Students to help city of Edmonds increase sustainability

Next year, students at Western Washington University will help the city of Edmonds become more sustainable. The work will be done through Western’s new Sustainable Cities Partnership program.

The program matches courses at Western to issues facing a city as the city strives to achieve a sustainable future. Eleven projects in Edmonds will be tackled by a set of Western resources that includes ten courses, three student interns (who will thereby fulfill graduation requirements) and six student employees. The projects are diverse, representing various aspects of sustainability within a municipal setting.

Among the projects are:

  • reduction of stormwater impacts upon the Edmonds Marsh;
  • use of GIS to modernize the management of the Edmonds Memorial Cemetery;
  • development of a mobile app to make visitors aware of amenities in downtown Edmonds;
  • evaluating available methods of dealing with construction waste and food waste;
  • analyzing the likely impacts of sea-level rise upon the Edmonds shoreline.

The full range of courses and projects can be seen at the Sustainable Cities Partnership website.

The program is new to Western, with Edmonds serving as the inaugural partner. The Association of Washington Cities provided financial and logistical support to Western during the five-month effort to recruit a partner. AWC was aware of cities’ sustainability-related efforts and believed that the engagement of academia would be useful. This kind of partnership provides benefits to both the city and the university; students and faculty are able to tackle real-life projects, complementing the theoretical content in a given course, while the city benefits from thousands of person-hours of attention focused upon its projects, at a relatively low cost.

The partnership also advances Western’s institutional goal of applying its academic expertise in ways that strengthen communities beyond the campus.

The program is co-directed by Seth Vidaña and Grace Wang. Vidaña manages Western’s Office of Sustainability, which uses academic resources to advance sustainability upon the campus itself.

“For years, we’ve directed academic resources at on-campus projects, such as installation of photovoltaic arrays, development of waste-reduction and recycling programs and improvement of the energy efficiency of facilities," he said. "The SCP program lets us now direct those resources at an external client, extending the impact that Western can have in our societal efforts to achieve a sustainable future.”

Wang is the academic director of Western’s Sustainability Initiative, which works to incorporate sustainability-related content into curriculum throughout the campus.

“The partnership with Edmonds is very exciting, as it showcases the wide variety of disciplines that are instrumental in the transition toward sustainability," she said. "The courses tackling Edmonds’ projects are housed in several departments—Computer Science, Environmental Studies, Environmental Science, Journalism, and Recreation.  Sustainability truly is achievable only with interdisciplinary cooperation.”

Within Washington state, Edmonds is widely recognized as being at the forefront of the pursuit of sustainability.

“Edmonds is excited at the opportunity to initiate this partnership program with Western and AWC," said Dave Earling, Edmonds' mayor. "It should be a great benefit to students, faculty and the City of Edmonds this coming year, and to others as the program continues into the future.”

The Edmonds Ferry Dock. Image by user Pfly on Wikipedia