Kerstyn Lane: Champion of Sustainability

Kerstyn 2

In 2016, Kerstyn Lane discovered her dream job — Engagement and Outreach Advisor with MacEwan University’s Office of Sustainability— and the role she is currently in.

But it didn’t start at MacEwan. Kerstyn has been passionate about sustainability since elementary school. She’s the type of person that seems as though they were born to make an impact, and she does it every day. Knowing that the best way to create change is to work with people and communities, Kerstyn pursued a sociology degree at the University of Alberta Augustana. Over the next four years, she was an active force in her campus community.

She became involved with the relaunch of the Augustana Earthwise student group—a University of Alberta club that gives students the opportunity to campaign for environmental issues and connect with like-minded faculty, peers and community members. She initiated a reusable mug program and had the university reduce their building temperatures during Earth Hour. It wasn’t long before she was offered a paid position with Augustana’s Learning and Beyond Office.

After graduating, Kerstyn joined the University of Alberta Students’ Union team as manager of Sustain-SU. She worked on campus projects like the bike library, campus gardens, farmers’ markets and reusable dish initiatives. Passionate about inspiring and empowering other people, Kerstyn worked with the Sustain-SU Leadership Team to help guide and support sustainability volunteers.

From there, her journey led her to MacEwan and she hit the ground running to expand MacEwan’s sustainability efforts and create opportunities for others to get involved.

When Roundhouse opened in 2018, the Office of Sustainability moved in. The shared mission to foster a community that makes the world a better place, made Roundhouse the perfect space for their small team with a huge vision. 

Naturally, Kerstyn’s always on the go, championing sustainability on campus and beyond, but I (Jared Leeder, Communications Consultant at the Office of Sustainability) recently had the opportunity to ask her a few questions. 

What programs did you create when you first joined the Office of Sustainability?

MacEwan didn’t have a lot of sustainability programs when I started. We had the Green Impact program and had just started to develop the Urban Beekeeping Project in collaboration with Campus Services. There was a lot of relationship rebuilding to do because we had a six month hiatus between the office’s current director and her predecessor. We basically had to start from the ground up.

The Beekeeping project, which we launched in 2016, was the first really big project that I was a part of at MacEwan. That year, we also put forward a proposal to Food Services for our Fair Trade Campus and Green to Go programs. These three initiatives and being more present on campus made us more visible and accessible to the campus community.

How have these projects changed the way sustainability is seen on campus?

We’ve gained a lot more respect and credibility on campus. The success of our volunteers and their projects have been a great way to advance sustainability, in regards to waste reduction, conservation and community building.

I built these programs collaboratively, so ownership would be carried out by various stakeholders. Sustainability isn’t one person or office’s job. I’m happy to be a hub for expertise and resources to help others build sustainability projects, but the ultimate goal is for the campus community to adopt practices and programs and feel that they own these projects, because they do.

We also have a really strong cohort of staff on campus who engage in sustainability. We have allies with staff and faculty, and work with a number of advocacy groups like MacEwan Bikes.

Which project are you most proud of?

The Sustainability Leadership Council (SLC), for sure. When I started at MacEwan and was researching programs I came across the Sustainability Leadership Council at Simon Fraser University. I loved the name of it, and I think for students, gaining professional skills and experience outside of the classroom is necessary to get jobs.

Student Leadership Council 18/19
MacEwan's Student Leadership Council

How has the SLC grown ?

The first year we ran the program, we had 12 committed students join the SLC as volunteers. We also had eight more volunteers who worked in a casual capacity. It was a lot of trial and error, and a lot of learning. However, I heard some of those students were able to secure jobs because of their experience with the Student Leadership Council! So it paid off. 

Our next active SLC formed in the 2018 winter term. We had five members who supported 25 volunteers. These volunteers championed things like a clothing swap, a winter cycling workshop, vermicomposting workshops and research papers on our campus’ food waste. After seeing the success of the community building made possible through these programs, I decided to make volunteering a focal point for the next year.

This past year, we had five teams working on various projects like Green Eats, our Green Spaces volunteer program and a Stationary Stationery Station (SSS). 

The SLC does amazing things that we can’t do with only two people in our office.

Which SLC programs stand out to you?

The SLC takes on projects with the goal of having fun, to assist people in improving their environment. When we talk about sustainability, people inherently feel like they are not doing enough to help. Public reactions to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that came out last fall demonstrated that a lot of people want to do something, but may know where to start. 

And so, we built projects like the Stationary Stationery Station (great alliteration, right?) as an outlet to do something to affect change, even if it's smaller scale. The SSS was created entirely by volunteers and collected stationery donations like binders, calculators, pens, pencils and notebooks from students and gave them away to over 200 students in the 2018 fall semester.

These projects  invite people, people who aren’t necessarily thinking about sustainability into the conversation. Plus, we're able to divert items from landfills and offer useful items to folks who are already encumbered financially by the cost of tuition, books, and student living. I think these initiatives are a testament to the potential for student engagement and the SLC. Developing these relationships and building this community has been one of the most uplifting successes in my role.

The Sustainability Leadership Council and the Office of Sustainability won an Emerald Award this year; congratulations! How did that happen?

An award that recognizes environmental excellence is important and I think we need to celebrate our accomplishments when we can. In sustainability, it is important to celebrate small wins as sometimes our wins don't feel like they're big enough.

Our volunteers deserve to be recognized for their efforts. These are unpaid, dedicated, motivated, and passionate people who have made significant contributions to sustainability on campus. What better way to recognize them than to put forward a nomination? I shared with the Alberta Emerald Foundation all the twenty plus projects they have worked on, as well as the hundreds of  hours they volunteered and the many successes enjoyed by the campus community.

We were finalists in the youth category, which is accompanied by a five thousand dollar grant. I’m happy to say that the money will support their initiatives for the coming year! I’m overwhelmed with pride, and so glad to have met these inspiring students. 

Kerstyn with award

What do you enjoy about working at Roundhouse?

I love the community here. There’s such a diversity of very cool entrepreneurs and business leaders involved with projects related to social enterprise, sustainability and social justice. It’s a really inspiring environment to be a part of and I’ve been grateful to be involved with the development of the community here. Also, having a place where our volunteers can interact, host events and  work on projects in has been fundamental to building our sustainability community.

Tell me some worlds you live by.

Taking care of my mental health is very important to me and I strive to empower my team to take care of their's as well. I get by with reminders like  “this too shall pass.” Since we're all in this together, we cannot remain divided by our political differences. It's all for one and one for all, like the honey bee colony. And so, I hope we'll continue to inspire the people we work with to care for themselves and their planet.

- Written by Jared Leeder