The three pillars of a sustainable system are the economy, society and the environment. If one pillar is weak, the system as a whole is unsustainable.

Since 2008, Illinois Central College has been promoting awareness of the importance of a sustainable planet, with all three pillars intact through a semiannual Student Sustainability Presentation Contest. The contest began as a poster contest, said Jennifer Scoby, ICC biology professor and Fall 2018 Student Sustainability Presentation Contest coordinator. It evolved over 10 years into a presentation competition as a way of promoting environmental sustainability.

“We decided it would be more sustainable if we used less paper,” she said. “Making it a presentation competition also makes it a more dynamic event. It’s really important to keep this contest going so we can come together as students, faculty and the public to celebrate sustainability and increase awareness of it in our community.”

This year’s contest took place Oct. 24 in the Tranquility Room of ICC’s East Peoria campus. Seven ICC students gave six presentations focusing on the pillars of sustainability. Topics included the potential impact of a declining birthrate on Social Security in the future, the importance of volunteerism and making nuclear energy sustainable by extracting uranium from seawater. The ICC Student Association for the Environment (SAFE) and the school’s Sustainability and Greening the Curriculum Committee sponsored the event.

Before the student exhibitions, the event’s keynote speaker, Illinois State University Environmental Health professor and researcher Thomas Bierma, discussed improving food recovery.

“Food waste is an enormous problem,” he said. “Current estimates are that somewhere between 20 and 40 percent of all the food in the United States that’s grown, processed, transported and consumed ends up as waste. We sort of think of food waste as something that happens in our own home and a lot of it does. But most of the food waste comes from industrial, commercial and institutional sources.”

After a panel of judges tabulated the results, student Kenneth Richardson claimed third place for his discussion of “Nuclear Tides” and was awarded a $20 ICC Bookstore gift certificate. Dillon Simpson’s presentation on “Wasting the World Away” took second place and a prize of a $30 gift certificate. Phillip Lopez and Maria Figuera teamed up to win top honors with their discussion on “Reducing Waste from Single Use Plastics” and split their first-place prize of a $50 gift certificate. All contestants received certificates of achievement.

“It’s really exciting to win, and the contest itself has been a lot of fun,” said Lopez. “I’m glad we could shed some light on this issue. I recycle a lot at home, and you really realize how much plastic you use in everyday life when you’re aware of what you’re consuming.”