GEMS, social justice and sustainability forum

Jessica Guerrucci Managing Editor

Social justice and sustainability go hand-in-hand, according to Brandon Wong, a member of the Geography, Environmental and Marine Sciences Club, and it is important for everyone on earth.

“Everyone’s thinking about sustainability for the environment, but no one’s thinking about sustainability as thriving and living on earth,” said Wong.

Southern held its first Sustainability Town Hall, led by Office of Sustainability Coordinator, Suzanne Huminiski on Wednesday, Feb. 5. The town hall was attended by several members of GEMS.

The agenda included a campus update, climate action priorities for 2020 and beyond, as well as how students can get involved. Huminski said students can sign a climate emergency declaration, with GEMS’ goal being to get 500 signatures by the end of the spring 2020 semester.

The declaration outlines a strategy of how campus can make progress together as it follows Southern’s Climate Emergency declaration on May 30, 2019.

The declaration, according to Southern’s website, “recognizes the need to accelerate both pace and scale of our efforts, and a need for more unified and collective action to address the climate crisis.”

Huminski said Southern has been working on sustainability for a long time.

Currently, Southern is exceeding the 2020 goal set forth in the 2008 climate action plan for a 40 percent reduction in campus carbon emissions. By 2018, Southern reduced campus carbon emissions by 57 percent since 2008.

The first discussion focused on transportation, with action steps including benchmark commuter emissions and community stakeholder process.

Huminski advocated for the use of UPASS, where students can alternatively take the train to school, as well as driving less.

Another top priority addressed was the importance of community engagement and communication in terms of streamlining and unifying efforts, with levers in change related to research and curriculum regarding sustainability.

“There’s something in there for everyone and what’s important to understand is that you may not think that your particular area of interest will connect directly with climate action, but it does,” said Huminski.

She also discussed the use of solar power on campus, saying she still believes Southern can “fly higher,” as the solar panels already cost less.

Heather Sterns, who oversees Waste Reduction & Recycling on campus, said the overall diversion rate, which presents the amount of waste that is diverted from landfill for recycling for Southern, is 28 percent.

She said there is also compost taking place in Connecticut Hall and the Student Center and about 46 tons are composted each year.

“Most [compost] has been generated right now in Connecticut Hall, in the main dining hall,” said Sterns. “We’re hoping to increase our efforts over in the student center and with all your help maybe you can set the standard with other students.”

Derek Faulker, treasurer of GEMS, said he is “physically present” in the student center Monday through Friday at a specific time wearing bright green shirts to help the composting effort, calling himself the “trash police.”

Sterns said efforts are being made also through food recovery, furniture donation, single stream recycling, and “durable to-go’s” or reusable containers in Conn. Hall. There are now water refill stations, which have had over one million fills in the last three to four years, and by going bagless, as well as strawless, which is a work in progress. According to Huminski, students can get involved in the Office of Sustainability through internships as well as volunteering on campus, curriculum development and on-campus clubs.

Wong, who helped put the event together, said he thought it was very “telling,” but wished there was more engagement.

“Honestly, about 95 percent of the students here don’t know all of this even exists,” said Wong, “and with this information comes more opportunities and more developments for student life in the future.”

Through these town halls, which will continue to occur the first Wednesday of each month, Huminski said she hopes to inform students, as it is important they understand the impact of climate change.

“Climate science shows that we need to pay attention and we need to accelerate progress and solutions in an effective and unified way,” said Huminski, “and that includes everyone.”



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