Building a clean energy coalition on campus

June 29, 2018

As soon as Leah Johnson arrived on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, she hit the ground running with student-led environmental campaigns. Now as a senior, her tireless efforts to connect sustainability and green energy groups on campus have earned her a national award from the prestigious Udall scholarship, one of only 50 recipients in the U.S.

Johnson will be entering her final year majoring in both environmental studies and biochemistry, which she said trained her to think very differently about environmental issues in the world. Combining the systematic perspectives from biochemistry and qualitative elements of environmental science, she puts her detailed understanding into practice through environmental policy recommendations followed by direct action.

Working her way from the ground-up, Johnson invested much her time into student government with the Associated Students of Madison (ASM). She served with the ASM Sustainability Committee to help identify and address ways for the university to advance its sustainability practices, such as automated lights that turn off when not in use. She eventually became chair of the committee, which strengthened her interests towards a career in policy.

Learning from that role, Johnson understood that in order to create lasting change, she would need to build a coalition of environmentally minded leaders to help move her mission forward. She co-founded Campus Leaders for Energy Action Now (CLEAN) to do just that, working to achieve 100 percent renewable energy use from the university by the year 2030.

“Along with our individual goals, we all want campus to become more sustainable so we formed this coalition to focus on renewable energy and getting campus to start implementing it,” Johnson said. “I’m really proud of the work we did this year. It was exciting to see all of these different student organizations come together to work on this long-term goal. Winning this award was a great validation of the hard work in sustainability I’ve done.”

Overall, Johnson hopes to have an impact on the inequality she sees around her, particularly when it comes to environmental issues. She believes working to improve sustainability, even in the little day-to-day activities, can have a big impact and may ultimately create the change she is hoping for.