As a teenager, she was heavily influenced reading “Living on the Earth” by Alicia Bay Laurel, an illustrated book from the 1970s that serves as a guide for modern humans who wish to live off the land.
“I became interested in sustainability when it was referred to as ecology or natural living,” she said. “Reducing waste and conserving natural resources simply made sense to me, and I began to learn all I could about how I could incorporate these practices into my life.”
Now, Clark is the manager of UNM’s Office of Sustainability, a one-person department that oversees the University’s recycling programs, green fund, conservation initiatives, energy use reports and the promotion of sustainable practices on campus. The position is part of the Physical Plant Department, which produces and distributes all of UNM’s utilities.
Clark said her job involves assisting the PPD in reaching its long-term sustainability goals, such as achieving complete carbon neutrality by 2050.
“Influencing utility usage is crucial for all universities that want to be sustainable,” Clark said.
In the past decade, PPD’s Energy Conservation Program has commissioned and retrofitted buildings on campus with controls to make them more energy efficient.
“For example, in the evening when certain buildings are not in use, this process allows for the building temperature to automatically drop,” Clark said.
She said the fact that UNM’s utilities are all managed by the same department helps streamline conservation efforts, and that this could serve as a model for other universities.
UNM’s recycling program — which Clark has managed since early 2014 — has also been notably effective, diverting nearly a third of the University’s waste away from landfills each year. However, despite the progress made by these programs, Clark said that faculty, staff and students must also do their part by using sustainable practices.
“Because we have a new class of students each fall, our main challenge is educating and encouraging advocacy to those who are unfamiliar with what we are trying to achieve,” she said.
She said it is a challenge for one person to keep more than 27,000 students actively engaged in conserving resources.
“We are finding that some members of the UNM community have become complacent and are not recycling or conserving energy — turning off computers or lights — as they once were,” Clark said.
She stressed the importance of students maintaining sustainable habits such as bringing water bottles and thermoses to school, throwing away recyclables in the proper bins and dressing in layers to save energy.
To encourage students to be conscious of their resources, the Office of Sustainability has released the UNM Guide to Sustainable Living, which is available online. Much like “Living on the Earth,” the guide contains tips for reducing waste, growing food and recycling. It also includes many do it yourself projects, such as natural cleaning products and gardening setups.
“Making your own products and re-purposing things you already have is not only empowering, but also fun and environmentally responsible,” the guide reads. It also contains a list of recycling facilities for various products throughout the city.
To further encourage sustainability on campus, Clark said that she would like to replace all trash cans in offices and residence halls with recycling containers that have only a small waste container for non-recyclables attached.
“This would significantly increase recycling on campus and bring awareness to the UNM community about purchasing items that can be recycled versus those that cannot,” she said.
More than anything, Clark tries to lead students by example by implementing sustainable practices in her own life.
“I am an avid recycler and conserve energy and water usage where and when I can,” she said. “I carefully consider my consumer activities and try to purchase local as much as possible, always using my stuff up completely before I replace it.”
Lena Guidi is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @DailyLobo.