Sustainability department welcomes new director Megan Butler


Sustainability Office. Photo by Joel Sadofsky ’25.

Lucy Diaz, Features Editor


Byline: Lucy Diaz, Features Editor

This January, Macalester welcomed a new director of the Sustainability Department, a position that had been left unfilled over the fall 2022 semester when former Sustainability Director Christie Manning returned to teaching in the Psychology Department. 

Megan Butler, the new director, joins the sizable sustainability student staff, as well as Sustainability Coordinator Ellen Gurrola in the department. With the department’s 15th anniversary fast approaching and the start of the Campus Race to Zero Waste beginning the week of Feb. 7, she has had to hit the ground running. 

Butler was previously an Assistant Professor at Lake Superior State University in northern Michigan, where the focus of her teaching was conservation biology. However, sustainability has been a lifelong interest of hers. 

“I started out with sustainability having a different definition and it’s broadened over time,” Butler said. “Questions of equity are really important to me in sustainability conversations and following those questions [led me to] more social sciences and economics.” 

Butler has an impressive background in sustainability and conservation, with a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies, a master’s in international development practice and a PhD in natural resources management. She emphasized the importance of promoting sustainable livelihoods in a way that allows people to live and take care of their families in a sustainable way. 

“I think Mac is a place where we can talk about on-the-ground sustainability initiatives, like how to reach zero waste, but also, how do we build a world that is sustainable and equitable,” Butler said. 

Butler was also interested in the sustainability director position because of the goals and missions for sustainability that Macalester has laid out, like zero waste and carbon neutrality. She felt that the school was trying to push forward in regards to sustainability in an exciting and innovative way.

“I came here to do an interview and I got to see some of the student projects and workers, and that was exciting to see people engaged,” Butler said. “I was impressed by the [fact there] were a lot of student workers working at the sustainability office that weren’t necessarily environmental studies majors, so I appreciate the sustainability consciousness throughout campus.” 

On the hiring committee for the position was Gurrola, the office coordinator, as well as Assistant Vice President of Facilities Services Nathan Lief, James Doyle from the Physics and Astronomy Department and sustainability student worker Madeline Medina ’23. 

Gurrola herself is also fairly new to her position, being hired by the college in April of 2022, soon before former sustainability director Christie Manning left the position. According to Gurrola, some of the characteristics that the committee emphasized in their search for a new director were inclusivity, a diverse background in sustainability, forward thinking and a willingness to jump in wherever was needed. 

“There are goals that [Macalester] hasn’t met yet … we definitely looked for someone who would help us in that vision,” Gurrola said. 

The only student representative on the hiring committee, Medina, is the Free Swap manager and responsible for organizing the Free Swap and coordinating donations. 

“As a student, it was also important that the sustainability director would be able to connect with students and encourage us to grow, but also provide guidance and direction when necessary,” Medina wrote in an email to The Mac Weekly. “I think having a student perspective on these kinds of committees is vital to making sure this kind of thing, and other student needs, are not overlooked.”

As the sustainability office is a primarily student staffed office, Medina’s role on the hiring committee was particularly important. Both she and Gurrola highlighted the importance that the candidate they were looking for be willing to engage with and support student projects, and it seems like Butler is more than willing to fill this role. 

“Student clubs are doing well, and the question is ‘How do we supplement what the students want to do and are doing well?’” Butler said. “We should keep the power with the students and student decision making.” 

Medina expressed her excitement about Butler letting the department flourish as ideas and interests are prioritized, rather than stricter boundaries and deadlines. 

I appreciate how she seems to value students as equals rather than enforcing a strict hierarchy,” she wrote. 

During the time period in which the sustainability director position remained unfilled, the department underwent a switch from being under the supervision of academic life to facilities services, and the additional support from the facilities staff helped make the lack of a director manageable for the remaining staff. 

“We have such amazing student staff and such an amazing facilities staff that we were somehow able to manage,” Gurrola said. “Nathan was really great too at stepping in and supporting … and then the students and I were able to work and they were able to help me where I needed.” 

Moving forward with full capacity, both Gurrola and Butler are excited to usher in a new era of sustainability at Macalester. The department’s 15 year anniversary is approaching this April and preparations are already underway for the celebration, which Medina is working on helping to plan. 

Beyond that, the bike program will be returning as temperatures increase, upcycling and other events are being organized and a website for the Free Swap is being constructed. They are now also in the midst of the Campus Race to Zero Waste, an intercollegiate competition in categories such as diversion and food organics, which Macalester has historically ranked extremely well in. 

In addition, Butler also has some exciting and innovative goals for the future. She categorized them into three sections: institutional, student and personal. 

“At the institutional level, we’ve made these big sustainability commitments, so a big thing is figuring out how to advance these goals,” Butler said. “Another level of goals is student goals, because students come to you and have good ideas and are really passionate, so helping students advance their own goals. And then I have personal goals … I would love to be able to bring more of those things that I am very passionate about into Macalester and harness [that] energy.”