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Brandeis struggles with sustainability

By Charlotte Aaron

Section: News

March 6, 2015

In the past year, Brandeis University has fallen behind on its commitment to becoming a sustainable campus. In 2012, Brandeis lost a staff member who worked full-time as a sustainability coordinator. While the position was filled for a time with an interim staff member, after her tenure, Brandeis did not rehire someone to fill the position. Even more recently, Brandeis’ relationship with GreenerU, a company that aids universities in becoming environmentally friendly, has come into question.

In discussing the history of sustainability efforts at Brandeis, it is important to mention a decision made in 2008: At this time, the university adopted single-stream recycling as the new method of recycling on campus. Single-stream recycling, as opposed to source-segregated recycling, allows students, faculty, administrators, as well as Brandeis guests to put all recyclable materials into one container. These materials are then later sorted at Casella Waste Systems, Brandeis’ waste management partner.

Single-stream recycling is a controversial method of recycling. There is an increase in residual waste (materials that are unable to be recycled due to contamination in the sorting process). 16.6 percent of single-stream waste is residual, and when mixed glass is included, this number rises to 27.2 percent, according to a Solid and Hazardous Waste Education Center report.

Yet while the residual waste does increase, so does participation in recycling. “Single-source is an easier and simpler ‘one-stop’ process at the source for all users,” wrote Jim Gray, vice president for campus operations, in an email to The Brandeis Hoot about the switch from source-segregated to single-stream recycling.

Gray additionally noted the significant cost difference, for both Brandeis and the environment, which was considered in the switch. Source-segregated recycling “requires more and different containers, much more responsible participation and can use more extensive and separate collection methods, which comes with its own financial and environmental costs.”

Brandeis, among other schools such as Skidmore and Dartmouth colleges, did ultimately opt for single-source recycling, but there was significant thought and collaboration put into Brandeis’ decision to eventually make the switch in 2008. Furthermore, in January 2014, Brandeis chose to partner with Casella Waste Systems. As Gray noted, the university works closely with Casella to continue to improve “waste management and recycling programs.”

Despite progress made when Brandeis partnered with Casella during the past academic school year, a decrease in an organized sustainability programming has continued. In September 2012, full-time Sustainability Coordinator Janna Cohen-Rosenthal ’03 left her position to pursue a graduate degree. To fill her position, Brandeis hired Lea Lupkin, a consultant for GreenerU, to serve as the interim sustainability coordinator.

Under Lupkin, Brandeis students filled positions such as communications eco-rep, undergraduate eco-rep and waste reduction and recycling eco-rep. Deanna Heller ’15, undergraduate eco-rep in the 2013-14 academic year, was an extremely committed representative.

While Heller, with the help of other eco-reps, promoted the use of reusable mugs at Starbucks and Einstein’s, helped run Compost Awareness Week and sold Eco Grams for Valentine’s Day, she was also focused on improving composting on campus. “One of my biggest initiatives as an eco-rep was trying to implement a better composting system,” said Heller.

When asked about the role of eco-reps in an interview, Heller explained that they served to raise awareness about environmental issues on campus. The role gave students an opportunity to be participants in the Office of Sustainability and help positively contribute to the Brandeis campus.

When Lupkin left Brandeis after two years to attend Yale Graduate School, where she currently studies environmental management, the role of GreenerU diminished. Eco-reps were “put on hold while the search was underway to hire a permanent sustainability coordinator—and now manager,” said Bill Schaller, executive director of integrated media.

In addition to the collapsed eco-reps program, Brandeis did not hire a new sustainability coordinator at that time. At the end of last year, Heller was initially asked by the university to sit on a committee to help look for a new coordinator, yet since then, “I have not been contacted about doing anything with [finding a new coordinator],” Heller said.

In a recent follow-up email to The Hoot, Gray wrote that Brandeis is in the last steps of the hiring process. Interviews for the position have been completed, and someone should be hired in the next two weeks. “This commitment [to supporting and promoting campus sustainability efforts] is most clearly demonstrated with the administration elevating the sustainability position from a coordinator to a manager level,” wrote Schaller.

Although progress is being made, “Brandeis is kind of behind the times. Most universities have at least one, if not more, paid, full-time sustainability coordinators,” Heller said. Not only do other universities have sustainability coordinators, as Heller said, but they also have entire offices dedicated to campus sustainability.

Boston University has an Office of Sustainability with a staff of four full-time employees and 11 student interns. Tufts University has three full-time employees, student interns and 21 student eco-reps. Bentley University, right down the street in Waltham, has two full-time employees and five student interns in their Office of Sustainability.

Although, as Gray said, Brandeis is “in the process of hiring a sustainability manager,” currently, Brandeis has no office, staff or individual solely dedicated to help assure the university is as environmentally friendly and efficient as possible. “With the resignation of my boss and the close of Brandeis’ contract with GreenerU, the eco-reps program has virtually dissolved,” wrote Heller in an email to The Hoot.

Clubs such as Students for Environmental Action (SEA) exist on campus and are active advocates for environmentally friendly change on campus, but it is difficult to make this change happen without the existence of a sustainability coordinator. A coordinator “is someone who is hired by the university who is going to be working with students, with facilities, with any other means that they need to be implementing new initiatives, new policy,” said Heller.

As of now, Brandeis has no employee who can help vocalize the concerns of students such as Sophie Freije ’17, president of SEA, who is working diligently with her club to “educate students about proper recycling methods” and get the word out about an electronic waste drive that is being organized for the end of the year.

According to Gray, “Brandeis is committed to identifying and implementing approaches to lessen our impact on the environment.” Heller added, “It’s not so much that the heart isn’t there. It’s just all the logistics.”

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