Brandeis Sustainability Ambassadors act as student resource

September 14, 2018

While Brandeis places a major focus on social justice, it is often forgotten by many that environmental justice is a very real issue students are involved in on campus. The Brandeis Sustainability Ambassadors (BSAs) hope to shed light on this, as well as serve as people to turn to for help in becoming more sustainable or creating sustainability projects.

Cameron Bechman ’19, an Environmental Studies major, is the student who came up with the idea of the BSAs. Benedikt Reynolds ’19 is majoring in computer science and anthropology, and also has a hand to play in the ongoing creation of the BSAs.

Both Bechman and Reynolds are members of the Senate Sustainability Committee, which is the group within the Student Union that brainstorms ideas for making Brandeis more sustainable. These projects are made possible due to the $50,000 Brandeis Sustainability Fund (BSF); in fact, Bechman created the BSAs with this funding. What many students may not know is that this funding comes directly from their tuition; one percent of tuition goes towards the student activities fund, which goes towards projects such as these.

In creating the BSAs, Bechman was inspired by the eco-reps that used to exist at Brandeis, and still exist at schools such as Tufts and Harvard. These eco-reps are students who follow a regimented program that enforces sustainability on campus, and especially in dorms. They are similar to Community Advisors, but instead of supervising students specifically they try to encourage students to keep their environmental impact and level of waste to a minimum. To do this, they assign different places on campus sustainability ratings ranging from bronze to gold.

While Bechman might want to incorporate this method of rating sustainability into a project that the BSAs undergo in the future, he notes that the BSAs are “by no means a copy” of the eco-reps. His mission for the BSAs aims to go one step further than just encouraging a sustainable lifestyle once students have settled into campus; he hopes that they can serve as “student peers who are are advocates for environmental movements on campus as well as … a force that the sustainability department could pull from for help with … zero waste events, maintaining projects, orientation,” said Bechman.

He hopes that by acting as advocates in this way, more students outside of the BSAs themselves will be more informed about their effects on the environment, which would in turn lead to a more sustainable Brandeis over time.

According to Reynolds, “It’s very ironic that [Brandeis] deems itself focused or centered on social justice, but it is one of the least sustainable universities in the Northeast.”

There are a couple reasons why sustainability is so important, and especially at Brandeis. What people might not realize is that sustainability goes far beyond simply throwing trash out into the correctly labeled trash can. According to Reynolds, the garbage that goes into the “Bin of Last Resort” next to the Compost and Recycle bins across campus is for the most part burned in Massachusetts, therefore directly impacting the atmosphere.

Additionally, the lack of sustainability on campus is dangerous. A big issue that Reynolds and Bechman highlighted was that Brandeis has historically chosen the cheapest possible materials in terms of architecture, which has made buildings across campus not only the opposite of environmentally conscious but also has made them more likely to need repairs. According to Reynolds and Bechman, the reason the Wi-Fi was down at the beginning of this school year was because the piping system Brandeis bought for that area of campus was outdated, inexpensive and therefore not meant to last.

Luckily, Bechman, Reynolds and the other BSAs have already begun to take steps towards encouraging sustainability on campus. They piloted a program at midyear orientation, and it went so well that the Department of Community Living (DCL) invited them back for this year’s orientation; in order to raise awareness of the BSAs as a resource on campus they helped move people into their dorms.

They have also manually sorted through trash, which, according to Reynolds, is much more fun than it sounds. One of their most successful projects consisted of putting environmental memes in residence halls near light switches, bathrooms and garbages to remind people of their impact on the environment. The BSAs also plan to help with move-out, where they will help sort things that are left behind by residents into donation, recycle and reuse boxes so that they are not left behind to be piled up and eventually thrown away.

The ambassadors are a new program, but overall they hope to continue being a resource to speak to about sustainability and to mentor students who want to create a project, and also to take over projects if those students go abroad.

While being BSAs has been hard work, Bechman and Reynolds have never doubted their mission of promoting sustainability on campus. For Bechman, the most rewarding part of being a BSA is that he truly believes they will make a change in how sustainable Brandeis is. For Reynolds, the best part is that the BSAs started off as just an idea, and now there are people volunteering to be BSAs simply because they like the mission that the founders have laid out.

While the BSAs are still a “pilot program,” according to Reynolds, they certainly have already made a positive impression on campus and the environment.

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