Zero Waste Is a Challenge Faced

I am a member of the Zero Waste Team here at the Environmental Center and I am very excited about the project I’m working on this year! Emma Kurfis, another Zero Waste Team member, and I are working on a Zero Waste Event Service Guide specific to Fort Lewis College. This guide will be available to everyone on campus and hopefully used by all of the event coordinators. We can also directly get involved with event coordinators to tailor the service to their specific event. To gain experience in the event planning process, we are working on several pilot events in which we partner with event coordinators to reduce the amount of waste produced at event. Skyfest is our next big pilot event, taking place on April 7th.

Skyfest music festival at Fort Lewis College

Skyfest is the highlight of the spring semester for many students, with bands from all over the country visiting FLC campus. Skyfest was outdoors in previous years. Photo courtesy of

Skyfest is a big music festival put on by Student Union Productions at Fort Lewis each year, with headliner bands Gramatik and Radical Something making appearances at this year’s festival. Local bands will also play at the event. As part of the EC’s zero waste event service, Emma and I are working with the coordinators of Skyfest to reduce waste in as many aspects of the event as possible. This event is our first large pilot event to test out the service and in the organizing we have learned how challenging it can be to make an event less wasteful. There are so many areas to consider when planning a zero waste event, some of which are not in our control, as we are not the coordinators of the event. However, the coordinators are very open to our suggestions, which is awesome! Members of SUP have been supportive of our ideas and came up with a few ideas themselves. One of the main goals of our event servicing is to provide zero waste ideas and ingrain zero waste concepts in the minds of the coordinators, so that eventually event planners may attempt to make events less wasteful on their own.

There are several major aspects of Skyfest where we are working on to reduce the amount of waste produced. The first is trash. Ideally, we would like to have no trash produced at the event but this is highly unrealistic being that we can’t regulate what food or disposable items people bring into the event. However, we will be providing several recycling stations in the event to divert as as many recyclable items from landfills as possible. We are recruiting volunteers to help watch over the stations to ensure everything is recycled properly, as contamination is a huge problem with recycling here at Fort Lewis. This will also be a chance for us to spread some education on recycling to the campus community.

The second aspect of the event we are working with is water. When we first talked to the coordinators, they were going to provide bottled water for guests and the bands. We decided to set up water refilling stations instead. With the help of the Athletic Department, we secured several large water jugs for the event that we will refill throughout the event. Students are not allowed to bring full water bottles into the event but if they bring empty drink containers, they can fill them at the stations. There will also be a jug backstage for the bands. The coordinators of Skyfest are purchasing reusable plastic cups that they will hand out to anyone who does not have a water bottle. The cups can be taken home by guests and used or given back to the Skyfest coordinators to be washed and reused at different events.

At Skyfest, we will have an Environmental Center interactive table to teach people about zero waste, specifically recycling. There will be a game called the “Wheel of Recycling” that guests can take part in. After the event, we plan to measure our results by weighing how much trash and recycling were generated at the event. We can potentially take these statistics every year and compare results, aiming to reduce the amounts annually.

As you can imagine, the process of planning zero waste events can take a lot of time and can be very difficult. This process also involves lots of collaboration with other campus and sometimes community partners, and can also build great connections.

If you would like to volunteer to help with the waste reduction practices at Skyfest, please email one of us (below) or drop by the Environmental Center and sign up. The event is on Sunday, April 7th from noon to 9:30 p.m. in the Whalen Gymnasium. The event is free for students and $15 for community members, with tickets available in the SUP office in the Student Union. Come support Fort Lewis College and the environment!

For more information about the zero waste aspects of the event or the Zero Waste Event Servicing, you can email me ( or Emma Kurfis ( or stop by the Environmental Center! For more information about Skyfest, you can visit the SUP office in the Student Union.

By Jessica Smyke

FLC Sustainability Action Plan Audit

Did you know that Fort Lewis College has a Sustainability Action Plan?

It is a 5-year plan designed to make this campus more sustainable. A quick overview of the plan: it is divided into six sections: Stewardship, Consumption, Climate, Education and Engagement, Service to Region, and Coordination and Support. Under each section are goals and objectives, and within each objective are recommended actions that can be taken to help work towards the goals and objectives. Each of the actions has a responsible party or parties – departments on campus – listed beside them.

Auditing the Plan

I am on the Sustainability Team here at the Environmental Center.  Last semester my teammate, Drew Stuntz, and I completed an audit of the plan. For the audit, we went to the different departments listed as responsible parties in the plan and talked to them about the SAP, and how much progress they had made regarding it. We found that many of the departments had heard of the SAP, but did not know that they were listed as a responsible party for it. However, most of the departments were very supportive of the plan, and some had even taken the initiative to start sustainable practices in their offices, even ones who did not know much about the plan. It was encouraging to see the amount of support for the plan!

What did we find out?

We took the information gathered from our meetings with the responsible parties and assessed the progress of the plan, looking at which goals and objectives were being met and which needed to be worked on.

There are 225 actions identified in the plan, and only 32 percent have been completed. It is a five-year plan, and we are in the third year, so this percentage is not good news. The weakest sections in the plan are Climate and Stewardship, with only 4 percent of the actions having been completed in the latter!

Although seeing these disappointments, our team is still extremely optimistic about support shown for the plan once people actually knew that they were identified as a responsible party in it. This semester, our team is planning to work towards the goals in the plan within the EC. We want to help improve the sections of the plan that need improvement, as well as uphold the stronger sections.

Wait… What is sustainability?

A major flaw we found in the plan is that it does not even define sustainability! To help fix this problem, the Sustainability Team in the EC is collaborating with the EC Board of Directors to plan a Sustainability Summit where students, staff, and faculty can have input into defining what sustainability is for this school. We believe this will help raise awareness about the Sustainability Action Plan, as well as bring together with the same goals and interests together to create a working definition of sustainability for Fort Lewis College.

~ Jessica Smyke