Environmentally concerned students at the University of Redlands want to reshape institutions to be responsible for their environmental impacts, and effectively minimize them. On Jan. 31, over two hundred students, faculty, staff and community members joined to discuss the University’s sustainability practices and future. The event was organized largely in part by the ASUR Sustainability Representative, Nicole Yeager, after a previous ASUR forum revealed various pressing concerns from the student body about the University’s relationship with sustainability.
Three concerns dominated the conversation: divestment, the importance of hiring a sustainability advisor for the University, and Bon Appetit. Students also challenged the University’s decision to market itself as a green campus to prospective students, while simultaneously minimizing environmental issues, from the perspective of student activists.
Divestment has been a highly debated topic in recent years. Internationally-known activist and author, Bill McKibben, stated during his lecture that the University should divest, which inspired student activists to pursue the goal. During Wednesday night’s discussion, it did not appear that the University was any closer to divesting from fossil fuel industries. Senior, Austin Tannenbaum, commended the accessibility of top-level administrators, such as President Kuncl and Chief of Staff, Michelle Rogers, but also spoke to the ways the University has failed to amount to actions by other local universities to be more sustainable. Examples of this include utilizing solar energy, expanding composting efforts, and divestment.
The University’s position has been that their investments are critical to the institution’s fiscal viability, and that pursuing future environmentally-friendly investment options would be more impactful than divesting, especially given the mutual fund investment structure. Student activists, however, take a different position.
Sophomore, Trevor Warren, stated, “We have drip irrigation [among other sustainable practices], … but it is not okay to be invested in fossil fuel companies, paper receipts, and plastic forks. In order to market yourself as a sustainable college, these things cannot exist.”
This sentiment resonated with many of the students in attendance, with visible indicators of agreement, including the “Quaker Shake” and clapping.
None of the administrators present discussed the University’s future investment plans, or how likely it is that the University will ever divest from fossil fuel companies.
Warren went on to urge the University “to create a job solely dedicated to sustainability initiatives.” This position, which he later referred to as a “Sustainability Director,” would be able to research the University’s current practices, future goals, financial realities, as well as the work other schools are completing in regards to sustainability, and most importantly, the Sustainability Director would be able to initiate programs that contribute to a more sustainable Redlands.
Although the University has a Sustainability Council comprised of faculty from the University’s Environmental Studies department, the Director of Facilities, Roger Cellini, who makes recommendations about sustainability, noted that the University does not have a person whose position is dedicated solely to sustainability.
Bon Appetit Director, Pam Franco, presented information about how her department strives to be sustainable.
Franco stated, “The University went trayless, which saved quite a bit of water.” She explained that we have to balance sustainability with safety. “We have allergies on campus [particularly nut and soy allergies]. We do our best to provide as many alternatives as possible. … My big goal is to make labeling better for you, so you can make more informed choices [specifically when it comes to allergies and other dietary restrictions]. We’ve improved more choices and items at the SURF station. … We’ve also partnered with Monterey Bay Aquarium to make sure our seafood is sustainable.”
However, multiple students heavily criticized the consistent use of plastic utensils and paper to-go boxes.
In response to these comments, Franco stated “I could take all the plastic forks away tomorrow, under one condition: you may not take metal forks out. Just in January, I spent almost $2,500 replacing silver ware, plates, and bowls,” She continued. “While I wait for that order to come in, I am providing you with something to eat with: plastic fork. A more sustainable set of cutlery is almost three times the cost, and if you’re not going to compost the fork, you’re just throwing away three times the cost.”
University organization, Students for Environmental Action, has discussed the issue with Franco and has hung posters in the Irvine Commons and tabled to urge students to return their silverware. Yet, students continue to take silverware, plates, bowls, cups, etc.
Junior, Evaughn Ferguson, reminded the attendees that “personal choices can make a big impact on the environment and sustainability, some have more impact than others,” and he further encouraged President Kuncl to release a statement of intent that discusses the University’s commitments to sustainability.
Throughout the event, it was clear that students and faculty alike are passionate about both their love for the University and the environment. About halfway through, tension flared when a student compelled the University to consider the urgency of issues relating to climate change, especially for generations to come.
University Provost, Kathy Ogren, interrupted the student with a raised voice, proclaiming, “You have crossed the line … you have no idea what I think about sustainability and the environment.” Ogren went on to say that her granddaughter will face serious consequences of climate change.
In return, the student encouraged her to have her actions reflect those beliefs and join the students in demanding more accountability for the University’s claim of being a green campus.
The event ended with a few administrators, including Director of Recreation, Andrew Hollis, trying to build the bridge between administrators, faculty, and students to form meaningful coalitions dedicated to furthering sustainability.
If you would like more information about our University’s practices and policies, or have ideas that you would like to contribute to the conversation, you may contact Nicole Yeager at firstname.lastname@example.org.
photos courtesy of Redlands Bulldog photographer Halie West