Sustainability Champions

  • laura donders_sustainability champion

The Office for Sustainability celebrates our friends and colleagues who work tirelessly to advance sustainability on campus and in the community. We call such individuals Sustainability Champions, because they are champions helping us create a culture of sustainability while improving quality of life for all. 

LAURA DONDERS, WESUSTAIN INTERNSHIP COORDINATOR

Laura Donders, Internship Coordinator for the Office for Sustainability, embraces sustainability in all aspects of her life. As Coordinator, she teaches and mentors a group of 8-10 students each semester in the WeSustain Internship, which focuses on a range of sustainability topics. Laura started her journey in sustainability as an intern in the same program. Now as Coordinator, she is in a position to foster an appreciation for sustainability in students across all majors.

As a Behavior Sciences graduate, her unique perspective on human behavior and its relation to sustainability is a major area of focus. Laura’s experience has shown that if you can understand what prompts and reinforces unsustainable behavior, you then have a toolkit to flip it around and begin to prompt and reinforce the sustainable behavior that you want to promote. In this vein, Laura spent some of her early years working under Ph.D candidate Kate Binder on the recycling signage that is used on campus today. This signage is an example of behavior change in action; by passively prompting students to recycle, the signage promotes positive behavior change at school and at home. 

Laura’s passion for sustainability is foundational towards her social justice work. She strives to make space for marginalized voices, especially in sustainability, a field that many view as dominated by a white-male hegemony. As a woman of color working in sustainability, Laura is driven to action by her empathy and dedication to upholding the mission of the Office for Sustainability, at its root, ‘to improve the quality of life for all.’ 

One organization Laura has partnered with numerous times is the Kalamazoo based non-profit Open Roads, a group that provides bicycle and emotional skill training to local youth, while also providing an after school activity that is fun and constructive. By supporting collaboration between local non-profits and university programs, Laura has introduced many WMU students to a resource that they were not familiar with. Since 2012, at least five OfS employees have gone on to work at Open Roads, including their Executive Director, Erin Denay. 

Laura is proud of many things that she has accomplished during her time as Internship Coordinator, although her proudest achievement is her own resiliency. Burn-out is increasingly prevalent among sustainability workers – constant exposure to seemingly insurmountable global-scale problems often leads to employees leaving for private-industry work after short stints. 

“It seems like the longer you work in sustainability the more problems you come across, the more obstacles and challenges you come across. The more you know about the state of the planet the more it feels all doom and gloom, and you feel like we’re never going to solve these problems. In one way it gets worse and worse; the other way those challenges are a continual thing that keep you in this work. I’m proud of myself for tackling those challenges head on and not getting bogged down or exhausted by it.”

Everyone has the ability to affect great change upon the world, so long as they find the opportunity and agency deep within them. There is room for everyone in responding to sustainability challenges; from sorting recycling to researching solar panel design to writing technical documents, everyone has a role to play when improving quality of life for all. Find yours!

“What I strive to do in my job, is to teach college students that might not think they have a stake in sustainability to bridge those gaps and make those connections.”

LISTEN TO THE ENTIRE INTERVIEW WITH LAURA DONDERS