Happy Earth Day

Yes­terday I took a stroll over to the West Vil­lage Quad to see what was hap­pening at the Spring Fling, an event orga­nized by the office of Housing and Res­i­den­tial Life to cel­e­brate Earth Day 2012 and gen­erate interest and aware­ness about the sus­tain­ability efforts taking place around campus. It was great! The weather was beau­tiful and there was a pretty good turn out.

I first ran into Carol Rosskam, the Sus­tain­ability Man­ager in Facil­i­ties. The Uni­ver­sity has appar­ently won sev­eral awards over the last few years for its efforts in envi­ron­men­talism, including three years on the “Green Honor Roll” of the Princeton Review. She had the university’s cli­mate plan on dis­play for anyone to peruse. If you missed it, view it online here. It includes a lot of the behind-​​the-​​scenes stuff that Carol and her team are ini­ti­ating like “green pur­chasing,” reducing emis­sions on campus, and instilling envi­ron­men­tally friendly building and land­scaping practices.

Keeping all of this stuff at the front of stu­dents’ minds is a chal­lenge, said Jess Feldish, the incoming exec­u­tive director for the Husky Energy Action Team (HEAT). This stu­dent group is working to raise aware­ness and garner interest in sus­tain­ability ini­tia­tives around campus. Their two main events are Trash to Trea­sure and Do it in the Dark, which encourage stu­dents to reduce their waste output and energy con­sump­tion, respec­tively. Other projects include working with Chartwells to make com­posting avail­able in the dining halls.

Soci­ology pro­fessor Daniel Faber, HEAT’s fac­ulty advisor and director of the North­eastern Envi­ron­mental Jus­tice Research Col­lab­o­ra­tive, showed up while I was talking with Feldish and the out­going exec­u­tive director, Kayla Mot­tola. “I would say HEAT has a bigger pres­ence beyond the university’s campus,” he said. “There are people in the com­mu­nity, par­tic­u­larly at other uni­ver­si­ties, but also in the envi­ron­mental com­mu­nity as a whole, who know about HEAT just because of the events they’ve done.” This year they hosted high pro­file speakers like Ralph Nader and Lois Gibbs as well as the largest envi­ron­mental con­fer­ence in New Eng­land, the Toxics Action Con­fer­ence.

HEAT has a garden plot in the Fenway Vic­tory garden and often works closely with the Slow Food NU group, which was also at the event yes­terday. Frank Marino, the group’s Director of Advo­cacy and Policy, said “we believe North­eastern stu­dents, and all people really, should have the oppor­tu­nity to eat and have access to good clean food, and we strive to make all of North­eastern closer to our food.” Last month they held the first annual Food Jus­tice Week to raise aware­ness about issues of food jus­tice. Among other events, there was a teach-​​in with pro­fes­sors and a catered dinner from Season to Taste with doc­u­men­tary film maker Kurt Ellis who made the movie “King Corn.”

While talking with Marino, I also got to meet Northeastern’s own Pea Pod (aka Zach Han­rahan). He fur­ther explained the group to me, saying “We’re the stu­dent group on campus that’s trying to recon­nect stu­dents coming to the urban space of Boston with local Mass agri­cul­ture.” Mass­a­chu­setts that is, not mas­sive. Everyone at the table had a quick chuckle about that…ah, sus­tain­ability humor.

I also met a woman named Gwen Kidera who started an amazing web­site, called the Pho­tog­raphy League, for an envi­ron­mental class this semester. Kidera is a self taught pho­tog­ra­pher and web designer and wanted to pro­vide “a space for ama­teur pho­tog­ra­phers to col­lab­o­rate and learn from each other.” Every Monday she posts a prompt in the form of a story, video or quote, which people can respond to with a photo. Right now all of the prompts are about envi­ron­mental topics, she said, but going for­ward she wants to open it up to other issues such as public health. “The main goal is to look at global issues on a local level through pho­tog­raphy,” she explained.

Finally there were some ven­dors around pro­moting things like ride sharing, fil­tered water, and low VOC paint. Hertz will have a car sharing pro­gram on campus by the end of the month. It will work much like Zip Car, allowing stu­dents as young as age 18 to use the cars when they need them. The Mass­a­chu­setts Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion had a table, and used the event to roll out Northeastern’s mem­ber­ship in the Mass Rides pro­gram, which gives people points when they use alter­na­tive forms of trans­porta­tion like cycling, car­pooling, and public transit.

A guy from Poland Springs, which pro­vides fil­tered and bot­tled water to the campus com­mu­nity, told me that we’ve moved from one or two fil­tered water units on campus a year ago to 10 or 15 today with plans for many more. Roger McMahon of the local com­pany (oddly) named Cal­i­fornia Paint told me that all of the paint used on campus is now VOC free, meaning it con­tains no volatile organic com­pounds and is much easier on the lungs.

And finally, I talked to Ashley Caron from the off-​​campus stu­dent ser­vices office, who was pro­viding info on off-​​campus recy­cling options and the Mis­sion Hill and Fenway Break­fast clubs. This year 300 stu­dents have col­lected over 90 bags of trash and racked up over 500 vol­un­teer hours through these events, in which stu­dents col­lect trash in local neigh­bor­hoods in exchange for free breakfast!

Whew…I’m pushing nine hun­dred words now. Turns out there’s a TON going on in the realm of sus­tain­ability around campus, if you haven’t already gotten involved you might want to think about get­ting in touch with any one of these super friendly people. Happy Earth Day!

Photo: Jes­sica Joan Wilson, “Unti­tled” June 15, 2011 via Flickr. Cre­ative Com­mons attribution.