Maroon, gold and green: Meet Concordia’s sustainability coordinator

Go to the library to rent a Cobbike. Walk along Sixth Street and visit the EcoHouse. Eat in Anderson Commons and see the ‘Taste not Waste’ posters. Where does all of this come from? The answer works in an office tucked away in the Parke Student Leadership Center.

Her name is Jackie Maahs. She is the sustainability coordinator for Concordia College. 

Maahs grew up in southern Minnesota, where her journey to sustainability coordinator began. Her dad sparked this interest in sustainability. They gardened, composted and were conscious of their energy use throughout the house. They even canned their own salsa. These practices were all Maahs knew.

“I didn’t really realize they were different from the norm,” Maahs said. 

The University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus was the next step in Maahs’s journey. She wanted to take what she learned from her dad’s sustainable practices and apply those everywhere. Maahs worked for the campus’s recycling program for two years before she graduated in 2015 with a degree in environmental science. 

Maahs’s next adventure took the form of a waste management consulting job in St. Paul, Minnesota. She worked with national companies to show them where they were being unnecessarily wasteful.

After six months abroad, and working for the Reading Corp in Moorhead, Maahs found her home at Concordia. In June of 2018, she became the sustainability coordinator.

Maahs’s background in waste management gives her a unique perspective on her work at Concordia. 

“I feel like a lot of sustainability is about reducing our waste,” Maahs said. “Reducing our unnecessary energy use, electricity use, water use; it’s all about reducing waste.”

Jackie Maahs | Concordia College

Sustainability coordinator is a two-part job: Maahs has student engagement to focus on, along with broad-scope work for the college. 

Student engagement is where her work is most visible. This is where the Cobbikes, the EcoHouse and Taste not Waste stem from. 

“Our sustainability program is more student focused than many universities,” Kenneth Foster said, the chair of the president’s sustainability council. 

Foster explained that Maahs is one of the main reasons green to-go containers returned to the Maize this semester, for example. The more sustainable to-go option did not happen last semester because of concerns with the coronavirus spreading across these reusable containers. Maahs talked with students and staff last semester to find a solution. Eventually, she found a way to safely promote sustainability.

“You couldn’t ask for anyone better,” Foster said.

Foster explained that Maahs excels both in the technical and interpersonal parts of her job. Since being hired in 2018, Maahs has earned the reputation of someone who people want to work with.

Maahs’s work to engage people in sustainable practices is how most people know her, but her work goes deeper than individual advocacy. 

“If people don’t feel any personal responsibility, they’re not going to act toward change. But, at the same time, they need to understand it’s not all about individual action; it’s about individual intent,” Maahs said.

That is where Maahs’s broad-scope work comes in. The biggest project our sustainability coordinator is working on is the Carbon-Free Concordia initiative. Concordia has resolved to reach carbon neutrality by a date that will be released by the college’s president, William Craft, before the end of this semester. Carbon neutrality means that Concordia will reduce how much carbon it emits, and buy offsets for any carbon use that it cannot eliminate.

“Buying offsets means you’re investing in a project that’s producing and adding new renewable energy to the energy grid,” Maahs said. 

To even begin the move towards carbon neutrality, Concordia needs an inventory of its carbon emissions. Foster explained that this was no easy undertaking. It involves identifying how much carbon Concordia is emitting, finding where the emissions are coming from, deciding how the emissions should be counted, and then putting all of that into the college’s software for tracking. Foster said that this inventory is being done by Maahs and her team. 

Maahs has a team of 14 student interns during the academic year, and three during the summer. Some help with data collection for the carbon emissions inventory, while others manage the Taste not Waste program. There is no shortage of projects for interns to work on in the sustainability office. 

“One of the best parts of my job is that I get to work with interns,” Maahs said.

David Kelm, one of Maahs’s interns this year, said Maahs gives her interns a lot of autonomy to do what they think is best. They have a meeting early in the week where Maahs will give direction, but after, the interns will have plenty of time to give the work their own style. 

Among other projects, Kelm is working on the Carbon-Free Concordia Collaborative. This is where people with ideas about sustainability can give feedback. This group of students takes a look at sustainability at Concordia to see where changes can be made. Kelm said they want to make sustainability as broadly accessible as possible.

“Students have the ability to make change, even more so than I do,” Maahs said.

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