When Kalen Pilkington was growing up, her family had a vermicomposter at their home — a box of dirt and worms into which you can place organic waste — in order to provide a more ecological method of disposal.
She didn’t realize this practice was unusual until she got into elementary school, and the friends that came to her house asked questions about the “pet worms.” For Pilkington and her family, sustainability was just a way of life.
“I value that so much now,” she says.
As she went into university, Pilkington got involved in student initiatives for sustainability on campus, including working on a student farmers’ market and helping to create the office of sustainability at her school during her undergrad at Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario. In part because of her experiences there, she decided to continue her schooling, earning a master’s degree in environment and sustainability from the University of Western Ontario. She then went into the green architecture post-graduate program at Algonquin College in Ottawa.
Right after completing the program, she became the environmental coordinator for St. Albert, and after a year in that position, she transitioned into the sustainability coordinator position for St. Albert. Her major project was the community vision, a 50-year plan featuring the “pillars of sustainability” that will influence all of the city plans going forward.
Finally, in late August, Pilkington became MacEwan University’s sustainability coordinator. The self-proclaimed “school junkie” relished the opportunity to be part of an educational facility again, as well as being able to work with a generation of students that are increasingly passionate about sustainability.“When I saw this opportunity, I was very excited, because it really marries the two passions in my life: one being sustainability, and the other being education,” she explains.
The major project that she’s working on for her first year is updating the school’s strategic sustainability plan, which hasn’t had an overhaul in almost five years. To do this, Pilkington is reaching out to students, staff and faculty, trying to ensure that everyone is able to have input into the sustainable future of MacEwan. She is also lending her experience and expertise to a wide range of events and projects, such as the campus-wide Green Impact competition, the Tower Gardens project, and partnering with the U of A for Sustainability Awareness Week.
Another initiative that she is working on with several members of the MacEwan faculty is starting the interdisciplinary elective Sustainability 201, which begins in the upcoming winter semester and will educate students on the interconnected environmental, economic and social aspects of sustainability. Ideally, Pilkington says the course could become the building block for a more complete sustainability program, with future students potentially able to earn either a minor or a certificate in sustainability.
In the long term, Pilkington would like to see MacEwan make greater progress towards becoming a more sustainable campus, with a lower carbon footprint and a much higher rate of energy and water conservation. She describes MacEwan’s current sustainability as “a college level, [and] since we’ve stepped up to a university, we need to step up our sustainability program so it matches.” That statement encapsulates her long-term goals for the school.
She has a completely open-door policy and encourages students to contact her with any questions or concerns regarding sustainability on campus.
Kalen Pilkington can be reached by email (firstname.lastname@example.org), phone (780-497-4225), or in her office, room 10-628A (City Centre Campus).
Photo by Leah Rae, supplied.