New sustainability coordinator focuses on connections, big picture

Burden hopes to bring groups on campus together and focus on university-wide sustainability issues.

The Sustainability Office recently hired Michael Burden as the new coordinator in an effort to keep a better handle on sustainability issues around MU.

Burden, who previously served as the project coordinator for the Office of Service Learning, said he hopes to connect groups working on similar sustainability issues while in his new position.

“We have a pulse of what’s going on all around campus, so when somebody comes to us and says ‘we’re working on this,’ we can then connect them to somebody across campus who is doing something relatable and see if there are any synergies possible,” Burden said. “We love when we can find those collaborative projects that tie those things together.”

Burden said the office recently connected two groups researching waste at football games.

The first group is studying the placement of bins and how it impacts behavior, while the other looks at the food waste stream coming out of the stadium to optimize efficiency.

“(The athletics department) really wants to achieve a low waste profile for the games that they have,” Burden said. “When a partner like athletics is on board with sustainability issues, the amplification of the issue is tremendous because so many people care about it.”

Burden said the office will also help MU administrators in achieving carbon neutrality on campus by 2050.

Alicia LaVaute, the senior recycling and waste minimization specialist for the Sustainability Office, said Burden’s positivity and high-energy personality will improve the office.

“He has great leadership skills and will be able to motivate people to try new things and make changes to live a life that can be more sustainable,” she said.

Campus Facilities spokeswoman Karlan Seville said Burden will take the office in a new direction.

“(Burden) is going to focus more on the big picture of sustainability as a whole on campus — that’s something we’ve been lacking,” she said. “And someone to get a handle on what is happening across campus and better package that because people don’t know how many different research projects and classes there are.”

Burden said the Sustainability Office will work with Sustain Mizzou and the Environmental Leadership Office to host Sustainapalooza in October and spread awareness of environmental efforts on campus.

“College is a time when you start to develop habits that are potentially going to be lifelong habits and it’s also a time when you’re exposed to a lot of new ideas, and we hope that students will consider how their day to day actions have an impact on others and their environment,” Burden said.

Burden said his goal for the next few months is to get a clear understanding of everything occurring on campus, and eventually propel MU to be recognized as an environmentally-friendly campus.

“One of the goals that I have is that if you visit the campus as a prospective student, I want you to very easily get a sense that this campus is at the forefront of sustainability,” Burden said. “We are in so many ways now, but you might not know that. Sometimes it’s below the surface or isn’t in the promotional materials. I want to continue to amplify and integrate those efforts into the overall messaging that folks receive.”

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