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Luther's Environmental Concerns Organization is back and focusing on the Decorah community

Posted: Wed, Mar 11, 2020 10:16 AM

After a brief hiatus, Luther's Environmental Concerns Organization has been revived on campus.

It's unclear as to when the original ECO began, but environmental activism has been on campus for quite a while.  Luther sophomore Charlie Sylvester, who was drawn to the school because of its goals of sustainability and the environmental studies program, discusses abundant student involvement in the development of Baker Village back in late 1990's.  The buildings incorporate several environmentally responsible features, including geothermal heating and cooling, compact fluorescent bulbs throughout, low-flow shower and faucet heads, low-flush toilets, and landscaping restored to prairie meadows.

The original ECO continued along with similar types of activism until 2016 when, unfortunately, the number of club members dwindled and there seemed to be less interest and investment in the club.  The student leading ECO sent an email saying that they would no longer be meeting.

That's not to say Luther and its students were no longer concerned about being environmentally aware.  The Center for Sustainable Communities on campus created a work study program called "Educators" that helped continue the efforts.  But Sylvester, along with first-year environmental studies major Thomas Woodford, say there was still something missing. Educators, according to Sylvester and Woodford, has only about 10 students in the program.

Sylvester explains, "Educators is a great work study, but we want to involve and engage even more of the student body.  You don't have to be an Environmental Studies major or part of Educators to care about our planet."

Hence the revival of ECO in the fall of 2019. This new version, however, will look a bit different than the past. Previously, ECO focused on making Luther a more sustainable campus, as well as getting students involved in environmentalism. While these are still some of their goals, ECO now recognizes the importance of expanding the view beyond Luther. 

"We are hoping to become more involved in our local communities and its goals towards sustainability. Our vision is for ECO to strengthen the bond students have with the local community, and see what both students and community members have to offer in the name of change," says Sylvester.

One idea the group is throwing around is helping host Decorah's local farmer's market in the spring to help build a network of students and the community. Sylvester continues, "We want ourselves to be accessible to the community and build a successful network within it."

Talking about the 5th Ave bridge, Woodford adds, "We don't need to 'build a bridge', as the saying goes, because it's already there.  We just need to cross it—having students in the community and the community on campus with the goal of thinking about sustainability."

"We are just really excited to hear from people about how we can help the community. We are looking to make a difference," notes Sylvester.

Community members are invited to join ECO at weekly meetings on Thursdays beginning at 7:30 p.m. in room 367 of Luther's Valders Hall. For more information about ECO and its goals, contact the group at or check out their Facebook page here.