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Pacific’s Sustainability Director Jessica Bilecki recently named “Sustainability Champion.”

Pacific’s Sustainability Director Jessica Bilecki recently named “Sustainability Champion.”

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Sustaining Pacific makes Bilecki a ‘champion’

Sep 13, 2018

Do what you can. None of us can do it alone. And, remember, it's about quality of life for us all.

That's what Pacific's Sustainability Director Jessica Bilecki wants people to keep in mind when trying to be friendlier to the planet. Her words are worth heeding since she was recently named "Sustainability Champion" at the 17th annual California Higher Education Sustainability Conference hosted by UC Santa Barbara.

"I think it all adds up. Even just starting small and doing what you can, because those tend to be small habit-changing actions that lead to larger ones," said Bilecki. "The thing about sustainability in general is that it really is about quality of life for people. The tendency is to think about just the environment, just trees. We need very healthy ecological systems, but sustainability is very people-centered."

Bilecki, who has been at Pacific just more than a year, said winning the award was "surprising and overwhelming."

"I perked up when I heard 'Ohio University'," Bilecki said of the introduction read at the presentation and the reference to her alma mater and where she first worked in sustainability. "'Oh, I should see who this person is. They might have been in my program.' As I kept listening, I realized that it was me."

It's an award for everyone who works for sustainability at Pacific, Bilecki said. She credited the university-wide Sustainability Committee, Sustainability Coordinator Kelsey Smith, and Pacific students, faculty and staff who take steps to be more environmentally friendly.

Her own journey to being more sustainable began while growing up in suburban Chicago. There was a small patch of farmland behind her home that was allowed to go fallow, letting the field to go wild, trees to grow where they had not been before and coyotes to roam for a time before developers moved in to build "McMansions."

"Having one of my favorite places demolished had an impact on me," Bilecki said.

Not knowing exactly what she wanted to do with her interest in the environment, she began studying animals as an undergraduate, but later changed her mind.

"I think it was during a starfish dissection where it was 'No, this is not my path,'" she said. '"I'm not doing any more of this."'

She continued to study sciences but felt the human element — economics, social systems, and planning and development — were being left out of the curriculum. Near the end of her time as an undergraduate, she learned about a conference for women in sustainability and later was in a study abroad program in Thailand, which piqued her interest in environmental education.

Despite the recent honor, Bilecki doesn't count off successes, but instead talks about progress and the collective actions by people at Pacific toward sustainability such as the student volunteers on Pacific Green Team, a group Bilecki said helps to "close the loop" when it comes to reducing waste at Pacific events, including student move-in and move-out.

Two possible future developments could change the landscape of sustainability at Pacific and Pacific itself.

"There's been a lot of energy put into solar shades installation in parking lots on campus. ... I think we've made a lot of progress, because we have a sense of where they could go and what it would take," Bilecki said. "We're also looking at what that means for electric vehicle charging and getting that along far enough to facilitate policies so we can offer that service for folks."

People seem excited about the idea of solar shades - solar panels that also provide shade from the sun - and electric charging stations, said Bilecki, but there are still significant considerations, such as what does that mean for trees in parking lots and how do we accommodate some of the larger vehicles that come on campus.

Also ahead is continuing work to engage students to be involved with sustainability, strengthening the link of sustainability with the John Muir Papers, a water conservation audit, and the Climate Action Plan. After more vetting and development this year, the plan will be used by the Sustainability Committee to set measurable goals for the university to minimize carbon emissions and develop a plan for achieving those goals to make sustainability a little more real for everyone.

"I think I was always prone to enjoying the outdoors," Bilecki said. "It was always the place I escaped to whenever I needed a little more peace of mind, and it always seemed a little more real to me."

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