Sustainable Behavior

When students enter WMU’s Business and Society course, they don’t always know they will be participating in a semester-long sustainability effort. 

Taught by Dr. Tim Palmer, professor of management and director of the WMU Center for Sustainable Business Practices, the management course focuses on global issues such as climate change, which prompted Palmer to develop a challenge for his class.

“During our discussions within the course it becomes clear that many students feel that these problems are too big for us to have any personal impact,” says Palmer. “This perception prevents all of us from looking at how we live our lives and how our personal decisions connect to global challenges.”

In 2009, WMU began offering stainless steel EcoMugs and EcoJugs to incoming WMU students with the goal of counteracting disposable cup use on campus. Students can use the mug in all campus cafes and dining halls and at several off-campus businesses.

Palmer decided to help the class understand individual impact using EcoMugs. He noticed that during any particular class many students brought disposable plastic bottles of water. In exchange for a commitment to rid the classroom of disposable bottles, each student is encouraged to use their WMU EcoMug. If students don’t have an EcoMug, Palmer personally purchases them one.

“The EcoMug is not only a waste reduction tool, it is an attempt at changing behavior toward more sustainable actions,” says Carolyn Noack, manager of waste reduction services at WMU. “People using EcoMugs or any other reusable container are making a conscious effort to be sustainable.”

Palmer agrees. “It’s a unique way to learn. I could lecture them on the importance of personal decisions and climate change, but the EcoMug program makes the discussion feel closer to home,” says Palmer. “I try to make it easy for them to reduce their carbon footprint and to see how there are ways they can have a positive impact on huge social challenges."