This winter, California has experienced record low snowfalls and extreme drought while Boston had its snowiest season on record. President Obama called climate change, “one issue that will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other.” There is no doubt that climate change is one of the biggest problems of our generation but how is Sarah Lawrence doing its part in creating a sustainable future?
With the amount of plastic containers thrown in the trash every day at the Pub, the countless open windows with blaring heaters below and an endowment invested in fossil fuels, there certainly are many areas the college could improve its environmental impact. However, there are also many movements committed to sustainability on campus.
The Environmental Awareness Organization is an entirely student run club started by Melanie Ersapah (’17) and Sophia Manzi (’17) who started the club because they felt “that Sarah Lawrence is lacking in many areas of sustainability. This is an issue that is important to many people on campus and obviously for the future of our world.” They have organized a number of events this year, and recently organized a recycled fashion show where various outfits made out of used plastic water bottles, recycled paper and anything else found in a recycling bin were modeled. In an effort to use art to bring awareness to the environmental movement other pieces of artwork that relate to recycling and sustainability were also on display.
“Our aim for all our events is to educate and make people aware of the environmental issues facing our planet and what they can do to help,” said Ersapah. “We want these events to be fun but ultimately we want to effect a change in behavior that is more environmentally friendly.” The Environmental Awareness Organization is also working on creating a community garden on campus as well as making composting more widely available. To contact the SLC Environmental Awareness Organization email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Sustainability Committee, comprised of students, staff, and faculty, has recently brought back the Bike Share program. Through the support of Student Senate, six new bikes were purchased allowing students to check out bicycles from the library. The committee has also strengthened the toner recycling program on campus helping offices to recycle their toner cartridges and, at the end of the year, they organize the Salvage Drive which donates items students don’t want, diverting items from landfills to second homes with campus members and non-profits. For students who want to get involved in the efforts of the committee or who want to push forward some of their sustainably minded issues they can contact Jason Beck or email Greening@slc.edu.
Understanding that food production and packaging has a large impact on our planet, AVI has also begun to make eco friendly changes. After hosting the first of what will be an annual event, the Farmers’ Market on campus allows for a partnership between local farmers and the campus.
“These are local vendors we hope to partner with in the fall to showcase their products at Hill to Go or maybe the other retail units,” said Lydia Becker, resident director of AVI.
These partnerships will increase the amount of local food that is purchased for the dining locations which is currently at 30 percent. While the school does primarily purchase its produce and packaging from Sysco, a large national food distributor, they purchase from a branch called Sysco Metro New York which does some local purchasing. AVI has also increased the amount of food they make in-house with the launch of the “SLC Fresher” line of products which includes trail mixes, granola and dehydrated vegetable and fruit chips sold in vending machines and at the Pub.
Currently the options for to-go containers are all plastic, but AVI is looking to increase the amount of paper containers which are all natural and biodegradable for the made to order foods. As for the pre-made foods, “We focus on you seeing the food because we eat with our eyes,” said Becker. “Some things have to be in plastic such as salads because they won’t hold. But I will try to buy the best plastic with recycled materials or a thinner plastic.” As a way to eliminate waste altogether, AVI will change Bates-to-Go so that, instead of receiving a plastic container, for a five dollar deposit, students will receive a reusable container that can be taken out of Bates and then returned for a clean one at a later time.
As for selling plastic water bottles, AVI would be open to no longer selling them once the students stop buying them. As of now, they cannot keep them on the shelves, selling more than 7,000 in one semester at the Pub alone. However, everyone is welcome to fill up their water bottles for free with the fresh filtered water that comes out of the soda fountains in the Pub and at Bates.
“At the end of the day, I would like people to be able to say that Sarah Lawrence is a green school and that we do a lot to achieve sustainability,” said Ersapah.
Together we can all continue to make the changes necessary to create a campus that does not exploit and damage the earth. As the Governor of Washington state, Jay Inslee said, “We’re the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it.” As a forward thinking liberal arts college, Sarah Lawrence should be a part of that future.