Earth Week activities celebrate sustainability

Earth Day is April 22, but East Carolina University students and sustainability organizations will celebrate with a full week of events beginning with the Earth Day of Service on Saturday, April 15.

Participants will check in at 9 a.m. at the Main Campus Student Center’s Blackbox Theater, then participate in beautification projects, community gardening and craft activities at several sites in Greenville and Farmville. Chad Carwein, ECU sustainability manager, said he’s expecting a great turnout after having 70 students and community members turn up at the Greenville Community Garden for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.

East Carolina University 2023 Earth Week events.

East Carolina University 2023 Earth Week events. Some planned events, including a kayak river cleanup at the Town Common and a litter cleanup and water quality testing demonstration at Town Creek Culvert, have been cancelled due to high water levels in the Tar River. (Contributed graphic)

“We’re going to be gardening and doing orchard work, we’ll be doing litter cleanups on the greenway and the grid, and we’ll have art projects — painting pallettes and signs for the garden, all kinds of stuff,” he said. “It’s just a fun way to kick things off and really get people in the spirit of being outside and enjoying nature.”

Earth Day was started in 1970 to raise awareness of environmental issues, and the effort helped lead to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency later that year. Carwein said ECU’s celebration of Earth Day’s 50th anniversary was limited due to the pandemic, but that student groups have come back strong since then.

“Our student sustainability groups are doing some great things on campus and they’re being recognized for it,” he said. “The Earth Day Festival on Friday will be a great chance to see firsthand what they’re doing to make a difference on campus.”

Highlights include a bike-powered smoothie maker, bicycle repair station and possibly a butterfly release, Carwein said. Following the festival will be a hunt for sharks’ teeth at Green Springs Park.

New this year is a partnership with ECU’s Apparel and Interior Merchandising Organization (AIMO) for a sustainability themed fashion show. AIMO’s 19th annual fashion show, titled “Recycle the Runway,” will feature the students’ take on sustainability, from thrift store finds to upcycling old clothing and fabrics, Carwein said. “I’m really excited to see what they come up with.”

Wednesday’s events include planting medicinal garden beds on the health sciences campus, sustainability trivia, and a screening of “The Lorax” on the PirateVision screen at the Main Campus Student Center, and Thursday will bring a tree planting and a tour of the Otter Creek Natural Area.

The Otter Creek Natural Area is an ECU-owned property that was reopened last year, Carwein said. Student volunteers have continued working at the site to clear and extend the trail system.

“The property just has so much potential,” he said, “not just to pick back up the research opportunities and the field studies, but also recreationally. A lot of people just don’t know it exists, and we’re trying to change that.”

On Earth Day itself, the Coastal Studies Institute on ECU’s Outer Banks Campus will open its doors for an open house and the 2023 Earth Fair OBX from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Attendees will be able to tour the campus and facilities, learn about research and education programs, and participate in family-friendly activities.

While Earth Day comes around once a year, Carwein said, sustainabilitity is a year-round effort. ECU Sustainability partnered with Campus Living in February to challenge the students in ECU’s residence halls to reduce their energy consumption. After a two-week baseline average was established for each residence hall, they competed in February to see which hall could produce the great percentage reduction in energy usage.

Garrett Hall won the Watt Watch Energy Challenge, reducing consumption by 8.07% by monitoring thermostats, unplugging devices and being mindful of using natural light, said Melissa Nolan, graduate assistant for ECU Sustainability. Despite a February warm spell that led to some air conditioning usage, Nolan said the students in all the residence halls did a great job.

“ECU students have a deep and inherent understanding that sustainability practices are not only prudently cost effective, but may help mitigate the negative effects of climate change,” she said. “Greenville is unique in its location near the coast with natural resources that support local economies, which needs to be protected. ECU students have the opportunity to lead change toward sustainable practices that benefits the triple bottom line (profit, people and the planet) in eastern North Carolina.”

Note: Some planned events, including a kayak river cleanup at the Town Common and a litter cleanup and water quality testing demonstration at Town Creek Culvert, have been cancelled due to high water levels in the Tar River.