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Kansas State University

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The green machine

Ben Champion maps the road ahead to a sustainable campus


A visitor is likely to find Ben Champion, Rhodes scholar, Eagle Scout, working in his office with the lights turned off.

Ben ChampionAs the new director of sustainability at K-State, he plans to lead by example. "We need to learn to sip energy instead of guzzling it," Champion said.

Although his title is director, "I really don't expect to direct," Champion said. "I'm more of a facilitator and a liaison. I have to be able to connect with the university community and the Manhattan community and help bring them together."

While this may be a daunting task, Champion, a 2002 K-State graduate, has a wealth of knowledge and experience from which to draw.

He earned bachelor's degrees in chemistry, natural resources and environmental sciences with minors in Spanish and political science. A 2003 Rhodes scholar, in January of this year he completed a doctoral degree in geography at Oxford University, where he researched sustainable food systems.

As an undergraduate, Champion was an intern for Rep. Dennis Moore in summer 2002. His achievements include a Udall scholarship in 2000. He also was a finalist in the 2002 Truman scholarship competition, a Kansas Honors scholar, a K-State Putnam scholar and a Howard Hughes undergraduate research scholar. His environmental activities included roles as environmental director on his residence hall floor and president of Students for Environmental Action.

His current mission is to be a voice for sustainability on campus and off. When talking about the need for environmental action, that voice reveals the urgency of someone who recognizes the dire consequences of not taking action. To him, the concepts of sustainability and "going green" aren't fads or marketing trends.

"Sustainability is something we should have been doing all along," he said. "K-State is a land-grant institution that was established with the intent that it would be a center for learning and understanding. This puts us in a unique position to create a model for sustainability."

Champion has a plethora of ideas, including a Web site and a fall sustainability conference.

"The Web site would serve as an interactive presence for the major sustainability efforts we've got going at K-State, with particular regard to student life, curriculum, operations, research and engagement," he said.

The conference, which he's coordinating with Pat Bosco, vice president for student life and dean of students, would be the first of its kind at a university in Kansas.

Champion is interested in tackling energy consumption through conservation and renewable production. Given K-State's strengths in architecture and engineering, he would like to engage students and faculty in energy-efficient building ventures.

He also believes Research and Extension could combine with the engineering curriculum and research programs to build wind turbines and solar facilities on or near campus. Such efforts could educate people throughout Kansas.

Champion plans to encourage a campus that focuses less on the car and more on shuttles, as well as paths for bikes and walkers.

He realizes that ample work lies ahead of him, but Champion believes we all have a responsibility to act sustainably.

"Somewhere in the glut of energy and capital of the 20th century, we forgot that throughout human history, abundance has not been the norm," he said. "It's time to remember that and plan accordingly.


Photo: K-State's position as a land-grant institution "puts us in a unique position to create a model for sustainability," says Ben Champion, the university's new director of sustainability.