Some students on campus leave the water running when they are brushing their teeth, don't quite understand what the different recycling bins are for and forget to turn the lights off when they leave the room. 

University of Richmond Sustainability Advocates is trying to educate and change these habits in students on campus. 

URSA is a completely student-run group that empowers students to learn about sustainability on campus, adopt eco-friendly habits, engage in sustainability events and support campus sustainability initiatives, Office for Sustainability staff members said.  

The organization's members work as advocates for sustainability on campus, but the group does not require members to commit additional time to meetings and events for it. To become members of the group, students must complete three steps: get their rooms Green Room Certified, complete the sustainability quizzes online and attend an Intro to Sustainability information session on campus. 

The steps and quizzes are outlined on the Office for Sustainability’s webpage. Once students have completed these steps, they become members of the organization.

URSA creates a network for students who are passionate about sustainability and want to promote better habits on campus, senior Natalie Phelps, a URSA coordinator and Office for Sustainability intern said. 

As members of URSA, students receive invitations to events on campus and get the chance to give input for sustainability events on campus, Cassandra Collins, the Office for Sustainability's communications and engagement specialist said. 

“One thing we like to emphasize is that URSA is not a club," Phelps said. "While it comes with the benefits of being part of an organization – a group of like-minded people, access to events and volunteer opportunities and then the freedom to take the group in whatever direction the members want to – they can get whatever they need out of it."

Although the benefits of being a member stretch far beyond being a part of the network, that is a big part of it, said sophomore Danielle Sorscher, an Office for Sustainability intern. 

“Members of URSA are also the first people to know about anything sustainability-related on campus," Sorscher said. "This includes volunteer opportunities, comments on sustainability draft plans and any other initiatives on campus. URSA members learn new ways to live more sustainably, and, of course, there is a ton of free clothes and stickers involved, too.”

The members of the club will also be invited to help plan the RVA Environmental Film Festival, which happens in February. Members will also be the main volunteers and educators at the Rethink Waste basketball game in February, Phelps said.

As co-coordinators of URSA, Phelps and Sorscher helped re-launch the program this year, Phelps said. Both Sorscher and Phelps are interns for the Office of Sustainability and are trying to create a culture of sustainability on campus, Phelps said. 

After the re-launch of URSA, the Office for Sustainability is trying to increase membership of URSA as much as possible to create a solid network that will begin to grow on its own, Phelps said. 

The Office for Sustainability has been reaching out to Greek-life organizations and tabling. It also changed the time of the Intro to Sustainability session to the evening to get more students involved, Collins said. 

Before the re-designing of the organization, URSA was a club that had weekly meetings, but the coordinators thought that made it too similar to Green UR, Sorscher said. Now, with the new set-up, the organization can emphasize that it is more like sustainability advocates on campus who are promoting better habits and raising awareness on campus, Sorscher said. 

“It is a very dynamic set-up right now," Phelps said. "We’re just trying to appeal to a large audience at first to get people interested and involved, and then we'll take it from there."

Before the re-launch of the club, URSA also ran a series of events that were advertised to the students on campus, Collins said. Now, URSA runs fewer events and is more focused on creating a network of advocates on campus. 

Through the change in the structure of URSA and its meetings, the group has been able to grow significantly and has become more appealing to students who care about sustainability but don’t have the time to give to another organization, Sorscher said. 

Contact contributor Julia Muro at julia.muro@richmond.edu.