The Slippery Rock Student Government Association (SGA) hosted another town hall Thursday on Zoom to discuss sustainability on campus, including reducing single-use plastics and making the campus greener.
With many students, faculty and administrators in attendance, Kaitlin Karaffa, a senior environmental science major, and the panelists answered questions and discussed various topics through direct and anonymous methods.
The panelists in attendance include the Regional Director for the Pennsylvania Association of Environmental Education Becky Thomas; Professor of Geography, Geology and Environment Julie Snow; Director of Sustainability Paul Scanlon; Senior Vice President for the Administration of Global Engagement and Economic Development Amir Mohammadi; Assistant Professor of Healthcare Administration and Information Systems John Golden; Executive Director of Planning and Environmental Health and Safety Paul Novak; and Assistant Vice President of Facilitates, Planning and Environmental Safety Scott Albert.
Novak said recycling and related sustainability starts with the individual perspective and the desire to want to do so.
Scanlon said last year they started an initiative to reduce plastic use on campus with a Beyond Plastic symposium. He said he hopes he can start to see students using less plastics.
“Our new emphasis is to refuse the use disposable bags and bottles,” Scanlon said. “Reuse what you can, and then recycle.”
Thomas said this is where behavior change comes in. She said if we want people to change student and faculty behaviors in a way that leads to pro-environmental outcomes, we have to understand what the barriers to that behavior change are.
Thomas said the drinking water on campus not tasting good is a contributor to using so much plastic on campus.
“Those students are then going to the store to purchase cases of throwaway, recyclable plastic water bottles,” Thomas said. “There’s a barrier of water not tasting good.”
Mohammadi said before the COVID-19 pandemic and students not being on campus, him, Scanlon and many others were discussing eliminating all plastic bottles on campus and were going to finalize some decisions this coming academic year. These plastic bottles on campus include those in the vending machines on campus.
Snow said SGA sells plastic bottles of water and soft drinks in their vending machines on campus. She said there are many issues with this, and she hopes that SGA takes leadership of this and chooses to no longer sell drinks that are in plastic bottles.
“[This] will send out a message in terms of addressing things like climate change and other environmental and equity issues,” Snow said.
Albert said they have been replacing old water fountains in the campus buildings so that there is at least one bottle filling station in every building, hopefully encouraging students to utilize refillable water bottles rather than disposable, single-use plastic.
As for some solutions to sustainability issues, Scanlon suggested that SGA offers reusable water bottles and bags to incoming freshman so that they can use reusable products instead of plastics in their four years, or more, of attending the university.
“If we could provide incoming freshman with a really nice insulated water bottle, that would encourage them to not use plastic, disposable bottles,” Scanlon said.
Snow said she wanted to remind students that it is their future that is at risk with climate change and sustainability issues.
“It is time for action,” Snow said. “Students hold the power for change at universities. It is up to you, as students, to step up and make your voices heard.”
Mohammadi said there are three things that are essential in life: air, water and food. He said sustainability touches all three of these, and if we do not do the right things, it can cost us more than $80 trillion.
Thomas said there are always people that are going to have different perspectives or do not believe climate change is happening.
“There are certain areas where climate change doesn’t even need to be a part of the conversation,” Thomas said, “But you’ve got it in your back pocket as your motivation for why you’re trying to create a change.”
Snow said as climate change occurs, food insecurity will increase.
“There are going to be more people that are struggling to get food that is useful to humans, increases their ability to study, allows them to feel secure and not be tired in class,” Snow said. “There are issues of equity that are going to be enhanced because of climate change.”
Mohammadi said we need to take advantage of this time of crisis and use it as an opportunity to grow.
“We need to take it and never let a crisis like this go wasted,” Mohammadi said. “Let’s take advantage of this and really get things done.”
Scanlon said this situation has brought a sense of community to SRU students and faculty. He also agreed that we need to take advantage of this time and create new ideas for campus involving sustainability.
“We could come out of this thing with some great new ideas and find that we’ve been building some capabilities we never realized we had,” Scanlon said.
Golden said one positive that comes from this time of self isolation is the change of old habits. He said people are making better choices and driving less, resulting in some reduction of our carbon footprint.
“So when we come back to campus as a large group, if we can think about some of those practices that actually reduced our footprint, not only will that continue to save the university money, but it will also affect the climate,” Golden said.
Thomas said although there has been an increased awareness for health and safety due to this pandemic, there has also been an increased mistrust of the expertise of doctors.
“With COVID-19, there is a lot of reluctance to listen to the medical experts who have spent decades of their lives studying [this],” Thomas said. “Getting [people] to listen is a huge challenge.”
If you want to be involved with making the SRU campus more green, take the sustainability survey that focuses on campus knowledge of and attitude toward sustainability. If you have any questions about the study, contact the study director, Professor Jana Asher, at firstname.lastname@example.org.