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Shades of Green: small changes, big impact

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“Shades of Green,” a column on environmental issues related to the UIC community, appears monthly in UIC News.

Jose Valencia has worked hard to make a difference at UIC and in his community.

Valencia, an Honors College student who just completed his undergraduate degree in history, founded Green Youth Revolution, a UIC student group that promotes environmental awareness.

He served in Undergraduate Student Government and attends meetings of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization and the 49th Ward Green Corps — all committed to creating a more sustainable Chicago.

He plans to continue advancing progressive environmental policy as a lawyer or legislative aide.

Valencia’s connection to nature traces back to his family’s previous home in Mexico, where there was always a vegetable garden.

Apartment life in Chicago presents challenges, though. His apartment in Little Italy does not have the city’s blue bins, so he carries his recyclables to nearby park district containers.

He laughs that one of his roommates was wary of his reputation as a “green freak.” She told him later that, to her surprise, it was easy to take small but meaningful actions that help the environment.

This is important, Valencia says, because the solution to climate change will come from small changes in individual behavior.

He sees lots of potential at UIC, such as adding native plantings, trees and grassy spaces for students to relax in. He would like to see the Hull-House Urban Farm expand, raising awareness of its historic roots and continuing its legacy.

One bit of unfinished business is the approval of a $4 “green student fee” to support sustainability projects on campus. A number of other campuses have green fees, including a $14 fee at UIUC that funds green energy procurement and sustainability initiatives.

Although it was a main focus of his work in USG last year, the campaign failed to find convincing support. The referendum will reappear in the March student elections.

UIC acts like a small city, Valencia says. He plans to apply the principles he learned here to a larger community, bringing the same enthusiasm to bigger problems that affect more people.

Kate Yoshida is program coordinator in the Office of Sustainability.

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