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Sustainability isn’t just activism

in Op-Eds/Opinions by

We always hear about what Mountain Justice is up to because their efforts are broadcasted to the entire campus community. But, believe it or not, Mountain Justice is not the only sustainability-minded group on campus. There is, in fact, an entire group of a dozen clubs and organizations that make up a community called Ecosphere. This community is a collective coalition focused on the environment and sustainability in one way or another. For a full list of the groups in Ecosphere, you can read our January newsletter at https://spark.adobe.com/page/x3chSHju6Frgo. There are groups focused on sustainable food and energy, such as the Good Food Project, some that focus on exploring the outdoors, such as the Outing Club, others that focus on animal care, such as Animal Allies, and groups that focus on the political side of sustainability, such as Earthlust. So, obviously, there are many other student-run organizations besides Mountain Justice on campus that care about the environment and are working towards impacting campus sustainability.

With regards to campus sustainability, there is also a significant movement toward sustainability supported by the College’s Office of Sustainability. For example, the Green Advisors program recently became a paid position within residence halls. Besides taking care of residential compost, each Green Advisor is responsible for their own campus sustainability project, from plastic cup recycling to waste bin standardization to highlighting the diverse species in the Crum. Meanwhile, the Presidential Sustainability Research Fellowship (PSRF) just finished applications for its second year. Recipients of PSRF take on even bigger projects as a part of a year long research program on topics such as Crum Woods stewardship, establishing a Green Revolving Fund, and waste and energy reduction. The GA and PSRF programs are exciting because they are institutionalized. This step demonstrates the College’s progress toward making sustainability a priority on Swarthmore’s campus.

Unfortunately, because Mountain Justice— the loudest group in Ecosphere— tends to focus on what the campus isn’t doing right in sustainability, it creates the image that the Swarthmore is not focused on sustainability at all. However, that is not the case. It is important to recognize that other groups on campus do exist and are making advances toward creating a more sustainable and just environment. These clubs are just quieter about it, for better or for worse.

Our creation of the Ecosphere newsletter is one step toward providing a space for the other groups in Ecosphere to advertise their events for the whole campus, increasing awareness and involvement. Ultimately, both through the newsletter and through the help of the campus community, we would like to see more collaboration between the groups in Ecosphere to host larger events from which Swatties can learn. For example, just in this past semester, there were MJ sit-ins, two GA movie screenings, Zero Waste games by Garnet Go Green, fruits and vegetables harvested by the Good Food Garden, and many other events that students on campus are not even aware of, which is a lot for a campus that apparently doesn’t do anything! But, because all of these efforts are happening independently, they are often not well advertised and attended by the student body. Imagine what the Swarthmore community could learn and accomplish if Ecosphere started collaborating and more of Swarthmore got involved!

Because there are so many organizations dedicated to sustainability and environmental friendliness, it only makes sense for them to team up and share their resources, and for more Swatties to get involved as well.  If we, as a student body start collaborating more, Ecosphere can start to impact the campus in an even bigger way, on even more issues than we already do, beyond only fossil fuel divestment.

Green advisors conduct audit of school’s waste practices

in Around Campus/News by

In an effort to make the college community aware of their recycling and composting practices, the Green Advisors, in conjunction with Environmental Services, the Grounds Crew and the Sustainability Committee, organized an audit of the college’s waste.

The Green Advisors, a student group that promotes environmentally-conscious decisions on campus, conducted the trash audit outside of the Science Center on Wednesday, November 6. During the audit, students, faculty and staff helped sort waste into nine categories: items in the trash that are compostable/recyclable/trash, items in the recycling that are compostable/recyclable/trash and items in the compost that are compostable/recyclable/trash.

Out of the waste thrown into the trash, 37 percent of it was actually trash while the rest could have been composted or recycled. Out of all of the waste that could have been composted, 7.6 percent of it was put into the compost. Additionally, the college community threw away 79 pounds of compost.

“The idea behind the trash audit was to have an actual visual of how much waste we as students produce and how much is being disposed in the wrong ways,” green advisor Indiana Reid-Shaw ’17. “We will continue these audits so that we can have records and observe the downward trend in campus waste.”

Following the audit, the Green Advisors’ plan to put up more signs and create educational campaigns to make people more aware of what should be composted and recycled. In addition, the Green Advisors hope to be able to put more compost bins in place around campus.

Green Advisors found the audit to be productive, helping them better understand how much general knowledge about recycling and composting that the community possesses.

“I was really happy we were finally able to do the audit, since we’ve been waiting to get baseline waste data for a while so that we have something to measure our improvement against,” wrote Green Advisor Kelley Langhans ‘16 in an email to the Phoenix. “The results were striking, and show that as a school we do a really bad job composting. The audit has given [the Green Advisors] a stronger focus on teaching people what is compostable and making composting more convenient.”

