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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What motivated you to explore the narrative around climate refugees?
I had a seminar about refugees and narratives through the Honors College. Our final paper was focused on connecting refugee narratives with our majors, and because I am an Environmental Studies major, climate refugees seemed the most relevant way of connecting the seminar topic with my major. In general, I am passionate about climate change communication and had recently read papers about climate change as a narrative so I had that in the back of my mind when trying to decide on the focus of my final paper.
Why should individuals working in and studying sustainable development consider the narrative surrounding climate refugees?
A key idea I found in my research is the difference between the dominant climate change narrative and other climate change narratives. And, by narratives I mean the ways in which climate change is widely discussed and thought about. The dominant climate change narrative is espoused by, for lack of a better word, the elite (highly educated, wealthy, etc.). Because this is the dominant narrative, we often consider this dominant narrative as ubiquitous, as if this dominant discourse is the only one that exists. Sustainable development is a field led by NGO’s, governments, researchers, etc. and these groups often fall within this “elite” category. They tend to have money and are led by highly educated people. They also often adhere to this “dominant narrative” and their policies can mirror this dominant narrative. However, this way of understanding climate change and its effects is not how all communities perceive climate change. By considering other narratives outside of the dominant climate change narrative, sustainable development leaders acknowledge that this “dominant” perception of “reality” is not the only perception and then can act accordingly. The goals of sustainable development largely work with communities most impacted by climate change, therefore, when establishing sustainable policies and practices, sustainability leaders must not only consider the perspective of those who create the policies, but also the perspective of those the policies and practices are supposed to serve. By considering other narratives outside of the dominant climate change narrative, sustainable development leaders acknowledge that this “dominant” perception of “reality” is not the only perception and then can act accordingly. For instance, sustainable development policies could then be more tailored or fine-tuned to better serve a specific community’s needs.
Do you have any advice for students looking to publish an article?
Look to your professors for help. My professors from the seminar, Professor Sweeney (English) and Professor Rodgers (Anthropology), were extremely encouraging about my efforts to publish the paper. They gave further edits to my article and detailed the first steps towards publishing such as how to find the right journal at which to submit my article.
Aside from working with the Professor, if you want to publish an article create an action plan. Think about what are the concrete steps you need to follow to get an article published and do your best to follow them.
When diners enter the Main Dining Room at Kimball this Fall, they will now use reusable to-go containers for takeout. Each student on a meal plan will receive one nine inch by nine inch container as well as one six inch by nine inch container, free of charge, when they visit Kimball each time this semester.
The best part? Dining Services will clean and sanitize the dirty containers; students don’t need to rinse them. Dining Services provides a clean container during each visit. Students return their containers to the Main Dining Room at Kimball at their own convenience.
This initiative builds on Dining’s consistent effort to exemplify and provide environmentally sustainable service. In 2009, the Main Dining Room at Kimball went ‘trayless,’ which saves over 900 gallons of water daily. Back of house composting dramatically expands waste diversion efforts and diners currently enjoy a styrofoam-free dining experience. The United States generates 80.1 million tons of container and packaging waste annually. By utilizing reusable containers at Kimball, Dining Services continues to offer exceptional dining services while exemplifying environmental stewardship.
Visit Dining Services for more information about sustainability initiatives.
Nature is the pathway we use to learn, create, bond, and develop as individuals. It is that dense yet solid foundation that supports our home. Therefore, we are as healthy and diverse as the environment that encompasses us! Today’s world has adapted modern needs and habits that are highly endorsed by entities for pure lucrative comfort and satisfaction who rarely think about the implications that industrious activities will cause on the cycles and patterns nature follows. This point is further argued by Archbishop Emeritus, Desmond Tutu, who stated that, “people of conscience need to break their ties with corporations financing the injustice of climate change.” People living in different geographical locations are all facing a major problem that threatens the core of their “natural neighborhood.” Nothing should make us become deterrent when forming concrete strategies in explicating the drastic reduction of climate change. It will take a consistent effort to see a positive outcome in our world, we just have to keep at it. The best way for us to fully understand the gravity of this dire situation? One must see the challenges others have faced and continue to endure so that a better future will be made. -Nichali Bogues, Kingston, Jamaica
The Philippines is a Southeast Asian country that is vulnerable to climate change effects, which makes it difficult for me to travel to and visit my relatives. When I lived in the Philippines, I developed asthma as a child due to the heavy carbon monoxide emissions from vehicles.
