April 22 is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, and the St. Thomas community is getting a head start on April 20 as both Sustainability Week and the university’s EcoChallenge kick off.

Student leaders from Undergraduate Student Government and the Student Sustainability Leadership Program (SLLP) are providing a wide range of opportunities for Tommies to engage April 20-25 during Sustainability Week, and encouraging everyone to take action at home with the April 20-May 3 EcoChallenge.

“We talked about the transition (to online learning and being off-campus) and how we could continue to be present and a service to students,” said Olivia Wong, USG’s sustainability representative, about the second annual Sustainability Week. “We put into place a lot of fun activities that will happening that are building off of last year.”

“The work to mitigate and adapt to climate change needs to continue despite the disruption of the pandemic. In fact, disruptions require us to develop different habits and rituals so it is a good time to be mindful about what we want these new ones to look like,” said Psychology Professor and Director of the Office of Sustainability Initiatives Elise Amel. “There is some good news about how the pandemic has changed levels of pollution and fossil fuel use. Yet, while people are driving much less, there are other changes occurring now, such as loosening federal pollution restrictions, which erase some of the successes of the past.”

This will be the first time St. Thomas takes part in EcoChallenge, a global event that encourages community members to make individual efforts as part of larger parts of the St. Thomas community, with undergraduate, graduate and employees combining efforts to compete for prizes from the Staff Council, Undergraduate Student Government, and the Office of Sustainability Initiatives.

“We can still make a big difference by taking small steps. We don’t have to be physically next to each other to encourage the St. Thomas community and make a real impact,” said Shayna Thostenson, one of the SLLP members.

Tommies can track and enter sustainable activities and efforts they make in categories like transportation, health, food and nature, underscoring the ability to make a difference while staying home.

St. Thomas community members can sign up for the EcoChallenge here.

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