Engstrom's New Position Appears Sustainable
Nathan Engstrom, the College’s new Environmental Sustainability Coordinator, describes his job as a little “in flux.”
Since his position has only existed for a month and a half, this “flux” is understandable. The idea behind the new sustainability position is to have a full-time employee responsible for nothing but issues of sustainability, thus serving to tie together different parts of campus and creating sustainability “champions throughout the institution.”
Engstrom is committed to taking these issues very seriously. He is especially concerned with working on issues of sustainability together with students. His office has already hired three students to implement student-led plans to increase sustainability and begun a monthly Green Tea meeting for leaders of various student groups to talk and collaborate. He hopes to continue hearing from students as time progresses.
“We want to be accessible, we want to encourage people to get in touch with us about anything — a criticism, a problem, a crazy idea, anything!” he said. “We want to be very responsive and open.”
Engstrom’s connection to sustainability is not new. He grew up an hour outside of Chicago in what he describes as “a small town that wanted to be big,” in that it had the roots of a small farming town but dreamed of becoming a Chicago suburb. This was the opposite of how his parents, who biked to work and recycled even when the town did not have a recycling program, raised him. The lack of support from his town just solidified Engstrom’s resolve.
In college, Engstrom was dedicated to environmental issues, double majoring in environmental studies and sociology. His experiences during College colored what he hopes to achieve at Oberlin.
“[I remember] how offended I got when things weren’t being taken as seriously as I thought they should,” Engstrom said. “I know how important these things are to students in particular.”
Before his position at Oberlin, Engstrom was working in the non-profit green building world in Wisconsin but wanted to broaden the scope of his work. It was then that he began to consider the issue of college sustainability as a “new horizon.” Engstrom applied to Oberlin with interest in the job, but was most convinced of its importance and appeal once he visited Oberlin.
“When I actually got here for an interview and met the people, students in particular, I was just really impressed with how inspiring everyone was, the passion everyone has,” he said. “This really made me feel like this was a place I want to be.”
Now that he has gotten deep into his work, the promise of the position is even more apparent.
“The best part [of my job] is simply being here at this point – that such a position exists, that there’s enough of a commitment to make it happen,” he said. “To have so much support and enthusiasm behind these ideas, and also just to know that there’s so much potential with where we can go with this. We’re kind of at the cusp of wonderful things.”
Currently, Engstrom is focusing on organizing a greenhouse gas inventory of the College and working toward the President’s climate neutrality commitment. He is also working to establish Oberlin as a leader in this field.
“We can take [what] we are able to do here locally on campus, and find ways to disperse that to broader scales and multiply the impact in a very profound way,” he said.
Engstrom is committed to the importance of Oberlin’s leadership in sustainability, for the good of Oberlin’s reputation but also for the benefit of the world.