Saint Michael’s students work to be “green”

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(Host) At college campuses around the country, students are ready to graduate, after handing in final papers and sitting down for exams. But at St. Michael’s College in Colchester, some of those final papers may have looked a little different. A handful of classes participated in a new program where they were asked to use less energy and resources on campus. And for some, that means turning in papers that are printed on both sides of the page in smaller fonts.

VPR’s Sarah Ashworth stopped by the school to learn more about how students worked to be a little more "green" this semester.

(Ashworth) Like most college students, Senior Dan Sandberg carries a backpack with him everywhere he goes on campus. But mixed in with his notebooks are a reusable water bottle, a coffee cup, a spoon and some Tupperware containers. Sandberg says it’s all part of how he’s helping to save the environment.

(Sandberg) "This is something I’m deeply passionate about, just trying to make changes, make small scale changes is what I like to focus on a lot in the environmental world, basic things, recycling, reusing coffee cups and water bottles, stuff like that."

(Ashworth) And now he’s trying to get the whole campus in on the act. As a member of the school’s Green Up club and environmental council, he helped form the Sustainable Campus Commitment. The program encourages everyone at St. Michael’s College to use less and recycle more. Faculty, students, and staff can choose to sign a contract that asks them to follow certain practices during the semester.

(Sandberg) "What’s cool about this is we’ve designed it so it can be flexible, the idea was that a faculty member, a professor, could with his students, bring up the contract and they could pick or choose the ones they choose to follow throughout the class and then they were going to hold each other to that, both the faculty and students throughout the semester."

(Ashworth) Some of those guidelines include using only reusable cups and utensils, recycling in the classroom, printing papers and notes double-sided, and shutting the lights off during class. The school’s Sustainability Coordinator, Heather Ellis, says there’s also a second level to the contract.

(Ellis) "I don’t want to say harder, but it takes more thought, such as having faculty members implement or teach about climate change or sustainability initiatives in the class, whether it’s history class, or English, or religious studies, art."

(Ashworth) Most days, the lights are turned off in Ellis’ own office and she keeps a travel mug of coffee on her desk, right next to her refillable water bottle.

(Ellis) "Oh yes, I definitely feel that I’m under, I don’t know, scrutiny, but I need to walk the talk, being the sustainability coordinator." I definitely think about if I have lunch or errands, can I string them all together, you know it’s the little things you can do that really add up."

(Ashworth) Seventeen faculty members and five departments committed to taking little steps toward being more "green" this semester. One of them is Political Science professor Mike Bosia. He says the biggest change in his "Food and Politics" course was that students turned in double-sided papers, in smaller type, with smaller margins.

(Bosia) "It just became increasingly obvious, the inability institutionally we’re so geared to this single sided printing in society at large, that it’s difficult to actually get the institutions to start making the changes that are necessary."

(Ashworth) On the last day of class, students are presenting their final research projects in a slightly dark classroom. Around the room there don’t appear to be any plastic cups or takeout containers. After the project presentations wrap up, Bosia asks students how they think the program went.

(Bosia and students) "Any reactions to having to doing the kinds of things we did in the sustainability contract? I don’t really see a change, in like, I feel like I have been doing the same things in other classes as well. I am excited by not seeing paper cups in everyone’s hands. I just like seeing all the free cups you can get from peanut butter jars, Mason jars. Who has a jar here? …I don’t think I really carried one around before, so Mason jars, new fad, well hopefully it’s lasting (laughter)"

(Ashworth) Bosia says he considers the program a success, and will participate again in the fall.

And, although senior Dan Sandberg won’t be around next fall, he says he hopes the program continues and eventually gets 100-percent commitment on campus. But even if it doesn’t, he says at least the conversation is happening, and a lot more people are making small changes.

For VPR News, I’m Sarah Ashworth.

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