts to debunk the idea that train travel is more time consuming than plane travel along the Northeast corridor and to encourage faculty to use more efficient methods of transportation for work-related trips.
Each day on the job brings new challenges and inspiration for Kleindienst. Her projects range from major efforts to promote sustainable construction practices to creative initiatives like an ugly sweater campaign encouraging people to turn down the thermostat. “Not every day is perfect,” said Kleindienst, “but I feel good to be working for the good of the planet and confident that I chose the right career for myself.”