Ramapo reflects on month-long campus wide project

During the month of October, Ramapo celebrated Campus Sustainability Month. When President Trump withdrew the country from the Paris Agreement over the summer, Ramapo was one of the 183 colleges and universities to sign the “We Are Still In” pledge, maintaining the ideas from the agreement on their campus. Sustainability is an important part of Ramapo’s identity. From student clubs to dining and facilities, everyone is involved in making the campus more environmentally friendly.

As far as student clubs go, 1Step and Enactus are the two most active organizations on campus pushing for sustainable projects.

Members of 1Step recently attended the AASHE Conference, or the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. At Campus Sustainability Day on Oct. 26, students who attended had the opportunity to share what they learned from the conference.

“The first feeling I had when going to the campus was hope,” said 1Step Co-President Cassandra Bernyk. “Going into the conference and being surrounded by people who are on the same track as you…really gave me so much hope.”

Bernyk noted that the highlights of the conference included finding people with the same commitment to sustainability as well as exchanging ideas with students from other campuses around the country.

One notable suggestion from several other schools was a “Greeks Going Green” initiative, which utilizes Greek organizations on campus to strive to be more sustainable through their actions and volunteering.

Another campus club, Enactus, which stands for Entrepreneurial, Action, Us, is responsible for the implementation of the hydration stations as well as piloting the composting program in residence halls.

While their campus sustainability project has been retired, the work they have done remains on campus. The most obvious is the introduction of the hydration station.

“A couple of years before I started, [Enactus] funded the first installation of the water fountains with the water bottle refillers,” said senior Erin Albright. “They pilot tested that and it went really well and that launched the school into purchasing more and installing them throughout the academic buildings.”

Albright’s personal project was starting the composting program on campus.

“What I did when I was project manager was create a residence hall composting program,” she explained. “We started with the Village because they had a full kitchen, so we figured they would be a really good place to start, where kids are consuming and buying the sorts of food that could potentially go into a composting bin.”

The initial pilot launched in the first quad of the Village. Enactus purchased the composting bins and made educational materials, such as refrigerator magnets and Albright herself collected and weighed the composting materials that students put out each week.

Due to the success of the program, it has since extended into the entirety of the Village and, just this semester, into the College Park Apartments.

“If we wanted it to become a self-sustaining program on campus, we wanted the communication between all of those areas because our plans changed with those conversations,” she said, explaining the importance of working with facilities and residence life for the success of the project.

Facilities is also a key player in improving campus sustainability. They have currently installed a total of 12 hydration stations on campus after Enactus’ initial one, and have plans to upgrade the remainder of the drinking fountains soon.

 “A lot of them are things we do you wouldn’t realize,” said Nicole Jones in the Office of Facilities about their sustainability initiatives. “Moving forward, all the residence halls are equipped with low-flow water fixtures and LED lighting.”

She also added that in the academic buildings, many classrooms have occupancy light sensors, LED lighting and all bathrooms have low-flow toilets and faucets.

Even the Facilities Management Offices themselves are considered "sustainable." Housed in reused trailers, some rooms have cork flooring and furniture made from reclaimed wood.

“We’re trying to be an example with things like that. It doesn’t have to be fancy and brand new to be effective and sustainable,” said Jones.

Jones also stressed the importance of the campus working together to make sustainability projects successful.

“The biggest challenge is getting students and the campus community to be enthusiastic and participate,” she said. “You can give them all the things they need as far as recycling bins and getting the word out, but ultimately the choice is theirs.”

Facilities is not the only office on campus making strides toward being more sustainable. Outside of the Birch Tree Inn, dining services has a board displaying all of the local and sustainable options offered.

“I think the greatest thing we can do for sustainability is push toward local products,” said Jeff Dannhardt, general manager of dining services.

The dining halls on campus also promote sustainability through being trayless, using LED lights and offering takeout containers that are made of a compostable byproduct of sugarcane.

A major dining sustainability campaign across the country is “Meatless Monday,” which promotes not eating meat on Mondays in order to conserve the large amount of natural resources that go into producing meat.

“If we were to do something like that, we’d have to take more of an optional approach,” said Dannhardt on Meatless Monday, noting that Sodexo had come out with the program around five years ago. “It really is about the choice for the consumer here. There’s vegetarian and vegan options if they choose. We’re here to provide those choices.”

Dannhardt also explained that other college’s dining halls that began a Meatless Monday saw a drop-in student traffic by almost 15 percent.

“It really needs to be grassroots,” he said. “It needs to come from within.”

The most obvious of all the projects on campus, though, is the photovoltaic system occurring across campus. This includes “solar carport canopies in the main parking fields; ground-mounted solar panels on the berm near the south entrance/exit of the campus; and solar panels on the roofs of the Phase I Academic Building, Mackin Hall, Bischoff Hall, and the Bill Bradley Sports & Recreation Center” according to the project’s website.

“The photovoltaic project is a major undertaking that is advancing the College's sustainability efforts by generating renewable energy and providing a visual representation of the College’s commitment to environmental sustainability,” said President Peter Mercer.

The construction on the solar carport canopies is currently on hold due to the use of the parking lots by students. Michael Cunningham, Interim Director of Capital Planning, has been in contact with the Ramapo News, but was unable to meet with the paper at the time of writing.

“In addition [to the photovoltaic project], our recycling and composting efforts continue to be propelled forward by the good work and diligence of our partners in Facilities Management, Dining Services, Student Groups and others,” Mercer continued. “For example, the simple act of changing the signage on waste receptacles to read ‘Landfill’ rather than ‘Trash’ fosters an awareness across campus of just how important it is for each of us to be thoughtful consumers and good stewards of our resources.”

Behind all of this is World Sustainability professor Ashwani Vasishth. Sustainability is not something that Vasishth brought to Ramapo, as President Mercer had signed the American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment before Vasishth came to Ramapo, but it is something he has been a huge proponent of.

There had previously been an attempt to set up a committee, but without much interest, it did not remain for long.

“About five years back, I went to [Mercer] and said let’s get organized about this differently,” Vasishth said. “Let’s build a culture of sustainability at Ramapo College. We’ll do this from the grassroots up rather than by mandate.”

Because of this, Mercer created the President’s Committee on Campus Sustainability and named Vasishth the chair of the committee. Similar to other sources, Vasishth explained that the sustainability projects the committee has overseen were started by a combination of facilities, students and other faculty.

Ramapo is well on its way down the right path toward sustainability, but working together as a whole community is key to making further progress.