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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.

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