The Relationship Between Sustainability and Residential Life with HRA Nelson Martinez De Los Santos ‘22

Headshot of Nelson Martinez De Los Santos

Sophie Haywood ‘21, Office of Sustainability intern, sat down with Nelson Martinez De Los Santos ‘22, RHA of Alumni Hall, to explore how sustainability integrates into living in a residential hall.

Q: What compelled you to become an RA?

Nelson: Community building was the main reason I wanted to become an RA. I felt that I could have had a better first year if my RA was someone that I could turn to whenever I felt like I needed somebody to hang out with or confide in. I felt like I needed a mentor to help guide me because I did feel a little lost as a first generation latino student from the west coast that was going to a predominantly white institution on the east coast. I came to the conclusion that I would try to be that person for first years could look to, and that is what made me want to become a first year RA.

Q: What about sustainability interests you?

Nelson: Growing up in Arizona I saw a lot of solar panels, so it was something that was always on my mind. The ability to make energy out of natural sources, such as sun and wind has always been really cool to me. As a vegan, sustainability is a big part of why I decide not to eat meat because I don’t believe it is an efficient use of our resources. Personally, living sustainably is just how I live.

Q: What is one green behavior that you have seen students doing well in your residence halls already?

Nelson: Recycling! I have been seeing a lot of students recycling this year, and have not seen very many trash on the floors or outside of residence halls. I have also seen students cut back on food waste. With Kimball giving out portions now, I have seen students eat most of their food which is a good thing to see.

Q: In your experience, which kind of reslife programs have you seen students get the most excited about? What would be any advice you have to get students excited about the new Green Student Living Program?

Nelson: In my experience, students are the most excited about programs that give out free food, or do something for the student that interests them. They also get excited when they are doing something active that gets them involved in the community. For students to get excited about the Green Student Living Program, they need to understand why they are doing it. Physical representations of the impact that they have are important because many times, students have to see it to believe it. If it is something that students care about, students will respond better to it.

Q: Do you have any goals or ideas for collaboration with the sustainability department and the residential life in the future?

Nelson: One goal for sustainability and residence life in the future would be for students to live more intentionally, and to be more cautious when choosing what they are taking and using.

The Relationship Between Sustainability and Residential Life with HRA Hannah Baker ‘21

Headshot of Hannah Baker ‘21
Sophie Haywood ‘21, Office of Sustainability intern, sat down with Hannah Baker ‘21, HRA of Williams Hall, to discuss the relationship between sustainability and residential life.

Q: How many years have you been a part of reslife here at the college?

Hannah: I was hired as an RA at the end of my first year and began sophomore year. Then junior year I became a head RA, which I am doing this year as well. During my sophomore year, I was an RA in Brooks-Mulledy. I then lived there as a junior as well, as I was the HRA of Brooks-Mulledy. I’m currently working as the HRA of Williams.

Q: What compelled you to become an HRA?

Hannah: I loved working as an RA because I got to reach a group of residents who were just beginning their time at Holy Cross. I felt that as an HRA I would have even more opportunities to connect with first year students and help them with this really important transition. I also just loved the experience of being on an RA staff. My staff had a really great connection during my first year as an RA, and I attributed our great dynamic to our HRA. I hoped I could create the same sort of positive work environment on a staff of new RAs if I became an HRA.

Q: What about sustainability interests you?

Hannah: I’ve always felt like it’s our responsibility to take care of our planet. I don’t really know how that started — I think it was just growing up in Vermont and never really giving things like recycling a second thought. It was just what we did, and I knew it was important so I did it. Then as I grew up I started to see how that wasn’t really as common everywhere else in the world. I have become really focused on educating people around me about simple things we can do, like composting and reducing plastic waste.

Q: Have you been involved with environmental programming/ taken any relevant courses/ or learned about sustainability in any capacity while at Holy Cross or elsewhere?

Hannah: I led some book talks on The Uninhabitable Earth for the Montserrat clusters in Brooks-Mulledy when I was the HRA there, since that was the first year book for 2019-2020. I’ve taken an environmental studies course and been an active participant in the sustainability-focused initiatives at Holy Cross. I also participated in the climate strike last year, which was so exciting. I participate in Plastic Free July every year, which is a really cool initiative that challenges people all over the world to be more mindful of how much plastic is a part of our everyday lives and then to make changes to that.

Q: What is one thing you would like to see change in your residence hall in the future?

