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.
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.