According to the Global Climate Risk Index 2020, the Philippines has one of the highest Climate Risk Index (CRI) in the world; this index refers to the level of vulnerability to weather-related events. Annually, the Philippines encounters an average of 20 typhoons in addition to other natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods that can all be exacerbated by climate change. Since most of my relatives and friends are still living in the Philippines, I am most worried about their overall health because climate change worsens air quality, which makes the population susceptible to developing cardiovascular diseases.
-Airam Viennelu Aliwalas, University of North Florida, FL, USA
Corvallis, Oregon, USA
As a native and lifelong Oregonian, I have seen the implications climate change has had on the Pacific wonderland. Since the first half of the 20th century, the Pacific Northwest has already seen a warming of a conservative 1.5 °F estimate; climate models project this number to rise 5-8.5 °F by the end of the century.
In many ways, climate change is regarded as the “threat multiplier” – and multiplied it has. This is because climate does not solely affect isolated issues, but compounds cascading elements; it becomes a determinant. Community health, economy, agriculture, various industries – nothing is left untouched, even if seemingly unrelated.
Through the lens of a future physician, climate change is an alarming disruptor in healthcare. I have witnessed this first hand as a caregiver during the wildfire season in Oregon, where high temperature and smoke aggravates and worsens health conditions, overwhelming the hospital system. On September 5th of 2017, the emergency department and urgent care observed 20% more visits statewide than expected due to respiratory issues following a wildfire.
Because I care about the health of Oregon’s people, I must also care about the health of Oregon’s environment.
–McKenzie Hughes, Corvallis, OR, USA
Climate change has recently begun having a larger impact on society as a whole. According to the Climate Reality Project, one of the results has been increased rainfall. As the world warms, the rate of the evaporation of the ocean increases, which contributes to more extreme precipitation. Likewise, as the atmosphere gets warmer, it can hold more moisture which is a factor in increased downpour intensity. This can have quite detrimental effects.
A few years ago, my family took a vacation to India to visit our relatives. Having not seen them for a couple of years, we were really enjoying our time. Vacation is an escape from reality. But that didn’t last long because one day, my mom checked the news back at home and our great vacation took a turn in the opposite direction.
It had been announced that there was very heavy rain for a couple of days and basements were flooding. We asked our friend to check on our basement, and just as we had feared, our basement was submerged under 2 feet of water.
When we got home, everything was destroyed – carpet, books, electronics. It was a costly and tiresome experience that is all too common nowadays. I fear that from here, unless we make more of an effort to slow climate change, only more and more unfortunate things like this will happen to more people.
-Joshua Mathews, University of Windsor, Ontario, Canada
Houston, Texas, USA
I love Houston, Texas; it is my home. As a city near the Gulf of Mexico, Houston faces unique challenges due to climate change. You might have heard of Hurricane Harvey and the destruction it caused in Houston in 2017. As temperatures and sea levels rise, coastal cities face the risk of becoming a breeding ground for increasingly devastating hurricanes. According to c40.org, a network of cities dedicated to addressing climate change, Houston emits 14.9 tons of carbon dioxide per year per capita, a number that ranks among the highest carbon dioxide emissions in America.
The silver lining is that the city government recognizes the need for change and has created an ambitious climate action plan that aligns with the Paris Climate Agreement: to decrease greenhouse gas emissions in order to prevent the Earth’s temperature from rising 1.5 degrees Celsius and to become carbon neutral by 2050. According to the City of Houston, 45% of the city’s greenhouse gases come from transportation, so finding ways, such as walking short distances or taking the Metro instead of our cars, would be helpful in decreasing emissions.
I hope that by working together as communities and a city, we can reduce greenhouse emissions, prevent excessively destructive hurricanes from forming and protect our city for generations to come.
The photo I have shared shows rain falling and creating puddles in my backyard. I am thankful for the rain that comes with living in a coastal city, but with temperatures and sea levels on the rise due to greenhouse gas emissions, gentle showers can take a more destructive form, which is why it is so important for us to act on climate change now.
