A Student Voice for Sustainability

By Matt Windsor

0912 forbes2Dexter Forbes 
President, UAB Green Initiative
Student member, UAB Sustainability
Dexter Forbes came to UAB because of the city scene, but he found his niche as an advocate for the land. As a high school senior in Auburn, Maine, Forbes earned an Alabama G.I. Dependents’ Scholarship. (His parents, both members of the United States Navy, were stationed in Maine; his father was originally from Anniston, Alabama.) He visited several schools in the state, but “I chose UAB because of its urban campus and diverse environment,” he says. “And I really liked the gym.”

Looking for a way to get involved on campus, Forbes discovered the UAB Green Initiative, a student organization “that works toward a more sustainable community,” he says. Forbes, now a junior majoring in African-American studies and English, says he enjoyed the opportunity to learn about local and national environmental issues—and the chance to make a difference in his own backyard. He is now the group's president.

The Green Initiative “started a recycling program at Glen Iris Elementary School”—just off UAB's campus—“where we put bins in the hallways and the teachers’ lounge and transport their paper recycling over to the UAB Recycling Center,” he says. On Mondays, group members volunteer at the recycling center. Regular training sessions and trips to national conventions such as Power Shift give members inspiration and ideas they can bring back to campus, Forbes says.

The Thought that Counts

The most important way to reduce your environmental impact is to “think about what you are using and what goes into making it,” says Forbes. A few of his other sustainable suggestions:

  • Reduce: “Unplug any device that you are not using so that it doesn't continue sucking up energy.”
  • Reuse: “That Starbucks cup can be refilled and used again that same day.”
  • Re-move: “Walk or bike whenever you can.”
  • Return to your economic roots: “One of the biggest drains on resources is imported resources. Buy locally when you can.”

In 2011, Forbes got the chance to play a larger role in sustainability efforts at UAB when he was named to the university's Sustainability Committee, which is made up of students, faculty, and administrators from across campus. The group is charged with finding new ways to reduce UAB's environmental impact.

“I live in the dorms, and I eat on campus, so the changes that the Sustainability Committee is considering directly affect me,” Forbes says. “I can be a voice for the students, and I can also see where changes are needed that others might miss.”

Many initiatives driven by the committee, including water-saving measures in the new UAB Steam Plant and “smart scheduling” of classes to conserve power at night, fall into the category of “behind-the-scenes stuff,” Forbes says. He is working to make these changes more visible to students—formally at Green Initiative meetings and informally in his day-to-day interactions with other students. But Forbes says he also reminds his classmates that they have a major role as well.

“I'd like to add prompts around the dorms and other areas to remind people to turn off lights and reduce water use,” he says. “The cheapest way to become sustainable is to change behavior.”

More Information

Sustainability at UAB