Sustain Champlain Promotes Sustainable Improvements on Campus

Christina Erickson

Sustain Champlain, an active campus and community organization, administers several programs to infuse sustainability concepts and practices into Champlain's culture, many of which have been kickstarted or enhanced in 2014. This spring, Champlain has been designated a Fair Trade campus, eliminated the distribution of disposable plastic water bottles, hosted a challenge to lower energy consumption, and promoted the use of community transportation including CarShare VT services.

Sustain Champlain is committed to developing concepts, strategies, approaches, events and recommendations to raise sustainability awareness and to create efficient, groundbreaking sustainable practices campus-wide.

Christina Erickson is the director of Sustain Champlain. The program was originally created in 2005 from a committee of faculty, staff and students that wanted to see more green projects. Then, in 2008, they introduced short part-time position, and shortly after Erickson was hired full time.

Erickson hasn't left a college campus since she was an undergraduate student herself. An environmental studies major in her undergrad, she went on to work at Sterling College teaching environmental education for six years. She then received her masters from the Audubon Expedition Institute before moving to Burlington for her doctorate at the University of Vermont.

During Erickson's time at the University of Vermont, she ran their Eco-Rep program, which is a group of student leaders who promote sustainable practices at the university. UVM has one of the oldest eco-rep programs in the country, and Erickson dedicated a great deal of time researching the effectiveness of similar campus programs.

When Erickson began working at Champlain College, she brought her experience running the Eco-Rep program along. She feels that the student program has helped spread a message across campus.

"[Eco-rep programs] help build a culture of sustainability," says Erickson. "I definitely think we have grown in that right direction. I feel that the Eco-reps are a sign of that. Having more student involvement, I think is has been a great tactic in spreading the word." Student involvement, even beyond Eco-Reps, is the driving factor for Sustain Champlain's five committees: Waste, Food & Purchasing, Academic Connections, Green Revolving Fund and Transportation.

Rebecca CarlsonSince 2012, senior Rebecca Carlson has spearheaded the Fair Trade Campus Designation project, an effort to offer Fair Trade products on campus whenever feasible. As a work-study student employee in Erickson's office, Carlson completed all the necessary paperwork and talked with appropriate people to earn Champlain the Fair Trade Campus designation this semester. What started as a service learning project in class actually was implemented, a testament to Sustain Champlain's dedication to making change.

The mission to infuse sustainability concepts and practices throughout campus continues with the elimination of the distribution of disposable plastic water bottles. After discussing this change and developing the needed infrastructure, the College is "breaking up with" plain, bottled water. As of March 8, you will no longer find plain, bottled water for sale on campus in vending machines or campus retailers. Additionally there will not be bottled water distributed at catered campus events. Instead, there will be "bulk" water options; Sodexo has recently expanded their catering menu to include fruit or veggie infused waters in addition to ice water vats.

"We are eliminating [plastic water bottle usage] as much as possible," said Erickson. "Cost is the big thing; this way people can avoid spending money and get it for free." Another issue that pushed Erickson to advocate for this plastic water bottle-free campus was the "privatization and corporatization of a public resource. A lot of the bottled water is not regulated the same as tap water." In Burlington the water is a higher quality than the EPA standards.

With the number of sustainable water bottle filler-stations in academic and student life buildings, as well as gooseneck faucets in all residence halls, disposable water bottles have become obsolete. Sustain Champlain will even provide campus visitors with stainless steel water bottles, as they distribute to students, faculty and staff. If you are in need of a stainless steel water bottle for a campus guest, contact Erickson. You can find the full story of why Champlain is breaking up with plain, bottled water at

One of the most popular annual events hosted by Sustain Champlain Eco-Reps is the annual Kill-A-Watt Challenge, which puts residence halls in competition with each other to cut down on energy costs. This year marked the fourth time Sustain Champlain hosted the event.

Chauncey Kill-A-WattThe Kill-A-Watt Challenge was something Erickson had seen at other institutions and felt that it would also be successful at Champlain. "The first year it was just me doing it and it was a meager success," Erickson explains. "With the Eco-Reps and other people participating, it has really grown."

During this year's challenge, Erickson credits the success partially to the commitment from other departments at the institution. Residential life and Sustain Champlain offer a cash incentive to the winner of the competition. This year, the estimated cost savings are being transferred to student scholarships, an idea from one of the Eco-Reps. In addition, faculty offered extra credit to students to attend and reflect upon sustainability programming during this time. It's the synchronicity that made the Challenge successful, explained Erickson.

"All told, we saw an average of 12% energy savings across all of our main campus buildings," reported Erickson. "Nineteen main campus buildings saw savings between 1-28%, and three buildings actually increased usage from last fall (anywhere between 7-17%). Using a simplified formula (with a base of $.12/kwh) we figured that we saved over $2,900 worth of electricity during February (for main campus residence halls). These savings will be transferred to student scholarships this year."

Each building's energy usage can be seen on the Kill-A-Watt blog at

An ongoing commitment to reducing vehicles and parking on campus and throughout Burlington has led the College and Campus Area Transportation Management Association (CATMA) to partner with CarShare VT to give students, faculty and staff access to a vehicle for shopping, meetings, or weekend jaunts without the cost and upkeep of a personal car. Champlain College has offered CarShare VT membership at a discounted campus rate for a few years. With construction on the new Communication and Creative Media Division Building and Hauke Family Center Expansion beginning in March, the car that was formerly in Bader Hall parking lot has been relocated - but not to fret! There is still one parked at Perry Hall in the Welcome Center parking lot, and now one across the street from Lakeside Campus at the Innovation Center on Lakeside Ave. Any CarShare VT member may use these vehicles. To get a membership and take advantage of the subsidized campus membership, visit For more information, visit

Sustain Champlain's five committees;— waste, food & purchasing, academic connections, the Green Revolving Fund and transportation— are all addressed and promoted with gusto by committed students, staff and faculty.

Erickson's personal mission is to take students who are excited about something and teach them to follow through with it and see it to completion by connecting them with the resources and navigating the institutional process.

"When I came we had recycling, composting, energy efficient projects but not too much on telling the story," explained Erickson. She has put emphasis on telling their story and making sure that the greater Champlain community knows what is going on. She's even spread the word nationally; Erickson was the keynote speaker at an Eco-Reps conference at the University of South Carolina in February 2013.

For more information on any of these sustainability initiatives, please contact Christina Erickson at or go to

Founded in 1878, Champlain College is a small, not-for-profit, private college in Burlington, Vermont, with additional campuses in Montreal, Canada, and Dublin, Ireland. Champlain offers a traditional undergraduate experience from its beautiful campus overlooking Lake Champlain and over 90 residential undergraduate and online undergraduate and graduate degree programs and certificates. Champlain's distinctive career-driven approach to higher education embodies the notion that true learning occurs when information and experience come together to create knowledge. Champlain College is included in the Princeton Review's The Best 384 Colleges: 2019 Edition. For the fourth year in a row, Champlain was named a "Most Innovative School" in the North by U.S. News & World Report's 2019 "America's Best Colleges,” and a “Best Value School” and is ranked in the top 100 “Regional Universities of the North” and in the top 25 for “Best Undergraduate Teaching.” Champlain is also featured in the Fiske Guide to Colleges for 2019 as one of the "best and most interesting schools" in the United States, Canada and Great Britain and is a 2019 College of Distinction. For more information, visit