–Pragya Mishra, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
In my home town of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, mortality due to water-borne diseases, heat waves, and respiratory diseases, caused by air pollution, is on the rise. In a country where there are little resources for mitigation, these effects of climate change are extremely alarming. When I visited Ethiopia in the summer of 2019, I was shocked to see how dark and grey the sky was. The streets were filled with large and old vehicles that contributed greatly to the emissions causing the dark grey skies. There was not a day where I saw a clear sky in the city. When I was living there, I did not realize how horrible the smog was, as that was considered the norm. However, now having lived 7 years in the suburbs of Texas, I had something to compare Addis Ababa to, which opened my eyes to the dangerous path my country is heading down on. It makes it more heartbreaking knowing that access to healthcare is considered a privilege in Ethiopia, contributing to even more lives lost as a result of climate change.
-Hermella Merso, University of Texas at Dallas, Texas, USA
Each individual and major enterprise has a responsibility to be more efficient in the ways they use products that are not beneficial to the environment. It is evident that over time we will face more floods, air pollution, droughts, extreme heating, and other horrible consequences if we do not step up and do what is right. Some of the ways to make our environment less intensely concentrated are: invest in energy-efficient appliances, reduce water waste, and manage our carbon profile in a better manner. Also, another key role to play is to become an advocate for climate change, simply speak up. Now is the time that we must come together as a united force with one prime objective; making the world a better place to live. The by-product of this goal is making it safer to raise our families and giving the next generation a better place to grow and interact with. As stated by David Suzuki, “ in a world of more than seven billion people, each of us is a drop in the bucket. But with enough drops, we can fill any buckets.”
Each Thursday in July, 60 plus students from across the United States, Canada, and England explored the connection between healthcare, sustainability, and equity in a web series called Healthcare Goes Green. Students learned from practitioners and scholars who have successfully integrated sustainability into their own work. The series first reviewed contextual knowledge about how climate change impacts health, especially within vulnerable communities. Then, the group examined different change frameworks, particularly incremental change and transformational change. The third session analyzed how energy conservation and green infrastructure at Mass General Brigham, a Massachusetts based hospital network, contributes to environmentally-friendly healthcare. The series concluded by discussing the social barriers to sustainable equitable health, using the Southern Africa region as a focal point.
Watch all four of the recorded presentations.
Climate Science: Its Impact on Health & Vulnerable Populations with Paul Dellaripa MD (1985 Holy Cross alum), Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Changing Mindsets: Incremental Change to Transformational Change with Sarah Fackler, Mass General Brigham
A Green Environment: Creating Green Infrastructure Through Energy Conservation with John Messervy, Mass General Brigham
Breaking Barriers: A Global Look at Sustainable, Equitable Health with Tsitsi Masvawure DPhil, College of the Holy Cross
Emma Powell ’20 describes her community organizing experience as a way to live the College’s value of ‘For and With Others.’
My name is Emma Powell. I’m from Haverhill, Massachusetts. I’m class of 2020. I’m a history and classics double major and my major involvements at Holy Cross were the Student Government Association, Eco-Action, and HC Fossil Free, which is the divestment campaign on campus.
So I think sort of that the common idea behind ‘for and with others’ is direct service, which of course is a huge component. But for me, I kind of gone towards my ‘for and with others’ values in a different way in terms of community organizing.
Specifically this year, it was sort of a catalyst for my environmental change that I did on campus. And I really believe that policy change and advocacy work is a huge part of living out your values and how you can do that in a community organizing setting. And there was a few things that we did that I think that really kind of highlight how we were able to get our campus and our institution to really care about environmental awareness.
The first thing would be the youth climate strike which happened at the beginning of the year in conjunction with the Chaplains’ Office. And it was the first time I seen a large scale show up for the environment on campus in a way like that and we all gathered on the Dinand steps and then joined Worcester community organizers who were also setting out goals for climate justice, things like that. And then the green fund is a fund that we passed this year that’s $30,000 worth of grant money for students to apply for environmental projects. I really really recommend incoming first years to look into how they can get a project funded through that because it was a lofty policy goal that we had and were finally able to pass it so that was something that was really great. And then we hired a sustainability director this year which is going to be great and I recommend reaching out to her to first years. And then Purple Goes Green week is something that we do every year and we were able to keep doing that amidst virtual learning.
So all of these things I think really show sort of ‘for and with others’ through policy and education that sometimes you neglect as part of that statement and I think it is a really important thing.
