Sustainability Summit unites sustainability efforts on campus


The Sustainability Summit took place Oct. 2–6 and included an exhibition, five mini tours and opportunities for collaboration between on-campus sustainability organizations. Campus Sustainability Coordinator Jenny Low led the planning and events of the summit. The mini tours of sustainability projects covered the FEAST gardens Oct. 2, the solar array Oct. 3, the boiler room Oct. 4, the Moore Lab of Zoology Oct. 5 and the chiller plant Oct. 6. The sustainability exhibition took place Oct 3.

According to the summit’s Facebook page, the exhibition was intended to bring the community together to share research, projects, initiatives and programs related to sustainability. The exhibition included time for networking and two-minute elevator pitches from sustainability leaders.

According to Liz Richman (junior), sustainability intern, there are many sustainability groups on campus that lack ongoing communication.

“There are lots of things going on on campus that relate to sustainability in some way and people just aren’t connected,” Richman said.

Sammy Herdman (junior), lead sustainability intern, was involved with the planning of the summit. According to Herdman, the campus is environmentally conscious on many levels but is lacking connection and collaboration — both issues the summit sought to solve.

“There’s a lot of different clubs that are geared to sustainability, but they don’t have a lot of collaboration,” Herdman said. “They could reach a broader audience and get more done if they worked together.”

Associate Vice President for Hospitality Services Amy Muñoz, who created the position of student sustainability intern, said that prior interns piloted the first summit in November 2012.

Muñoz said that she has been involved in many sustainability efforts on campus and that students pushing for sustainable practices have instigated much of her work.

“It’s amazing students get to contribute so significantly here,” Munoz said.

Low said that she wanted to make the summit relevant for the student body and faculty, noting previous sustainability efforts proved that there was a lack of communication.

“Oxy 350 was working on trying to divest the college from fossil fuels. When they went to present, they didn’t know until after that a similar thing happened with the faculty,” Low said.

According to Richman, the student body is generally receptive toward sustainability efforts.

“We [Occidental] attract a lot of people who care about the environment, and even the people who don’t because it’s the culture here. They don’t diss it or purposefully try to mess with it,” Richman said.

Collin Mostoufi (senior) also said he noticed the environmentally conscious mindset of the campus community, but felt that students not directly involved in sustainability clubs perceived a limit on what they could accomplish independently.

Campus Dining Intern Zoe Alles (junior) also noticed the disconnect between intention and action.

“There are a lot of students who know it’s important to live a sustainable lifestyle and a lot of people who are aware of the detrimental impacts of waste of any sort, but I think sometimes it’s hard for people to take that extra step,” Alles said.

According to Low, the summit intended to address this problem by connecting clubs and departments to work together to solve common sustainability issues on campus involving waste, food and water, among others.

Individuals and clubs working independently have piloted many sustainability projects in the past. Individual student events included Mostoufi and his roommate Ty Hranac (senior)’s zero-waste living project in Stearns hall their junior year, Richman’s Tiger Cooler compost project and the Green Bean cup compost project. Likewise, an independent sustainability committee planned and installed the solar array, according to Physics Professor Daniel Snowden-Ifft.

The current solar array, which has saved over $1 million so far, provides 1 megawatt (MW) of power to campus, but Snowden-Ifft said that he has plans to double this wattage by installing more solar panels over parking lots on campus — a plan he hopes will be easier than the first installation and will involve more students.

Public Health Club (PHC) Co-President Eliza Fox (senior) said she is encouraged by the student body’s receptiveness to sustainability, and that after past collaborations with FEAST and attending a Food Systems Working Group meeting, she is hopeful for the future.

“We’re really open to any and all types of collaboration, that’s what makes efforts strong,” Fox said.

Anissa Raja (senior), PHC co-president, said that the opportunities for future collaborations with both sustainability and non-sustainability groups on campus were encouraging.

“I also believe that if more Greek organizations were able to partake in events that are geared towards sustainability, we could increase education throughout campus as these organizations combined have a large membership ranging [in]age, backgrounds and majors,” Raja said.

Huijing Huang (senior) is the health, safety and sustainability manager for theGreen Bean. Huang said she attended the sustainability summit to represent the Green Bean and learn more about other groups on campus.

“Hearing other groups’ work is a great opportunity for the Green Bean to network with other [organizations] on campus and to learn from each other,” Huang said.

Collection Manager of Moore Lab James Maley led a mini tour of the Moore Lab of Zoology. According to Maley, his work mainly includes documentation of biodiversity on campus — an ongoing project he actively works to get students involved with.

“If you understand the organisms around you, you have a greater, more profound sense of ‘we need to protect this and not allow it to be destroyed,’” Maley said. “It sort of gives a student a greater ethic to be clean, to not trash the environment we live in.”

According to Professor Gretchen North of the biology department, the incorporation of social justice aids success in sustainability efforts.

“Oxy has a tradition of really being front and center with respect to social justice. I think that environmental sustainability has maybe not received as much attention,” North said.

As sustainability on campus begins to coalesce and with the summit now over, Low said she is working on steps to move forward.

“There were connections made on a few things,” Low said. “We need to see what people want to do after the summit so it’s not a stand-alone event.”

According to Low, getting involved with sustainability should not be difficult and does not require being in a specific organization or club.

“If you have an interest, just reach out,” Low said. “I’m always open to working with someone and connecting you to who you need to be connected to.”