Professor Susan Mooney remembers when eco-minded students would collect recyclable materials on their own, “storing them in an old tractor trailer they painted with an eco-logo and finding markets for them.”
That was back in the 1990s and while their initial effort may have been low-tech and rudimentary, it started a trend that continues to grow.
Even then Mooney, Environmental Studies Program director and chair of the Environmental Stewardship Council, says she could see how growing student awareness was going to create an ecological juggernaut here on campus. “It’s powerful stuff,” she says. “Students go from knowledge to action.”
Seeds That Continue to Bear Fruit
Nearly a quarter century after those early efforts, students’ green initiatives have grown exponentially and become deeply ingrained in Stonehill’s culture, to the point where sustainability is now part of the College’s strategic plan and an important element of the College’s Catholic identity.
In 2012 with encouragement from students, Stonehill became the 12th Catholic college in the United States to sign the St. Francis Pledge, which is a public promise to “protect God’s creation and the environment, and to advocate for those who are impacted the most by global climate change.”
That commitment is seen in projects ranging from a solar farm and water conservation contest to Zipcars and bike rentals. And in many cases you’ll find students deeply involved in – and sometimes leading – the way. Two key catalysts for student involvement have been Students for Environmental Action (SEA) and The Green Fund, to which the College commits $10,000 annually for students to use toward environmental initiatives.
A few years ago the biggest student-led initiatives were food waste composting – which began with a 2011 push by the student-run Compost Team – and a push the same year to phase out bottled water on campus. Stonehill now saves 600 pounds of compostable trash every week from ending up in landfills. “Scraps that would otherwise be thrown in the trash (are) helping us create something that will grow healthy plants and veggies, and feeding the long-term sustainability of the Farm,” said Bridget Meigs, manager of the Farm at Stonehill.
Tapping into Social Media
More recently, Stonehill has begun looking at becoming one of 700 colleges and universities nationwide to join Juniperks, a social networking site that aims to make going green a fun challenge. On Juniperks.com, students receive daily challenges, such as “Recycle an old cell phone,” or “Use a recyclable coffee filter.” When students complete the goal, they can sign in online to let others know what they’ve accomplished.
“Stonehill is hoping to have student groups help promote it,” said Kelly M. Treseler, assistant director of Residence Life and member of the Stonehill Environmental Stewardship Council, made up of faculty, staff and students.
Creating conservation competition is also behind the success of Stonehill’s Stop the Drop program; a campus-wide competition to see which residence hall could conserve the most water. The Office of Residential Life initiated the program in 2011 and in 2013, students cut campus-wide water use by 12 percent, with the winning dorm, O’Hara Hall, cutting usage by an 32 percent. “Students are really competitive about it and finding ways that the can conserve water such as shorter showers or doing less laundry,” said Treseler.
The Right Wheels for Every Trip
Conservation spurred another initiative, Zipcar, which came to Stonehill in 2011. Two Stonehill Zipcars – including a hybrid – are available for students and faculty to rent and growing demand has started talk about adding a third. “Zipcars are a green way to travel,” said Mooney. (Zipcar estimates that each of its rentals takes about 15 cars off the road resulting in less air pollution.) “It provides us all with a direct experience of the ease of car sharing, so that one might choose not to own a car someday.”
Statistics like that have students thinking about even more transportation options. It’s not uncommon for students to jump in their car or a friend’s for a quick trip to CVS or Starbucks. But what if they could rent a bike to grab a tall iced latte? That’s the idea behind the SEA’s proposed “Rent-a-Bike” program
“We proposed this project so students who need to (travel) off-campus can travel in a healthy, carbon-neutral way,” said Nicholas Wilder ’14, an Environmental Science major and vice president of SEA. Jess Lantos ’14, president of the Student Environmental Association, said the group has been awarded $1,500 from the Green Fund to buy bikes for next semester.
A Bright Idea That Reduces Carbon Footprint
Next semester will also see a change in how Stonehill gets its electricity. The College recently built one of the nation’s largest college campus solar fields in the country. The energy produced is expected to account for a whopping 20 percent of the entire campus’s usage. The endeavor has involved tremendous commitment both from students and Stonehill administration. But Mooney singles out one student who was particularly tenacious about getting a solar farm built. “The first student to push us toward solar with great persistence was Nicole Corbett ’13,” Mooney says. “She started on it in fall 2010 and kept it going, researching options, and meeting with college officials.”
The best part is, new ideas are likely to continue. Thanks to the Green Fund. The latest purchases were “Green Kits” for the incoming Class of 2017 – including hand towels, reusable cups and food containers and recycled-paper notebooks.
The tractor-trailer originally used to store recyclables is still around. But Stonehill’s green effort has grown by leaps and bounds since it was last used and with the support of the College and its eco-minded student body appears poised for more growth in the years to come.
Graphics by Burke Oppenheim ’14