What You Don’t Know About Sustainability On Campus

You may have noticed the trash cans on caf lane are separated between waste and recycling, or seen the posters above the face mask dispensers outlining how to properly dispose of used masks. You might’ve run across a sustainability-centered event on campus, or heard of better tactics for reducing plastic and water usage. These are efforts made by the Sustainability Committee of the Student Senate and faculty members of Point Loma Nazarene University to minimize the negative impacts PLNU’s campus has on the environment.   

The Senate’s mission is to hear the student body’s voice and create a bridge between students and faculties. As part of the Senate, the Sustainability Committee is dedicated to bringing plans for a more eco-friendly lifestyle on campus into fruition. Becca Bullen, a third year environmental studies student, is the leader of the Sustainability Committee and strives to encourage awareness and action in regards to sustainable living.

“I think most important, if you want to see change, is to not only lead change yourself, but to advocate for that change through the resources that you have,” said Bullen. “A lot of people don’t know that the way that we dispose of masks is really important, because the loops on the mask, you have to cut them off before throwing them away so that they don’t impact birds and sea life, because they can get tangled in them.”

The Senate’s Sustainability Committee. Image courtesy of Becca Bullen.

Bullen went on to emphasize how important it is to stay safe regarding COVID-19, yet also how important it is to make certain our daily actions aren’t further harming the environment. Thousands of single-use face masks are tossed in the trash every day, and taking the time to cut the loops before throwing them away is a small action which may make a bigger difference.   

In an effort to bring more attention to this particular issue, the Sustainability Committee designed a poster with instructions on how to properly dispose of face masks. These can be found above the mask dispensers throughout campus and are an effort to encourage student awareness and action.  

They also have several goals for the campus in the future in order to reach a more sustainable style of living for students. One is to assist in reopening the Nease garden. Another is to partner with chapel for an alternative chapel credit for a beach cleanup — a chance to get students out and in the world, actively making change while also making spiritual connection through the beauty of God’s world.    

“Environmentalism and creation care go hand in hand so much, I think that it can be implemented in a faith-based way,” said Bullen. 

Bullen gave several suggestions as to other individual actions students can take to live more sustainable lives. Recycling, taking shorter showers, using reusable water bottles and donating clothes are a few suggestions for day-to-day lifestyle changes. It is also important to remain involved with what is going on in the campus community, whether it is in the form of attending sustainability events, or simply reading an email and taking a survey.  

“Be involved,” said Bullen. “Use your voice. When you get that survey from Tim Fessler at the caf at the end of the year, and you don’t want to do it, still do it. The vegan options in the caf now were a product of surveys that were sent out.”

Dan Toro, associate vice president of Facility Operations and Campus Planning, helps oversee sustainability at PLNU, and said that change begins with the little things, and those little things add up. Students can take their own individual actions by being aware of produced waste, and taking self-assessments of energy usage and carbon footprints so habits can be further adjusted.     

“It begins to compound and collect,” Toro said. “If the entry point is at the individual level, I think we begin to get to a place where behaviors change more dynamically.” 

Toro said that he has seen progress made in the four years he has been at PLNU, chiefly in the manner of awareness through events such as Creation Care Week and different sustainability campaigns. While awareness is one important step in solving the problem, the next-step action can be more difficult to implement.  

“I’d like to get to a place where we’re moving beyond awareness, and we’re demonstrating the activity and behavior of sustainability,” Toro said. 

One of the things Toro is looking at is all four regional campuses: Point Loma, Liberty Station, Balboa, and Mission Valley, to survey their current energy usage. A comprehensive study of all locations has never been done yet, and an understanding of the trends of all campuses could help in reevaluating certain aspects of energy usage and sustainability policies.    

“There’s not necessarily a really deep understanding of behavioral trends or seasonal trends, and if there are ways we can mitigate those usages,” said Toro. “We’re trying to get more to the data-science of it and develop controls so that we can get ahead of some of these threats that come into play in our systems, in our regional location, in our environment, and make adjustments so that we’re more responsible and stewarding in a better way.”

Similarly, for the future, the Sustainability Committee and Dan Toro also have larger-scale ideas for sustainable action, such as keeping track of the energy usage of each building on campus, currently a conceptual idea, but would be a way to educate students and create change.

“And maybe even giving [students] a feeling of ownership in the here and now, and practice of sustainability,” said Toro. “We’d actually tag the meters of the dormitories through kind of a third party monitoring of usage, and present somewhat of a March Madness-like concept where they are actually competing with each other through the year on usage.”

This would help students and faculty understand the impact of their behavior, as well as see to minimize our carbon footprint.

“Some of the things we’d do is pay attention to the utility bill,” said Toro. “Specifically electricity, gas, and water usage, but for the carbon footprint the biggest one that has the most impact is the gas we use daily.”

We live in a time where our daily lives affect the environment, often in invisible ways that are difficult to measure. Through the work of the Sustainability Committee and individuals such as Dan Toro, PLNU promotes change on both a large and small scale, and calls for student action. It is easy to harm the environment without knowing it, and many of these negative impacts are already set in motion.

“I want students to know that their voices are really important and valuable,” said Bullen. “I want Senate to be an approachable place for students to come and express concerns or ask for support regarding different initiatives, suitability-wise or otherwise, because I think first and foremost, our action and our voice is most important.”

By: Shay Schmida