In early October, the Sustainable Endowments Institute released its College Sustainability Report Card. The report card grades universities on their efforts to improve energy efficiency and dedicate sufficient resources to environmental issues.
This year Tech earned a “B,” the highest grade yet, thanks to the initiatives undertaken by Tech’s Office of Environmental Stewardship and student organizations like Students Organizing for Sustainability (SOS).
The only two categories of the report card where Tech didn’t earn an A were in endowment transparency and shareholder engagement.
Marcia Kinstler of the Office of Environmental Stewardship disagrees with how these areas are evaluated, since Tech invests more in money market funds than dealing with “proxy wars” with the companies other schools may invest in, as she indicated the report card more directed toward.
At the forefront, both the Office of Environmental Stewardship and SOS collaborate on projects that improve sustainability in areas of energy use, land use, water use, food, and recycling.
SOS regularly meets with staff from Sodexo, Tech’s integrated food and facilities management service provider.
“When we sit down with Sodexo, they’re really receptive and enthusiastic about our suggestions,” Nell Fry, president of SOS, said, “We’ve had a lot of success with them, and they’re constantly working to improve sustainability with dining.”
Earning Tech an “A” in the student involvement category of the report card, SOS’s current major projects in sustainability are the bike rental program (which will soon go into action with 70 donated, student-repaired and reassembled bikes) and zero-waste campus dining through composting and recycling.
Since last March, Tech’s Sustainabile Food Committee – including Fry, Sodexo officials, and campus administrators – meet to collaborate on reducing food waste, purchasing local foods and improving the sustainability of dining options on- and off-campus.
“We’re meeting with representatives from Coca-Cola for a round table discussion soon regarding our concerns with plastic bottled beverages, especially water bottles, on campus,” Fry said.
SOS has initiated a strong anti-bottle campaign to reduce the waste of both plastic and money. Vending machines on campus sell 20-ounce bottles of water for $1.50 ($9.60/gallon), whereas tap water costs on average only a fifth of one cent per gallon ($0.002) as well as avoiding plastic waste. SOS strongly encourages everyone to use reusable bottles, like the free mugs distributed by the dining halls.
Fry pointed out that student involvement is one of the most important issues of sustainability, as nearly all the sustainability initiatives by SOS and administration hinge on student interaction.
“We have these great recycling bins all over the place. One example is the management building, where there are three or four bins on every floor, with individual bins for paper, cans, plastic bottles, newspaper and trash,” Fry said, “Yet I’ll look into the trash bin and there are bottles and paper in there. It’s not like it’s any harder to put them in the appropriate recycle bins.”
Pamela Chi, first-year BME, encounters similar problems with her friends, and she would like to see more recycling bins near garbage cans.
Chi said, “I was at the library with my friend, and when he finished his can of Monster he tossed it in the garbage can, even though the recycling can was a couple feet away, the trash can was closer.”
Both Fry and Chi believe that students generally want to recycle, but the slight inconvenience of the effort is the main deterrent. If a trash can is closer, that’s where the used soda can will likely go.
Sustainability awareness is SOS’s task directly to students, with initiatives like recycling and the Campus Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.
Dozens of students are members of CSA, which orders fresh, local, organic, family farm food such as produce, vegetables, cheese, milk, pasta, and meat (Fry is a big fan of the apples).
Members can order as often as they like or subscribe to a regular share.
Each box of assorted foods lasts about a week depending on how many people eat from it. A regular “farmer pick box” for about two people is $20, a large box for three to four people is $30, and a custom box costs an additional packing fee of $4, annual registration for CSA is $25.
SOS meetings are open to all of Tech, and Fry strongly encourages people to come – even by making a presentation to residence halls. Students can also be involved in discussions with administrators, Sodexo and even Coca-Cola when they meet Nov. 16 to discuss plastic bottle use.