Post contributed by Taylor Kraabel, Office of Sustainability Intern
For the past twelve years, Karen Cochran has been a dedicated member of the Auburn community. She began her time at Auburn as the administrative assistant in the Department of Chemical Engineering, where she worked for eleven of her twelve years. In the past year, Karen has successfully transitioned into her new role as the Department of Finance administrative associate in the Harbert College of Business.
Getting Involved with the Peers Network
Having always had a passion for caring for others and our resources, it is no wonder Karen became involved in sustainability. Before becoming a Peers Ambassador, Karen had already practiced sustainability in her home and throughout her community. Her involvement in the local Girl Scouts teaches her the importance of preparedness and the personal responsibility everyone has for the world around us. In her home and work life, Karen is also an adamant recycler and reuser, often finding a use for something as obscure as ink cartridge packaging . Karen soon learned of the Peers Network’s potential to create a daily impact on Auburn’s sustainability and could not wait to become more involved.
After joining the Peers Network, Karen participated in Peers trainings to continue her education about sustainability. Her biggest takeaway from these trainings was the Sustainability Compass. This compass has four points: Nature, Economy, Society, and Wellbeing. Each of these points refers to one of the realms of sustainability and all are equally vital to a sustainable world. Karen says the compass highlights the complexity of sustainability and how each situation shows the importance of certain points which can differ from situation to situation. Overall, she says this compass makes it easier for her to see the big picture of sustainability.
Since becoming a Peers Ambassador, Karen says her favorite aspect of the program has been meeting new people who share her passion. The Peers Ambassadors come from many different departments, so Karen appreciates the opportunity to meet others who she may not have been able to otherwise. Karen also enjoys learning more about Auburn’s sustainability initiatives. Since Auburn University is one of the biggest components of the larger Auburn community, she believes these initiatives have the potential to impact how all of Auburn lives.
Working Toward Change
Currently, Karen is already maintaining many sustainability programs within Lowder. One such program is printer toner recycling. Although this was in place before Karen became a Peers Ambassador, the recycling bin did not receive the use as much as one would hope. Karen has dramatically changed this with the relocation of the recycling bin. Now, the bin is used more and overflows multiple times a week. General recycling, as well as battery recycling, are also common practices around the building. Karen and other staff in Lowder also tackle food waste. If there is leftover food from an event, Lowder does not simply throw it away. Instead, this food is up for grabs for employees and students. Another program that combines sustainability and students is the Career Closet check-out system. This allows students to rent clothing for job fairs and interviews. This eliminates the need for students to purchase expensive clothing for a rare professional event to enhance their opportunities in the business world, at least until graduation.
While Karen has made many improvements to Lowder, there are still projects she would like to accomplish. For example, she would like to create a check out system for office equipment that is not routinely used in a department. This decreases the number of big-ticket purchases Auburn would have to make; moreover, it also reduces the number of products manufactured. Another program Karen plans to implement is maintaining a steady supply of boxes, desks, chairs, etc. for Lowder. Often times, these extra office items are taken to surplus or simply thrown away. However, keeping them in the building would encourage a culture of reusing rather than discarding. Karen’s initiative in creating programs such as these is an integral part of the Peers Network.
Sustainability Challenges and Inspiring Initiatives
Karen believes the greatest challenge to sustainability today is the lack of understanding that little changes matter. For instance, small changes like bringing your own grocery bags, reusable straws, and portable utensils make a substantial difference in the long run. Going even deeper than that, Karen says the heart of this issue is our disposable society. She thinks we need to transform our mindset from a throw away one to a reusable one in order to truly be sustainable.
Here at Auburn, the sustainability project that inspires Karen the most is the Beat Bama Food Drive. This initiative tackles food insecurity in several counties across Alabama, and the need for this type of program keeps growing. Karen says that with this food drive, there really are no losers because people of all ages and backgrounds benefit. More than that, the timelessness of the Beat Bama Food Drive inspires continuous support and awareness for food insecurity.