College creates a more sustainable community

by Demi Vitkute / Beacon Correspondent • September 18, 2013

Sustainability roden
Piano Row and Colonial are LEED certified, eco-friendly residence halls.
Piano Row and Colonial are LEED certified, eco-friendly residence halls.

While Emerson prides itself on being a campus of innovation, it only recently took the next step towards becoming a more sustainable community. With the new school year in full swing, Eric Van Vlandren, the campus sustainability coordinator, has implemented some new ideas to make the college more environmentally friendly. 

For the first time in Emerson’s history, Van Vlandren said he launched an EcoRep program, a paid position where students are hired to act as peer educators for sustainability. According to Van Vlandren, the program will help make students more aware of green practices, such as recycling, by giving them a reliable and relatable resource.

“Emerson was a little bit late to the game, certainly in creating a position like [this],” said Van Vlandren, an Emerson alumnus who formerly studied political communications.   

According to Lindsay Geller, a junior writing, literature, and publishing major and the Student Government Association’s sustainability commissioner, Emerson began its environmental campaign in 1996. Back then, Earth Emerson founded the on-campus recycling program, which she said has expanded significantly over the past few years. 

Within the past two years, Geller said, Emerson began composting in the dining facilities, although elements of the program have been called into question. It also began eliminating trays and  introducing reusable to-go containers, switching to cage-free eggs, and phasing out bottled water. The campus was also named the 2010-2011 Champion of the Great Northeast Athletic Conference in the Environmental Protection Agency’s College & University Green Power Challenge.

Emerson began actively changing in Oct. 2010 when former college president Jacqueline Liebergott founded the President’s Committee on Sustainability, according to member and Emerson Peace and Social Justice president Dylan Manderlink. The group, she said, meets once a month to share ideas on how to make the campus more environmentally friendly and aware. Manderlink, a senior IDIP major, said the committee helps vocalize the students’ opinions and concerns about sustainability on campus.

Van Vlandren said he has many programs in mind, though his focus will be on establishing the EcoRep program and its goals. There are eight EcoReps for the residence halls, one off-campus and commuter representative, and one assistant manager, a position which will be filled by a graduate student, he said. 

EcoReps, according to Van Vlandren, will be working with resident assistants and resident directors to promote environmental awareness. He says they plan to organize both formal and informal floor meetings regarding sustainability issues.

“These conversations and peer education are crucial to learning about what sustainability means,” he said. 

Kaela Holmes, president of Earth Emerson, said she sees the program as a critical step toward helping students understand how to make greener decisions. 

“EcoReps is going to be effective as long as they have the motivation and drive really needed to educate all the students,” said the senior journalism major.

Van Vlandren also said he has collaborated and will continue to work with on-campus organizations such as Emerson Peace and Social Justice, Earth Emerson, and SGA. The leaders are already brainstorming, according to Geller, who said the SGA wants to bring local farm products and a rooftop garden to campus. 

The main goal this semester will be to focus on the different ways students can reduce energy usage within the residence halls, Van Vladren said. 

 “All of the electricity at Emerson is purchased from renewable sources,” said Van Vlandren. “We are about to sign a contract to continue that for another three years.”

By next semester, Van Vlandren said he hopes the EcoRep program will have helped students reduce their carbon footprints, and created new educational resources about composting and single stream recycling.

Single stream recycling, he said, will also be in place within the residence halls, hopefully by next year. Unlike the current method of sorting recyclable materials into separate bins, this program, he said, would allow all recyclable materials to be placed in the same container, which would make it easier for students to reduce and reuse. 

Currently, he said composting in the dining hall and cafés has progressed. However, he said he hopes to bring the composting program into the residence halls, which he said generate a decent amount of food waste.

“Every floor should have a compost bin,” said Van Vlandren. “EcoReps will be instrumental in making that happen.”

Van Vlandren said his job, alongside the EcoReps, will be making sustainability an easy and fun process for students. For example, the campus will once again participate in Recyclemania, the largest recycling competition for colleges and universities. Emerson, he said, has participated for the last two years, but has not been as successful as other institutions. This year, Van Vlandren said he hopes the campus will have better results.

Students, Van Vlandren said, also need to be aware of locations to bring e-waste, a term for broken electronic devices. He said few students know this, but e-waste can be recycled at the IT Help Desk, and batteries can be brought to the Equipment Distribution Center. 

The central part of Emerson’s new sustainability program, he said, will be student participation and cooperation. Van Vlandren said he encourages students to find out who their EcoReps are, whether they live on or off campus. He also said he hopes other green-minded students will get involved to help turn the campus’ environmental programs around. 

“I am a shameless adopter of other people’s good ideas,” he said. “I encourage students to bring me their ideas so we can make Emerson a more sustainable place.”

Due to an editing error, Paramount was incorrectly identified as LEED certified in a previous photo caption. 

Due to a reporting error, the sustainability programs including single stream recycling were said to be in place in the residence halls within the next year. However, they are currently being evaluated and researched.