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Education, outreach, part of newcomer's vision of sustainability

Date: 10/26/2010

"Where is 'away'?"

That is the philosophical question asked by joni newcomer, regarding the commonly used term "to throw something away." It's a good question, one that is fittingly asked by newcomer, as she is New Mexico State University's manager of environmental policy and sustainability, and she is passionate about her job.

Newcomer heads up the university's sustainability office - an "office of one," she points out - housed within the Office of Facilities and Services.

"Part of my job is to save energy, cut utility costs, find how to create financial savings during difficult budgetary times," newcomer said. "But on a larger scale my job is to take care of the planet and take care of New Mexico. I teach people about the importance of behavioral change, and to understand why those changes need to take place."

The changes of which newcomer speaks revolve around what has become a popular slogan of the 21st century: reduce, reuse, recycle. But this is more than a hip mantra to newcomer; together with the university's Sustainability Council - whose mission is to coordinate sustainability-related activities and efforts throughout the NMSU system and to residents statewide - she works with all of NMSU's campuses and Extension offices to offer insight, tips and solutions to saving energy and reducing waste, among other things. The office and the councils are separate entities, but essentially work toward the same goals.

The Sustainability Council is a group of volunteers that reports to the Office of the Provost, and works to teach students, faculty and staff about the value of sustainability and importance of volunteerism. The council is structured around STARS - the Sustainability, Tracking, Assessment and Rating System, a program of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. The Council has three committees: Operations, Education and Research, Planning, Administration and Engagement. Newcomer chairs the council and works with the committee chairs to plan and develop sustainability-related activities on NMSU properties statewide.

"I certainly can't make a big difference on campus on my own," newcomer, who has been at NMSU since 2007, explained. "So my goal is to teach people ways to change their behaviors and show them the long-term advantages of making those changes, and the Sustainability Council and I work together on a lot of education."

She doesn't see her job as a regulatory enforcer; rather, newcomer wants to work directly with the Board of Regents, ASNMSU and the Faculty Senate to help the university's environmental policy evolve and adapt to energy-saving, or earth-saving, developments - steering away from the use of incandescent light bulbs, for example.

Another big part of newcomer's job is outreach.

"We bring in middle and high school students for tours of our recycling facilities, for example, or bring in high school students to help plant trees," she says. "Through the course of it all, it is critical to teach the importance of why we're doing what we're doing, and the effect is has on everyone and our planet."

Newcomer firmly believes that everyone can and should play a role in long-term sustainability. She welcomes ideas and suggestions from the NMSU community, and has an e-mail box to receive feedback, at sustain@nmsu.edu.

Aside from her work as manager of environmental policy and sustainability, newcomer is known for the lack of capitalization in her name. The explanation is simple, she says.

"I'm also an artist - I do beading work, interior design, mosaics, painting," she says. "Beauty is a big part of what I do and who I am, and I make a really pretty lowercase j! And I like being different; my parents didn't raise me to be like everyone else. If I don't get to use the right side of my brain, I'm not happy."

For more information on campus sustainability, visit http://sustainability.nmsu.edu/index.html. Newcomer also maintains a Twitter account at http://twitter.com/SustainAtNMSU and a Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/NMSUSustainability.

The Sustainability Council meets on the second Wednesday of every month at 8:30 a.m., in Milton Hall, Room 85.

"The council and I are not just about recycling," newcomer says. "That's part of what we're about, but the bigger picture is not going there in the first place. There is no 'away', so when you throw something away, where's away?"

Written by Mark Cramer.

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