How Cleveland State University is setting the tone for sustainability on campus

As Cleveland State University’s first-ever director of sustainability, Jennifer McMillin can be a bit in-your-face when it comes to the motto, “Reduce, reuse, recycle.” And she’s proud of that.

“It’s the right thing to do to reduce our environmental impact by reducing waste, not wasting water, and increasing energy efficiency,” she explains. “Because we’re a university, we’re educating students. You can use the campus as an educational tool.”

All over campus, there are signs to remind people where to put their waste; to use the steps instead of the elevator; to recycle batteries; to carry their own coffee mug or water bottle. “Those little reminders all over show people the importance of the little things they can do in their day-to-day lives,” McMillin says. “I’ve tried to do the stuff people can see, so they know CSU cares about these things.”

McMillin also makes it easy for anyone on campus to obey those signs.

There are 400 sets of recycling bins for cans, plastic, and paper; 45 water refill stations; discounts on coffee at campus cafes for using your own mug; and 24 battery recycling centers.

“Generally, people are quick to embrace it,” McMillin says of her recycling program. “They want to do the right thing, but you have to make it easy for them.”

Her efforts—and the efforts of the entire CSU community—are showing. In 2018, the school reduced its landfill waste by five percent, diverting 306 tons from landfills through recycling and waste reduction.

In fact, McMillin reports that since implementing the recycling program, they have cut waste pickups in half at the 438-student dormitory Fenn Tower.

“That’s amazing,” she says. “It shows that students, when given the opportunity, were [motivated] to do the right thing.”

Additionally, the dining halls use real silverware and dinnerware (instead of paper and plastic), and all takeout food is packaged in plant-based containers and cutlery that is composted, along with other food waste, by Cleveland-based Full Cycle Organics. Meanwhile, Independence-based Kurtz Brothers takes care of recycling all CSU’s landscaping waste.

McMillian says her next step is writing a five-year sustainability master plan for the school to set goals for reducing greenhouse gasses, using locally-produced fuel, and creating energy reduction programs.

“That’s my big thing right now,” she says of the sustainability master plan. “I think it will be done this summer, so I can roll it out for the fall semester.”

Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: Karin Connelly Rice

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.