Hannah: I think a big one would be installing more reusable water bottle fillers. If we could have more refill stations in residence halls, students would be less likely to buy the plastic water bottles in the lobby shop. Anything that is going to make the lives of residents easier.

Q: Do you have any goals or ideas for collaboration with the sustainability department and the residential life in the future?

Hannah: Any sort of educational programming between sustainability and residence life would be awesome! We could make the first part educational and then the second part could be more interactive and could involve student input.

The Ciocca Center and the Office of Sustainability Launch the Pothos Project


Pothos plants often symbolize determination, perseverance, wealth, and good fortune. The pothos plant thrives under challenging circumstances, making the most of limited resources like light and water, and its heart-shaped leaves clean the air. The pothos plant improves its environment while ensuring its own growth and flourishing. The new Pothos Project provides students with the opportunity to help Holy Cross and our local business community do the same; become more sustainable on their way to wealth and good fortune.

The 2021 J-term Pothos Project pilot gave students the opportunity to practice real-world corporate responsibility consulting, in partnership with Holy Cross’ Lobby Shop, and under guidance from Holy Cross alumni. During the first week, students attended three hour-long interactive sessions with HC alums (Cole Worthy ’88, Megan Skwirz ’12, and Jereme Murray ’15), learning about the consulting field and picking up some of the skills and tricks needed for the job. In the second week, students worked directly with the Lobby Shop to analyze how the store can advance their operations more sustainably. Throughout the final week, students presented their recommendations to their campus partner and met with alumni mentors who offered guidance and support.

This pilot project was co-sponsored by the Ciocca Center for Business, Ethics, and Society and the Office of Sustainability with the intent to expand the project in upcoming semesters.

Monica Martinez ‘21 Explains Rampant Emissions & Carbon Offsets

Round graphic with leaves and smoke stack
Graphic from the NNOCCI reframe cards

What actions have you taken to reduce your carbon footprint? What if I told you that it would cost less to offset your carbon emissions from travel than to buy two fast food burritos? Carbon offsets allow individuals and organizations to compensate for their emissions and reduce their carbon footprints. The average person living in the United States produces about 4 metric tons of carbon from air and ground travel per year, which would cost around $24 to offset. The money used to purchase carbon offsets is funneled towards a project that is designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Some of these projects might be geared towards planting trees, developing renewable energy, or capturing methane from landfills.

But, what is carbon? Is it that bad for the environment? There is regular CO2 and rampant CO2. Regular carbon dioxide is used and created by natural life processes. However, rampant carbon dioxide is produced from burning fossil fuels for energy. Plants use regular CO2 that animals exhale, and therefore some CO2 is part of natural life cycles. But, we are also adding CO2to the air when we burn oil, natural gas, and coal for energy. We call this type of CO2 “rampant” because there is too much of it and we need to get it under control. When rampant carbon dioxide accumulates in our atmosphere and our oceans, it creates problems for the earth’s climate and ecosystems. Now that we know about rampant carbon dioxide, does the idea of carbon offsets sound more intriguing?

To get a better understanding of what a carbon offset is and how it works, let’s take the example of a Holy Cross student who lives in New York. This student drives home to New York for Holy Cross breaks and during these drives, the student produces carbon emissions. By purchasing a carbon offset, the student can continue to drive to and from New York but at the same time support a project that pulls an equal amount of carbon from the air. Even if the student is emitting carbon on the East Coast, their contribution to the carbon offset benefits everyone even those halfway across the world.

As a Holy Cross student who lives in California, I am aware of the larger carbon footprint that I have due to my air travel throughout the year. I may not have a car on campus to drive into Boston on the weekends, go for weekly Trader Joe’s runs, or pick up InHouse coffee but, I am still emitting a lot of carbon by living in California and attending the College of the Holy Cross. The question then becomes who’s responsible for these carbon emissions? Does it all fall on me? Do the airlines share the responsibility? Does Holy Cross have an obligation to offset carbon emissions from student and employee commuting? My answer is that it is everyone’s responsibility to reduce their carbon output and it starts with knowing your own carbon footprint. Calculate yours now.

Sara Axson ’21 Provides Tips for a Green Move-Out

It is almost finals season, which means a few things: cramming for final exams, preparing for the holiday season, and rushing to move out of dorms and off-campus apartments before we head home for winter break. Typically, many students throw out items from their dorms or apartments as they head home for winter or summer break. Are you looking to make your move out more sustainable? Here are some tips!

