In February 2007, Ning, an online platform open to the public, launched the "Your Own Social Network for Anything" application. By April 2009, one million networks had been created with the Ning Platform, making the company the largest provider of unique social networks on the Internet. While social networking continues to expand, the Hoosier Environmental Council (HEC) has decided to put their Ning site to good use.
As Indiana's largest statewide environmental organization, HEC has addressed environmental concerns through education and advocacy for over 25 years. Jon Sperl, Energy Policy Analyst and Outreach Associate of HEC, says Jessie Kharbonda, Executive Director of HEC, wanted to get more college students involved in public policy.
"That was the impetus behind starting our website, indianagreencampus.org," Sperl explains.
In August 2008, HEC became one of the one million users of the Ning Platform. Their social network, Indiana Campus Sustainability Alliance (ICSA), connects college students with an interest in green issues from all over the state. Even though the project is still in the beginning stages, there are already about 150 participants. While HEC hosts the ICSA website, they don't typically coordinate ICSA's projects. The goal is to provide a venue for students to discuss environmental issues and begin facilitating changes through policy.
"That's where you can actually change laws and have a big impact," Sperl says.
Moving Beyond Campus Debates
Sperl, a 2008 DePauw graduate, is familiar with the hectic schedule of a college student and occasionally aids ICSA with events such as their April meeting with Senator Bayh's Regional Director, Andrew Homan.
"It's harder for students who are busy to coordinate all that, so I kind of facilitate stuff like that when I can," Sperl says.
Working through their networking site, ICSA wrote a consensus letter, or policy platform, attempting to reflect the sentiments of Indiana's campus communities regarding green issues.
"We drafted a letter saying that we would like to see science-based carbon emission targets," Sperl says, "So, the rate at which we reduce our emissions should be consistent with what scientists are telling us to do."
The letter was presented to Homan at the meeting and he also participated in conversation with eight campus representatives from schools such as Purdue University, Indiana University and DePauw University.
"It was a really constructive meeting," Sperl comments, "Andrew was really receptive and I'm sure by now he's already passed along the letter to Senator Bayh."
They discussed a wide range of topics including climate legislation, the federal renewable electricity standard, and cap and trade, which provides businesses with economic incentives for reducing their pollutant output.
"A lot of groups are really trying to reach out to senator Bayh right now and encourage him to support a cap and trade system that's not watered down and energy bills that are not weakened," Sperl says, "They're encouraging him to get behind President Obama and support Obama's energy agenda."
Patches of Green
ICSA isn't the only group using social networking to stay connected. The Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC), a nationwide group, has Myspace and Facebook pages in addition to its own website, which allows users to blog and communicate.
"There's really sort of this crazy layering of groups at the national level, the state level," Sperl says, "It's just sort of this big patchwork quilt and we're all using the Internet a lot."
While the Internet makes it possible to access information and stay connected through e-mail, Sperl says ICSA still likes to have conferences every so often to meet in person and talk face-to-face. In October 2008, ICSA held INergize 2009 to get members enthusiastic and involved with the 2009 legislation. A second summit of this nature is in the works, but no official plans have been made.
"It's easy to be green on your campus," Sperl remarks, "It's another thing to translate that into government work and pass bills."
In thinking long-term, Sperl says he has hope that people will get more involved in environmental policy, especially with all of the tools now available. To join the ICSA network, inquirers simply need to create a profile on the ICSA website.
"Hopefully, we can get some good bills, and a lot of that will depend on Senator Bayh and other legislators from the Midwest," Sperl says.