By Fred Shaia
Graphic pictures don't affect people anymore; organizations have to get in people's faces to generate a response and make a difference, Carly Vendegna, co-head of the RENEW Club, said recently concerning the "No Tray for the Day" initiative proposed by Dining Services.
This initiative promoted water and waste savings during Earth Day on April 22.
During the past two years, Richmond has been undergoing a slow, but noticeable environmental shift toward becoming a greener campus. The Richmond Environmental Network for Economic Willpower and the Sierra Club, two independent environmental organizations, are planning a merge, uniting all students dedicated to protecting the environment and raising awareness about monumental environmental issues on and off campus, Vendegna said.
During the fall semester, RENEW petitioned President Edward Ayers to sign the Presidential Climate Commitment, conducted two Heilman Dining Center waste surveys, initiated the Eco Spider competition, promoted recycling and held an apartment energy conservation contest among other activities this year, Andrew Essington, a freshman member of RENEW, said.
The PCC commits Richmond to becoming more environmentally friendly by tracking and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Essington said. This means the president will perform projects toward a greener campus, Essington said.
RENEW achieved its main objective this year when Ayers agreed to sign the PCC, Michael Olson, a freshman member of RENEW, said. The school is making environmental changes a priority, Olson said, and greenhouse emissions are being monitored.
The PCC ensures that all future buildings will be LEED-certified and officials are working to replace heating in the apartments with a more energy efficient system, Essington said. A building that is Leadership for Energy and Environmental Design certified meets design and construction standards set by committees of
the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED certified buildings are nationally accredited for their environmental sustainability by the USGBC.
The Weinstein building is already using low-flush toilet systems to conserve water and some campus vehicles are using bio diesel to be more economically friendly, Essington said.
During Environmental Awareness Week, which began on Nov. 5, 2007, RENEW and Dining Services conducted a waste survey in which several members collected uneaten, solid food from trays and weighed how much food would have been thrown away. After one day, the club collected about 1,760 pounds of food waste, which could give thousands of people a meal, Vendegna said.
On April 22, 2008, RENEW worked with Dining Services for a second waste survey. This time, the club promoted Earth Day by having "No Tray for the Day," Cathy Moran, purchasing manager of Dining Services, said. By opting not to use a tray, students saved water, wasted less food and consumed a more balanced meal, Moran said.
"The football players were mad at us for not having trays and they did not like having to place their food waste in the trash can," Vendegna said.
Although some of the athletes did not respond well, there was 372 pounds less food waste than the November waste survey, Moran said.
"Many, many colleges are doing things like this to reduce food, water and energy waste," Moran said. "I think that no trays should be implemented daily, but we need student support."
"I am proud that the Heilman Center has been certified as a Virginia Green Restaurant," Ayers said. "This honor recognizes the university's exemplary efforts in the areas of recycling, water conservation and energy efficiency."
RENEW Club recently met with Ayers to discuss future plans for the club. "We are fortunate to have a very cooperative administration and a president who is actually interested in our initiatives," Vendegna said.
RENEW discussed building bike ramps around campus to promote using bicycles as opposed to driving to and from campus, Vendegna said. There was also talk of moving the bus stop to the commons to make public transportation more accessible.
"RENEW received a grant that was used to install a monitoring system so that we can examine how much energy each dorm uses," Vendegna said. "We plan to hold competitions between dorms to promote energy reduction."
Next year, RENEW plans to merge with the Sierra Club to be called the RENEW-Sierra Student Coalition, Vendegna said.
"Whatever change happens to the environmental organizations at UR, it must be a positive change that leverages our collective organizing power better than we are doing now," Jason Levinn, the founder of RENEW, said regarding the potential merge.
RENEW also plans to have an informational session educating students and faculty on green curriculum, Vendegna said. "People don't realize the consequences of their actions, but it's not their fault," Vendegna said. "Our job is to educate."
Next year, RENEW will also continue documenting where recycle bins are located and plans to re-label the bins; this will ensure that the proper recyclable materials are placed in the proper bins, Vendegna said.
The Cellar and E.T.C., two food establishments on campus, are also helping the environment on campus by "going green." In the restaurant, The Cellar is using napkins and pizza boxes that are recyclables, Brendon Cristobal, a freshman employee, said. The Cellar also has special bins to recycle glass and cardboard, Cristobal said.
"When people order take-out meals, we use containers made from sugar cane instead of non-biodegradable Styrofoam boxes," Keaton Cristobal, a freshman employee, said.
E.T.C. encourages customers to bring their own bags to the store so that new bags are not wasted, Lauren Brunt, an E.T.C. employee, said. E.T.C. also recycles all cardboard boxes that package merchandise, Burnt said.
"If a customer re-uses a plastic bag, he/she will receive a five-cent discount on his/her purchase," Christina Quinones, an employee, said.
Last November, RENEW promoted energy conservation among apartments by holding a contest; members measured digital readouts behind apartments and block 1600 received a prize for conserving the most energy throughout the week, Vendegna said.
"We also participated in the Eco Spider competition and created a spider from recyclable materials," Olson said. "It was stationed outside the library."
Last October, RENEW held a three-day e-waste project to promote recycling. More than 60 organizations and 1,559 people turned in unwanted computers, monitors, printers, keyboards, cell phones and television sets, some containing toxic waste, that would have otherwise poisoned Virginia landfills, Vendegna said.
RENEW collected more than 125 tons of old electronics and transported them to a facility where all plastic and usable materials were recycled and all toxic components were safely disposed.
Last summer, the university also installed new laundry machines that save approximately one million gallons of water each school year.
"We aren't going to fulfill our goals if we don't alter the mindsets and uneconomical consumption patterns of students," Vendegna said. "We need student support to make a change."