Campus Sustainability Convergence Held

Photo by Steve Fallon

In observance of Earth Day, Ramapo held a Campus Sustainability Convergence in the H-Wing Auditorium yesterday, which focused on the current state of the College, while discussing possible improvements in an effort to launch the next phase of the sustainability movement on campus. Divided into two separate sections, the event featured student presentations from the Environmental Studies capstone class, as well as a presentation from Dr. Mitchell Thomashow, former president of Unity College.

“We want Ramapo College to be front and center in this whole move to integrate sustainability in the region,” Dr. Ashwani Vasishth, associate professor of environmental studies, said.

The event began with the senior capstone assessment of campus sustainability research. Students of the Environmental Studies capstone class explained that their assessment was divided into three separate categories: social, ecological and physical. The sustainability of each category was researched.

“We don’t see sustainability primarily as environmental sustainability — it’s bigger than that. Yes, it is part of it. There are genuine crises that we face, but there’s something else going on here and if you look at what’s happening in the world it’s very clear that this just isn’t an environmental issue,” Vasishth said.

Looking first at the physical indicators, students reported on issues, including the lack of sustainability integrated in orientation and staff training. One of the students also noted that out of the 805 classes offered at Ramapo, only 54 of them include sustainability aspects.

Senior Deandra Hanke researched aspects such as campus waste, Ramapo’s plant and animal life, as well as the College’s food, health and safety. Hanke reported that the campus had two main outputs of organic waste, the Birch Tree Inn and the Trustees Pavilion, as well as three gardens and a composter. She also explained how Ramapo has made an effort to make the campus sustainable through planting trees and minimizing the amount of pesticides used on the property.

“One of the mitigations we came up with is just having more education on organic waste and how to properly dispose of it. The only people who are really using the composter are people who are involved with the program,” Hanke said.

Finally, the students looked at physical indicators on campus, including the climate and solid waste produced. A highlight of this category included Heather Darley’s research on the impact of commuters on the campus. She noted that approximately 93 percent of the student and faculty commuters on campus drive by themselves, while six percent carpool and only one percent use public transportation.

“From an environmental standpoint — that’s really unsustainable,” Darley said. She later added, “The impact of transportation at Ramapo, it affects our air quality … it increases trips to campus by transporting with only one passenger and contributes to our fossil fuel dependence.”

Following a short question and answer session lead by the students, Thomashow was invited to give a presentation on his book “The Nine Elements of a Sustainable Campus.”

Thomashow spent two days on campus and observed Ramapo’s sustainability efforts. During his presentation he talked of his experiences with sustainability for Ramapo to consider in their efforts. Thomashow divided his talk into three major categories: infrastructure, community and learning.

Discussing infrastructure first, Thomashow took time to speak about energy issues and later encouraged the College to start growing their own food. Using Unity College’s Unity House as an example, he expressed the extent to which sustainable living can have an effect on the entire community. Thomashow encourages campuses across the country to keep a sense of community in mind in their efforts.

“Everything we did, we did in conjunction with the community,” Thomashow said, talking of his time at Unity College.

Thomashow concluded his presentation by talking about the three aspects of the learning category: curriculum, aesthetics and interpretation. Thomashow emphasized the importance of learning from experience.

“My view is that you learn just as much from your everyday life on campus as you do in any course you’re going to take,” Thomashow said.

Both presentations worked to bring awareness to the major issues of sustainability on campus and what can be done to make Ramapo more sustainable. 

“There are a lot of things that Ramapo is doing right in reference to sustainability,” Darley said, “but there are a lot of ways that we can improve.”