Earth Week goes virtual


By N.L. Sweeney
There’s no doubt anymore; spring is here! And at the University of Washington Bothell, even as students, staff and faculty continue to operate in a remote environment, plans to celebrate the Earth are forging ahead with this year’s Earth Week.

As with most activities during the coronavirus pandemic, organizers of the event have had to adapt to the stay-in-place regulations. Rather than invite the UW Bothell community to gather with more than 30 partners on our physical campus, Earth Week is going virtual.

Led by Alexa Russo, sustainability coordinator at UW Bothell, this event will again celebrate our environment and how people are working to protect it.

Environmentalism is especially important right now, said Russo.

“Since it’s the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, this is the perfect time to acknowledge how far we’ve come — and how much we still have left to do,” she said. “Our hope with this year’s Earth Week is to model how individual action can lead to collective change.”

Sustainability in action

Alexa Russo

Alexa Russo in campus rain garden in 2018.

Marc Studer

The main purpose of the event is to display a variety of ways to engage with sustainability. “Sustainability is an interdisciplinary issue,” said Russo. “We want to give students the chance to see some of the things they can do to make an impact. Everyone plays an important role.”

To see this goal through, Russo is partnering with the city of Bothell, Cascadia College, the UW in Seattle, the campus library, the Sustainable Student Action Club and UW Bothell’s Student Diversity Center and Office of Organizational Excellence & Human Resources.

These partners share a common and optimistic outlook, something Russo believes is critical, especially right now. “With all the negative news out there, we want Earth Week to be empowering and help bring people together,” she said. “Our focus this year is looking at the ways we can improve and at the things we can do to make a difference.”

Engaging from home

Originally, this year’s Earth Week theme was going to be past, present and future. Instead, the main focus of the event is creating community. To help foster engagement, Russo is facilitating a virtual book club in which participants will be reading “Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy,” a book which resonates with Russo’s goal of making the event an uplifting one.

Throughout the week, Russo has coordinated a number of other online activities as well, including a virtual wetland tour, a movie watching party and a menstrual cup workshop. Russo also plans to host conversations about some of the environmental changes that have been noted since the pandemic started.

Additionally, Earth Week will feature a community eco-challenge using an online platform where individuals can commit to eco-related challenges such as bike riding to the grocery store or turning off the water while they brush their teeth. Even with such simple but measurable actions, Russo noted, people can see how their actions can impact the community.

Maria Raza, peer navigator at the Student Diversity Center, was disappointed when her plans for creating a workshop about environmental racism had to be cancelled. But that did not stop her. Instead, she has begun compiling learning resources that the Student Diversity Center can share to provide insights on the topic long after Earth Week.

Making it personal

At UW Bothell, sustainability has long been a core value tenet. But this concept is about more than just the physical environment. It includes participation, understanding and well-being. In fact, Russo said, making collective change necessitates this kind of community building.

Ian Zamora, program manager at the Student Diversity Center and one of the collaborators for Earth Week, agreed. As he pointed out, sustainability is about the natural world and about ourselves. “And sustainability has to start with self-reflection.”

To create a human environment where that can flourish, added Russo, means bridging connections.

“It is more important now than ever to look at the ways we can foster relationships,” said Russo. “Our hope is that this year’s Earth Week will help to bring us together even as we are physically apart.”


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