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.

Composting at Williams Hall and Figge Hall

Top loading freezer along wall
Residents at Williams Hall use small freezers to collect compost.

Even with careful thought and passionate execution, some sustainability projects take more than one trial to get right. For instance, the innovative freezer system used at Williams Hall and Figge Hall took over two years to develop. During the first attempt, the Student Government Association co-directors of environmental concerns and Presidential Task Force on the Environment members installed an aerated static pile composting system right outside the two buildings. However, student residents solemnly participated because the system was located outdoors. Possibly worse, the Facilities Department received complaints about bad odors. The implementation team decided to conclude this first attempt and pivot the project to a different model.

Today, student residents at Figge Hall and Williams Hall may successfully compost their food waste through a compact freezer system. Instead of traditional indoor collection bins, students will find small freezers at the collection zones. These freezers require less frequent pickup and provide flexibility for changing demand. They also mitigate icky smells and increase user convenience. When students have food waste to discard, they simply place their waste in a bag into the freezer. An Environmental Services staff member then removes the waste and brings it to the compost compactor located near Kimball Hall. Holy Cross’ hauler, Waste Management, picks up the organic waste and turns it into rich soil.

While some projects happen rapidly, many others take time, trial and perseverance to implement. The freezer composting system at Figge Hall and Williams Hall exemplifies this process.

Monica Martinez ’21 on the Logic of Externalities

The first topic of my Political Economy course, taught by Professor Justin Svec, explored the logic behind externalities. An externality occurs when one agent’s action affects the welfare or profit of another agent. There are both positive and negative externalities where positive externalities raise some other agent’s welfare (or profit) and negative externalities lower them. The problem with externalities is that the acting agents do not internalize the full costs or benefits of their actions leading to the socially inefficient equilibrium. More specifically, positive externalities are under produced while negative externalities are over produced.

Thinking in terms of sustainability and our life at Holy Cross, this simplified example of a student bringing a reusable thermos to Cool Beans will show how a positive externality is under-produced.

Benefits Costs
Reduce your consumption of single use cups, lids, and straws Having to carry the thermos around campus
Reduces the waste Holy Cross produces Having to rinse out the thermos after each use

Individuals behave optimally by setting their private benefit equal to their private cost. In this case, the student would fail to internalize the benefit of the reduction in waste for Holy Cross. Thus, the student’s cost of bringing a reusable thermos outweighs the benefits leading the student to choose not to bring a reusable beverage container to Cool Beans.

Shifting gears to negative externalities, I have outlined a simplified example of a student choosing to litter to show how a negative externality leads to overproduction. In this example, the student fails to internalize the cost to the greater Holy Cross community. That being said, the student’s private benefit is equal to their private cost leading the student to choose to litter instead of walking to a trash can.

Benefits Costs
Easier than walking to a trash can You see a dirtier campus
Every other student sees a dirtier campus

There are multiple interventions that college campuses can implement to help the community reach the socially optimal equilibrium. These interventions include command and control and Pigouvian tax/subsidy. Command and control can occur when the college administration mandates a certain level of production. One example of this is if the college were to limit the take out containers that the cafes on campus were allowed to use. In doing so, students might be nudged to bring their own reusable containers. College administration can implement Pigouvian taxes or subsidies that match the size of the negative or positive externality. Similar to Pigouvian subsidies, our very own Cool Beans has implemented various efforts to incentivize students to bring their own reusable thermos. These efforts include discounting drinks when students bring their own beverage container and selling reusable thermoses for students to use.

Recognizing the added benefits of a positive externality and the extra costs of a negative externality, I hope that we can make the conscious effort to produce more of the good and lessen the costs we impose on our environment. Let us work together to reduce our waste, reuse our beverage containers, and recycle our clean bottles, plastics, paper, and cardboard.

Are you a wishful recycler?

Relatable moment: Standing over a trash bin and a recycle bin awkwardly waving that hand over each opening trying to decide if that item we’re holding is recyclable. Then deciding that we’ll throw it into the recycling bin in the hopes that it will get recycled.

This is wishful recycling.

When someone tosses items in the recycling bin and hopes that they are recyclable or thinks that they should be recyclable, that person is a wishful recycler. While well-intentioned, wishful recycling results in a contaminated recycling stream, sending perfectly good material straight to the landfill. It’s avoidable! Waste Management, Holy Cross’ waste hauler, recommends three rules:

1) Recycle all clean and empty plastic bottles, cans, paper and cardboard.
2) Keep food and liquid out of the recycling.
3) No plastic bags.

With everyone’s participation, Holy Cross can expand its 35% waste diversion rate.

Recycling sign found on campus bins