At work with the sustainability network: Student and solar power—what does MacCARES stand for?

The Sustainability Network brings together students from a variety of departments and organizations working on sustainability-related projects from around campus. You can get in touch with the network with your ideas or questions by emailing [email protected] or [email protected]

This week, we hear from the student org MacCARES (Conservation and Renewable Energy Society).

Every organization has its legends. Although the origins of MacCARES are shrouded in myth, one story stands out: the war room. When MacCARES was first started in the early 2000s, the founders maintained a spare room in a GDD suite, dedicated to strategizing for sustainability on campus. Decorated with blueprints of campus buildings, power maps of campus decision-making structures, the founders of the preeminent environmentally friendly organization at Macalester strategized for advancing the goals of saving the Earth, one campus at a time.

In all seriousness, MacCARES, or the Macalester Conservation and Renewable Energy Society, has had a long and impactful history. Having spun off several other student groups in recent years, namely the Food Justice Network and Fossil Free Mac, MacCARES has been a leading voice for sustainability and conservation on campus. We are a grassroots student organization with a unique leadership structure and a cooperative, positive relationship with the administration. Our mission is simple but also broad and ambitious. In short, we are dedicated to positively influencing Macalester to become a more environmentally sustainable institution for the benefit of current and future Macalester students and the world.

MacCARES has been involved in many projects promoting sustainability at Macalester. We were an important student voice in the movement to sign the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), the commitment that led to our carbon neutral by 2025 goal and the creation of the Sustainability Office. More recent projects in which MacCARES has been involved are the bottled water ban and campus composting education.

We take pride in the unique leadership structure of this student organization. The grassroots aspect of our identity is extremely important and vital to our role on campus. Forgoing the traditional student org leadership structure, MacCARES uses a shared leadership model with a rotating chair every week. Delegation of responsibility is highly important to the group, with projects assigned to anyone who wishes to serve as a point-person. Everyone gets involved, showing enthusiasm and pursuing MacCARES’s goals as a single body with many hands. Transparency is also important, with the workings of the organization open to everyone who wishes to participate or start a dialogue. The roster grows every year, with Fall 2014 seeing a large influx of ambitious first years who quickly became dedicated leaders in the org.

With the combined expertise of so many dedicated individuals, MacCARES has pursued many successful projects this academic year, from the straightforward programming to long-term visioning for the future of the school. This week, we organized a week’s worth of programming for the celebration of Earth Week, which includes an art installation, a public waste sort and a teach-in about fossil fuel divestment. At the beginning of the school year, MacCARES was an important vehicle for student voices during discussions about the Strategic Plan, forming part of a coalition of students and faculty who successfully advocated for inclusion of language that better reflects Macalester’s dedication to sustainability in the final version of this important document.

MacCARES has also run a campaign to affirm and increase Macalester’s involvement in renewable energy both on-campus and in the state of Minnesota this year. We have renewed discussions about installing solar panels on the roof of Markim Hall and facilitated Macalester’s application for a statewide incentive that would make solar panel installation more financially feasible for the school. Meanwhile, MacCARES members successfully brokered Macalester’s involvement in Community Solar Gardens in the Twin Cities metro area, which will save Macalester hundreds of thousands of dollars in operating fees every year while enabling the growth of renewable energy generation in Minnesota.

In addition to college commitments to clean energy, MacCARES has run a successful campaign with Residential Life to establish a program to educate students in composting and sustainable living. Known as Dirty Training, the program addresses students during dorm floor meetings. In these meetings, students are taught what can be composted and what cannot be with the intention of reducing unnecessary trash production. This program will be continued into the next academic year and hopefully establish composting as a normative behavior for all at Macalester College, which is paramount to reaching our Zero Waste by 2020 commitment.

Looking forward, MacCARES aims to welcome a new generation of environmental makers and shakers in the Class of 2019. MacCARES has been around for quite some time and has accomplished quite a bit, but we still have much work ahead of us. Whether pursuing institutional policy changes, designing engaging programming or simply enriching campus awareness of environmental issues, MacCARES is a space that empowers students as agents of change at Macalester and beyond.