Less visible projects, like improving heating and cooling efficiency, stay hidden but drastically impact the Holy Cross’ carbon footprint. John Cannon, the director of facilities operations, reveals these hidden projects that continue to advance the College’s environmental goals.
Campus Composting: Zero waste at Kimball Main Dining Hall
The 2009 decision to go “trayless” in the main dining room saved more than one million gallons of water and greatly reduced general food waste. Now, Kimball Main Dining Hall & Kimball Food Court recycle or compost 100% of its waste. Any waste that cannot be recycled or composted is burned for energy. In the first year of this initiative, 110 tons of food waste that would have otherwise been thrown in a landfill was composted.
Single-Stream Recycling: Diverting waste since 2012
Holy Cross has diverted waste from the trash stream since the 90s. In 2012, the College adopted a single-stream recycling program. Need a reminder on the three guiding principles? 1) Recycle all empty plastic bottles, cans, paper, and cardboard. 2) Keep food and liquid out of the recycling bin. 3) No plastic bags.
Eco-Friendly Cleaning: Increasing indoor air quality
Building Services exclusively uses environmentally-friendly cleaning products, avoiding products that contain Volatile organic compounds (VOC). Furthermore, Building Services orders supplies in bulk to reduce packaging waste.
Chillers at Stein Hall: Move heat effectively
Chillers help transfer heat from an internal environment to an external environment. This process takes a lot of energy, but Stein Hall has a high-efficiency system. This system supports the College’s energy conservation efforts.
Loyola Hall Heating: Delivering comfort and energy efficiency
More than 300 upperclassmen experience highly-efficient heating at Loyola Hall. A heating system that cuts energy usage by maximizing the conversion from fuel to heat.
Apartment Composting: Offsetting carbon a pound at a time
Figge Hall and Williams Hall residents drop off food waste at two freezers. This waste then gets composted off-campus. Fun fact: The composting process offsets carbon instead of contributes to carbon emissions.
Campion House Heating: Maximizing combustion
Over 90% of fuel used in the Campion House heating system actually becomes heat. An older system may only convert 56% to 70% of fuel to heat. A higher conversation rate means more energy savings and less carbon emissions.
Holy Cross’ efforts continue to show! The College’s carbon footprint is almost 48% less than in 2007, with 12,053 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MTCDE) recorded for 2017. Heating and cooling continues to be the biggest carbon emitter (and the greatest focus for the Department of Facilities). Waste and the Holy Cross vehicle fleet are the smallest emitters at less than 2% each.
Heating & Cooling
During those nippy nights and scorching summers, Holy Cross’ physical plant takes the spotlight. At the heart of campus, and the College’s carbon footprint, the physical plant heats 67% of Holy Cross’ buildings. Natural gas fuels this process. To maximize efficiency, consequently cutting carbon emissions, the College has updated boiler controls and added insulation to steam pipes.
Don’t worry, the College hasn’t ignored the other 33% of campus buildings. A neat infrared camera system measures building surface temperatures, which allows Facilities employees to identify and rectify heat loss. Individual buildings also possess energy recovery systems and extensive insulation to keep comfortable air indoors and unwanted air outdoors.
Holy Cross uses quite a bit of electricity each year. In 2017, the campus used 21,490,864 kilowatt hours. That’s equivalent to watching over 53.5 billion cat videos! However, electricity accounts for zero percent of the College’s carbon footprint. Why? Holy Cross purchased a long term contract for hydropower (electricity fueled by moving water). Considered a renewable fuel source, hydropower produces zero carbon emissions.
Commuting & Travel
Not only does Holy Cross account for carbon emissions produced on campus, but the College includes emissions produced by Holy Cross community members engaged in college-related activities (think: faculty attending conferences, staff driving to work, or student-athletes heading to games). Thus, the College includes commuting and air travel in its annual carbon footprint. Unfortunately, commuting and travel emissions have increased by almost 25% since 2007.
#Composting is trending! Kimball Main Dining Hall & Kimball Food Court recycle or compost 100% of all waste. This helps Holy Cross reduce its trash stream, and also offsets some of the College’s carbon footprint. The composting process takes carbon out of the air, which subtracts tonnage off the overall footprint. Meaning? The more Holy Cross composts, the better for the College’s carbon footprint! In 2017, Holy Cross offset 36 tons of carbon through composting, the equivalent of 145,991 burritos.