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Sarah Burke

Photo Courtesy of WOWT

Charlotte Reilly

Earth Month at the University of Nebraska at Omaha will be filled with activities that teach students how to live sustainably.

The April events range from learning how to make homemade lip balm to using a bike blender to demonstrating how much energy appliances use.

“I view sustainability as a mindset,” said Sarah Burke, the UNO sustainability coordinator. “It’s
changing our behavior on how we live our lives. We are no longer just looking at what will better me, but instead what will better me, my family, my friends, my city, my state and the world. Every decision impacts all of this.”

The UNO sustainability page provides students a list of available activities. Students can receive free homemade beeswax or vegan lip balm at the natural beauty and cleaning products demonstration table on April 18. They can also take home recipe cards for all products displayed.

“We have a habit of convenience, and we don’t know where our stuff comes from,” Burke said. “It’s reconnecting to knowing the ingredients and knowing how things are made.”

The College of Business Administration’s Green Team is hosting five events, including a clothing swap in the Mammal Hall Atrium on April 12 and 13. Student Government is also getting involved by hosting three events.

They are planting trees on Arbor Day, planting a pollinator garden and hosting a Dakota Access Pipeline Panel. “I think the panel will be an opportunity to hear the difference perspectives and engage the students with a dialogue,” sophomore Emma Franklin said. “A pipeline has more than just a political aspect to it.”

The Wellness Center is hosting outdoor exercise classes. Yoga on the Green is from 12 to 1 p.m. in the Pep Bowl on April 13. That night, Outdoor Zumba Glow is from 6:30-7:30 p.m. in the Pep Bowl.

Celebrating Earth Month instead of Earth Week has allowed more organizations to participate.

“There’s been groups that have always wanted to do events, but the week of Earth Week always falls right before Destress Fest and finals week,” Burke said. “Trying to book a space and get people’s attention during that time period is difficult. We decided to spread it out to the entire month to give groups a better chance of hosting events.”

Students who want to volunteer to work events can search SustainUno on MavSync. Burke encourages students who cannot volunteer to participate in events.

“All we want from this month is to make people understand the importance of sustainability and that it’s easy,” Burke said. “My goal is to provide a wide variety of activities that peaks every student’s interest. I want to give students a little spark, especially ones who question sustainability.”

More and more students are becoming advocates for sustainability, Burke said. When Burke first came to UNO, students only talked about food waste. Now, students are coming to her concerned about global warming, climate change and water accessibility.

“I believe that our world has limited resources,” Franklin said. “We need to be responsible and make the environment suitable for future generations. Being aware of sustainability issues is important because I think we sometimes take the Earth for granted.”

Living a sustainable lifestyle can seem daunting, but Burke reminds students that even a small change in habits can make a big impact.

“It does not have to be all or nothing,” Burke said. “You choose the path that you are comfortable going down. I don’t expect everyone to become a vegan who wears organic clothing and doesn’t drive. That’s a lifestyle that most people are not comfortable with living. Even if you are able to do one or a little bit of everything, you are leading to a better planet for all of us.”

Burke wants to make sure students will continue to be aware of sustainability even after Earth Month is over. “This is my month to advertise what sustainability is, but it’s always happening on campus,”Burke said. “Even if I’m not hosting an event, there is something that is still happening behind the scenes.”

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Charlotte Reilly

What worried Steve Rodie most was how his neighbors would react.

In 2004, the University of Nebraska at Omaha biology professor began his plan to get rid of two-thirds of his turf grass and replace it with native and adapted plants. Rodie said that native plants can sometimes look like weeds when they are finished blooming. He didn’t want his neighbors to be upset by his landscape change.

He had a plan to make his garden look neat and taken care of, but also require less maintenance than turf.

“One of the most important things is massing plants because it looks structured,” Rodie said. “You need to know how big the plants will get and let them touch each other. You have to make sure that there are strong edges to define where the plants are.”

Rodie said that if the unconventional beauty of his new yard couldn’t change people’s mindsets on native plants, he could teach them the habitat value of the garden.

Rodie planted milkweed, royal standard hostas, winterberry holly, creeping mahonia and other native plants that animals and insects can use for food. He noticed a huge increase in the amount of wildlife in his yard.

Sarah Burke, the sustainability coordinator for UNO, explained that there is a push to grow milkweed in yards. Over the years, the migratory path for the monarch butterflies has been destroyed because city expansion has been diminishing their habitat. By planting milk-weed, Rodie is providing the monarchs with food and a new habitat.

Not only does Rodie’s garden look beautiful and provide animals food, but it also is more environmentally friendly. He uses fewer chemicals and less water.

When Rodie first moved into his home there were nine irrigation heads in the yard. They sprayed water everywhere, and much of the water was wasted because it went onto the sidewalks and streets. Rodie installed a new system of around 50 heads that put water right on the turf. He can run the system longer, and still use less water than he did with the nine heads. He also uses drip irrigation, which is a system of small brown tubes with punctures in them that let water drip out slowly. It is buried underground, and allows him to water directly into the soil.

Burke is inspired by how environmentally friendly Rodie’s yard is, but believes that the biggest impact Rodie made was opening people’s eyes to the concept of sustainability.

Burke defines sustainability as, “…a rethinking of how you look at the world. It opens your mind to think about how society would benefit from this choice and how the planet would benefit, instead of how you benefit.”

Burke and Rodie both said that his yard has received a lot of attention. They have heard people say that they felt inspired to make changes in their own yards. Rodie’s yard makes a small impact on the environment, but as other people change their yards, the impact will grow.

“If we as a collective society do one small thing, that ends up being a huge impact,” Burke said. “So, we don’t have to go for the homerun every single time we are trying to do something. Just a tiny nudge in that direction will move us in the right way.”