Although the audit has had a positive impact on many members of the community, for Dining Services, cost is standing in the way of acting as environmentally favorably as possible.

“We will continue to think of better products for the environment,” wrote Linda McDougall, director of dining services. “The shame about this is most of these products are still quite costly and we have to pass these costs along to our customers, and many customers do not want to pay added costs for such things.”

Some say that the trash audit has already had a positive impact on the way that students are recycling and composting. Since the audit, Hazlett Henderson ’17, who frequently picks up the compost from the Science Center and Kohlberg, has observed an increase in the amount of compost and a greater interest amongst the student body about what can be composted.

Ecosphere Coalition Holds Open Collective and Sets Goals for 2020

in Around Campus/News by
Ecosphere, Swarthmore’s coalition of all the environmental groups on campus, held an open meeting on Sunday, to identify and discuss the implementation of environmental goals that should be achieved by the year 2020.The coalition, which was started last year and which just held its second conference, consists of all seven environmental groups on campus — Mountain Justice, Earthlust, the Good Food Project, Green Advisors, Think Climate, Environmental Justice and Swat Frack Action.  Ecosphere aims to facilitate communication between all the different environmental groups on campus and foster a greater sense of community by holding monthly meetings with representatives from each group attending. Patrick Ammerman ’14 and Laura Rigell ’16, sustainability interns at the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, acted as facilitators for the meeting on Sunday.

Ammerman thought that the meeting was successful and allowed Ecosphere to identify achievable goals for the future. “We got several connected and achievable ideas written down and appointed a point person for each,” he said. “We established central groups of people and core members for each idea that we discussed.”

Some of the ideas that the attendees identified were divestment from fossil fuel industries and investment in environmentally friendly ones, having energy-efficient buildings at Swarthmore, which was discussed in relation to the Campus Master Planning meetings, and adequate legislation and institutions to make the college carbon-neutral by 2020. The idea to keep working towards establishing an Environmental Studies department at Swarthmore was reiterated with enthusiasm.

Ammerman felt that having an open forum for members of different groups and even students who are presently uninvolved helped in establishing the diverse range of goals that Ecosphere settled on. He talked about the previously established system, saying, “The system of monthly meetings with representatives from all the groups was leading to the same people turning up at the meetings and sort of becoming a group in itself. This meeting was successful because it saw other members attend as well as unaffiliated students.”

He is a firm believer in the purpose of the Ecosphere and believes it will benefit its constituent groups. “Many people in the Ecosphere are interwoven (part of multiple groups) and there are always possibilities for people to help each other. Divestment and composting may be different goals with no overlapping areas but the groups can come together for events or help with advertising another group’s activities,” Ammerman said.

Though the meeting was only the beginning of Ecosphere’s planning process, some of the goals that they identified and will subsequently try to achieve will see minor and major changes around campus.

“We talked about being involved in the budgeting for Sharples, to address the lack of vegetables. We want to bring in more local food and have a tray-less dining hall like Bryn Mawr’s,” said Ammerman.  Another change the student body can expect in the future is the availability of reusable mugs at the coffee bars.

Of the expected major changes, like Ecosphere’s involvement or suggestions for the Campus Master Plan, Ammerman and the rest are still at an early stage in the planning process to propose any major changes.

One of the main topics of discussion raised at the meeting was Earthlust’s need to identify a new cause to support and re-evaluating its relevance in the current environmental context of Swarthmore. Earthlust was the first environmental group to be established at Swarthmore and originally served as the all-purpose “green” group on campus.  As Ben Goloff ’15, a representative for Earthlust and other members acknowledged, that particular role is not relevant anymore, considering the existence of groups with specific goals, like Mountain Justice.

Goloff raised these questions first at the Ecosphere meeting, and then at an Earthlust meeting on Monday night. He said, “Earthlust doesn’t have an ongoing issue or structure presently. The landscape around us has changed. Till a few years ago, we were one out of four environmental groups on campus and there are seven now. I’m not sure how to continue and further conversation about this needs to be pursued.”

Speaking about the future of Earthlust, Goloff said, “ We need to carve a niche within Ecosphere. Earthlust has been around for around forty years and has lots of history. It’s valuable and means a lot to people.”

For now, Ecosphere and all its components will continue to identify common goals to work on in addition to their specific agendas.  Ammerman was particularly excited about the Board’s decision to focus on Climate Change and institute a Climate Action Plan.  He said, “This is pivotal for Swat environmentalism and will be important for a long time.”

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