Invest in reusable boxes, containers, and shipping materials
Investing in reusable boxes and containers is a great way to decrease waste. Instead of buying cardboard boxes, invest in reusable containers. Not only will this save you some money down the road and decrease waste each time you move in or out of a dorm or apartment, but they also double nicely as dorm or apartment storage. For wrapping breakable items, look into sustainable wrapping materials. For instance, check out paper. For a zero-waste option, consider using blankets, scarves, or towels as wrapping materials.

Donate any leftover non perishable food items
Have any leftover cans of soup or ramen noodles sitting in your room or apartment? Instead of letting them sit there over winter break, donate them to a local food pantry. Instead of throwing them out, giving them to a shelter or food bank ensures not only that they do not go to waste, but that they go to someone who needs help, especially as we approach the holiday season. In other words, this is a great way to help your community and practice sustainable habits at the same time! Here are two local non-profits in the Worcester area that are accepting non-perishable food item donations: The Worcester County Food Bank and St. John’s Food for the Poor Program .

Donate gently used dorm items and clothing that you don’t need anymore
About to throw out your dorm lamp that doesn’t fit in the car? Don’t! Instead of throwing out gently used dorm items and clothes, consider donating them to local charities or thrift shops. This is a great idea for students living both on or off campus. Items being collected include gently used clothing, furniture, wipes, and books.

Recycle
It may seem simple, but it is super important: recycle, recycle, recycle. Make sure that you recycle any recyclable items or materials instead of throwing them in the trash.

Hannah Delea ’23 on Why Offering Locally Sourced Food Matters on a College Campus

Photo by Lynn Cody

During my time at Holy Cross, I have never seen nor heard students talking about where the food in Kimball originates while waiting in line for food. Rather, overwhelmed with various studies and focused on getting our degrees, I tend to hear my classmates chatter about upcoming work or events. Moreover, I have observed that my generation often forgets to consciously take efforts to live sustainably. As shown in this current semester, Holy Cross Dining Services had to recall the reusable containers because over 1,200 were lost (assumed to have been thrown away). Despite this unfortunate incident that could indicate that the student body is indifferent to the efforts taken by Dining to make Kimball more sustainable, I am confident that every student at Holy Cross has a general knowledge about environmental problems. For instance, my class of 2023 read The Uninhabitable Earth before entering our freshman year, which explored various environmental issues. However, I believe that the problem in making our campus more sustainable arises from a discrepancy between the knowledge the student body has about the environment and a misconception of how their individual actions ultimately affect sustainability on campus.

As a current sophomore at Holy Cross who is interested in environmental studies, I have been exploring our local food system and ways to better integrate our school into it. During my internship with the Office of Sustainability, I have observed many of my student peers lack knowledge about the effect of their actions on our food system. However, I believe that promoting more awareness of the origins of food would encourage my peers to take action. While working with the Office of Sustainability, I have focused my efforts on bringing awareness to local food at Kimball. I aim to show my fellow classmates that the food we eat impacts the local food system.

Close up of tomato and white cheese salad
Photo by Lynn Cody

Dining Services sources at least 20% of its food and beverage products from local sources. Yet, do students think about the food they eat, where it comes from, how it was made, or how it even got to Holy Cross? I do not blame students for this oversight, but rather see this as an opportunity to expand conversations around food sourcing. I am blessed to live in a time of convenience where I can avoid thinking about sourcing, but this luxury does not come unscathed. The increased carbon footprint that comes with the transportation of food itself, being one major negative consequence of sourcing food from distant areas. For example, Christopher Weber and Scott Matthews (2008) estimate that roughly 11% of food’s lifecycle carbon emissions comes from its transportation. Recognizing the negative environmental impact of food transportation, I have begun collaborating with Dining Services to expand awareness around local sourcing at Holy Cross. Did you know that we buy from the Worcester Food Hub and had community members involved in its formation? Buying from this local source reduces the amount of mileage that our food travels from the farm to our plates, consequently reducing Holy Cross’s carbon footprint.

There are so many more ways in which Holy Cross as an institution can become more sustainable, and it is these small steps that eventually add up and lead to a wave of change. With my work, I hope to inspire a change in my fellow classmates to understand their individual effects on the environment and to act in ways that are more sustainable. A simple first step you can take is to make efforts to consume locally sourced food. Whether on or off campus, I challenge you to find out where your ingredients come from. If you are on campus, Dining can share this information to help guide your efforts. If you are at home, you can quickly check the produce label at grocery stores. After all, our generation is the future, and we will have to find a way to adapt to modernization in a way that simultaneously protects the quickly changing environment, and eating local food is one easy way to help.