A handful of Brenau University students believe they can change the world.
The project management students decided to tackle sustainability issues on campus this semester and change students' habits one person at a time. They hope campus efforts will expand into the Gainesville community.
"The university went sustainable a couple of years ago, and it's for the future. It's the only way to go," said Iben Nielsen, a graduate assistant who is helping the master's degree students start their projects. "In Denmark, it's a different level of sustainability. We have at least four trash cans in our homes. That's just how we grow up."
The groups will present their ideas Friday, outlining how they will reduce waste on campus or encourage recycling efforts. Several groups, with students from China and Taiwan, are passionate about the project and are already getting started.
"We want to collect old clothes, housewares and shoes to have a garage sale," said Avo Lee, whose group is focused on reusing items. "As new university students here, we don't have those supplies, and other students throwing them away is a waste."
The students plan to market to the campus but also surrounding neighborhoods. They will collect supplies and hold the sale in a few weeks. In the interim, they're collecting empty plastic bottles and aluminum cans to create inventive household items.
After cutting off the top of a plastic bottle, Lee and group member Jessie Lee cut and curled strips of the plastic, creating a scrub brush for pots and pans.
"I've been using this in my room," Avo Lee said with a laugh. "It actually works well."
The two also cut off the bottom of aluminum cans and curled and wove strips of the aluminum to create candle holders.
"Basically, we made things because we need them, and we decorated the candle holders because we were bored," Jessie Lee said. "I'm really enjoying the groups though. We're just laughing all the time."
About two years ago, Brenau Professor Maria Zayas was teaching an honors class and asked the students to focus on the concept of sustainability. The group planted a tree by the library, which ignited interest across the campus, said Bill Lightfoot, dean of the business school who is also overseeing the new sustainability projects. An inter-disciplinary focus popped up on campus, and students held a conference to talk about sustainability.
"The president got fired up about it, and I got fired up about it," Lightfoot said. "It took on a life of its own, deepening our convictions about it. It's something so critical, not only teaching it but also living it."
Austin Chen's group is focusing on this aspect. To encourage students to recycle across campus, group members must appeal to their interests and also lead by example.
"We can't just say ‘Do it,'" Chen said. "And the recycle boxes are so boring."
After collecting aluminum cans, the students plan to create new recycling containers out of the cans and place them around campus.
"In Taiwan, it's small and crowded, and we don't have a place to put garbage, so we have to recycle," he said.
"In 2050, when it's necessary, people aren't going to start it here overnight, so we have to do it now."
After placing the containers, they'll spread the idea through word-of-mouth.
"If I got an e-mail about it, I know I wouldn't do it," Chen said. "We have to do small things to change the people next to us, see that it's not too difficult, and keep spreading it. We'll start with the six people in our group, then move to Brenau, then Gainesville."
Another group will recycle shoes and use them to plant flowers, create bird nests and create a recycled art exhibition. A fourth group is tackling the idea of temperature control, hoping to move up the thermostat by one degree in campus buildings to preserve energy and save the university money on power bills.
"It's nice to see their self-confidence has grown since they started class. Group work isn't really an emphasis in China and Taiwan, and they're taking to the idea that two minds are better than one," Nielsen said. "Brenau has a small campus, and Gainesville is possible. The students can work with local schools to expand their recycle and reduce projects."