Emma Ripka: Towards a Sustainable SU

In December I interviewed our current Student’s Union Vice President Operations & Finance, Emma Ripka, about her role in making campus more sustainable. Emma oversees the $11 million annual SU budget, as well as the operations of SUB and SU businesses. So far, Emma`s successes include adding veggie options at Dewey’s and RATT, and reviving SERC, the Students Union Social and Environmental Committee.

I understand that when originally running, your platform didn’t necessarily have a focus on sustainability. Could you explain what motivated you to direct some attention on environmental responsibility and how you have been making changes?

When running, I was focused on having a small and achievable platform. However, when in office I found that I had extra time that I could expend. I realize that some are more aware of climate change than others, and sustainability is a personal passion of mine, so it just made sense to start directing my focus there.

How can you support Sustainability in your role as Vice President Operations and Finance?

Since coming into office, I have reinstated Students Union Social and Environmental Committee (SERC) and have implemented the creation of vegan and vegetarian menus in RATT and Dewey’s. One of the most important ways I find to spread sustainable habits and environmental awareness is by role modeling it myself. I find that as long as you are cooperative and compassionate, people respond well and take interest. I am a minimalist, and a vegetarian. I personally believe in the 4 R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and most importantly Refuse. I try to center my practices and habits around eliminating waste.

A lot of us at SustainSU are vegetarian or vegan- and we were impressed to discover RATT and Dewey’s with separate vegan/vegetarian menus.  Reading your Sept. 13 report I understand that you were responsible for this! Why did you deem it important to implement and was it difficult to do so?  

I am glad to hear that SustainSU is enjoying the new menus. About 30% of University of Alberta students are vegetarian or vegan for sustainable reasons amongst others. I am personally vegetarian (for environmental reasons) and I was unimpressed with the options presented at RATT and Dewey’s.  Part of my role as an SU elected representative is to need the needs of U of A students, so I met with RATT and Dewey’s managers – who welcomed the decision – to have an additional menu created. I understand there has been some backlash regarding the decision, but with nearly a third of our university demographic vegetarian it was only logical.

Tell me about your involvement with the restitution of SERC (Students Union Social and Environmental Committee).

 This year I was able to revive SERC. SERC usually works by taking on a very large project with a specific focus. This year, as the re-institution of SERC was a little late, we focused on a smaller initiative: “auditing” our U of A swag. A similar study was actually done a few years back by a U of A masters student, so we plan on using some of her research to help reduce our waste, and tailor our swag to what students actually will use and keep.

Since SustainSU is an organ of Students Union, it is important that us volunteers stay connected with our SU representatives. If you are interested in reading up on Emma Ripka’s work, or that of VP Academic Akanksha Bhatnagar, VP Student Life Andre Bourgeois, VP External Adam Brown, or President Reed Larson please see: https://www.su.ualberta.ca/governance/executives/.

Rojine McVea
SustainX Volunteer
Cover photo taken from Prairie Design Awards.

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