LOGAN – When Roslynn Brain joined Utah State University in August 2011 as a faculty member in the Department of Environment and Society and an Extension specialist in sustainable communities, she faced a daunting task. How would she educate constituents of all ages, rural and urban, living throughout the state of Utah and beyond, in sustainable living?
The answer, Brain concluded, was harnessing the power of technology – especially the Web and social media – to provide Utahns with accessible and concise information about practical ways to sustain the environmental health and beauty of a state renowned for its picturesque and unique landscapes.
“A first step was gathering information and assembling it in a simple, easy-to-read format,” Brain says. “It occurred to me, ‘What better way to organize information than around the essential elements of life: land, water, air, food and energy?’”
A next step was securing Extension grants to form a student team with graphic design, Web, social media, outreach and sustainable living expertise to aid Brain with her efforts.
Brain recruited undergraduate art education major Paige Gardner, who is pursuing a minor in sustainable systems, to coordinate all of the social media outlets (Facebook, Twitter, blog and Pinterest) associated with the recently launched USU Extension Sustainability website, extension.usu.edu/sustainability. Recently hired graduate student Blake Thomas, a master’s student in Human Dimensions of Ecosystem Science and Management who completed a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies Dec. 2012, will assist Brain in her sustainable living outreach programming.
The website’s resultant design features crisp, colorful home page icons that quickly guide the user to helpful articles, lesson plans, funding opportunities and Web links.
“There was no need to reinvent the wheel,” she says. “As a land-grant institution with a long-standing Extension presence, Utah State has tons of documented expertise in a range of sustainable living solutions.”
Brain adds she isn’t reluctant to tap information sources outside the state.
“As users navigate the site, they’ll notice resources from other universities and organizations offering innovative solutions and practical tips,” she says. “My team and I add something to the website and the social media outlets every week.”
Typical posts include such tips as simple ways to reduce food waste and junk mail, suggestions to make holiday celebrations more sustainable and saving energy at home.
The inviting sites, which feature colorful photography, appear to be enticing a growing audience.
“Since we launched the website in October 2012, we’ve documented more than 1,000 visits from 10 countries on every continent except Antarctica,” Brain says. “The average visit is nearly three minutes, which indicates people are finding topics of interest.”
She notes the new website is not to be confused with, or compete with, the university’s existing “Blue Goes Green” Sustainability Council website, sustainability.usu.edu, which features on-campus sustainability efforts.
“The university’s Sustainability Council website is geared to efforts and an audience here on campus,” Brain says. “The Sustainability Extension website I coordinate is directed to audiences beyond campus. These two efforts complement each other.”
Beyond the Web, Brain and her team are participating in campus and community outreach projects throughout the state. The group staffed interactive exhibits at last August’s third annual EarthWell Festival at Utah’s Jordanelle State Park and at October’s ninth annual Intermountain Bioneers Conference in Logan. Brain plans an exhibit during the USU College of Science’s spring 2013 Science Unwrapped series, which will focus on water.
“To date, we’ve talked with nearly 2,000 people face-to-face about sustainable living,” she says. “Our schedule keeps us busy, but it’s enlightening and energizing to visit with people from diverse communities throughout the state. I’m excited for our next steps of creating face-to-face trainings in environmental sustainability for the general public.”