Operated With Love (OWL), a sustainability store created and managed by students, mostly of the department of geography, geology and the environment, is up and running in the lobby of the University Union for the month of April.
With a goal of removing the commodification of items that people need on a daily basis, the student exchange offers renewable products, consignment and a clothing swap.
“It’s been engrained to us that there’s a price for everything,” said senior Wyatt Moyer, a geography major with a concentration in environmental studies and sustainability. “You go pay for a bottle of water. Water should be free. The whole concept is to try and remove the price tag on things that we should have easy and reasonable access to.”
“We’re so used to relying on the system of having to pay for stuff,” said Karah Smith, a senior park and resource management major. “So by kind of going back on that and teaching people that it doesn’t have to be like that and ending that cycle, I think it will help a lot.”
Initially, OWL was a project for an applications and sustainability course. After developing the goal of its creation at the start of the spring semester, Moyer said, the students had to reach out to the right people for the planning of matters such as an ideal store space. They talked to Dr. William Behre, the president of the university, and Dr. Stentor Danielson, their department chair, and even the dorms, asking to place collection boxes.
Moyer said that it is, for now, a sort of pop-up shop for Earth Month, and other leaders in the project are in the process of establishing it as a club with funding from the Student Government Association. Already with an advisor lined up in Dr. Julia Chandler, members must deal with other club guidelines, such as writing a constitution and getting certain appointees as club representatives.
“There’s a wide variety of products that are sold in the store, and it seems to kind of grow every other day,” said Moyer, who runs consignment efforts.
The consignment involves students bringing in their items to the store, which in turn sells them and retains 10% of the profit. Being a non-profit, the money kept from every sale goes back into improving the store itself.
The range of items includes necessities like toothbrushes and soaps, cultural items such as jewelry and artwork, and even a renewable, organic coffee that a professor in the department had created and branded.
Whether for an interview, class, or night out, students can go in and take an article clothing, free of charge, and are invited, but not required, to bring an item to replace it. The store is also accepting clothing that can be dropped off in the donation boxes located next to the disability office in the student union, Smith said.
“If you want a different T-shirt,” Moyer said, “you can just grab it off the shelf and leave with it, no price tag.”
“Most people don’t understand that it’s free,” said Karah Smith, the leader of the Xchange Clothing Project. “Because most things have a catch, or they’re not just free, so it’s taken a little bit for students to get used to it.”
In addition to clothing and items, OWL provides an all-natural food service to the campus. The store purchases and receives deliveries of organic foods from Frankferd Farms, a family-owned food farm based less than 30 miles southeast, in Saxonburg.
Moyer touched on another way people can practice sustainability on campus. He feels there is an important issue in single-use products, in particular the plastic cups at coffee shops, and reminds students that slight discounts are offered if you bring your own container to get filled.
“I think, with all of the environmental problems we’ve created ourselves, thinking ahead in an ecological way is our only forward and pushing those principles is what we have to do,” said Luke Oswald, a sophomore environmental studies and sustainability major who’s in charge of food orders.
The Geography, Geology, and Environment (GGE) Club, of which Moyer was previously treasurer, also takes charge in most campus and local highway cleanups. The group has adopted a section of highway between Slippery Rock and Harrisville and participated in a cleanup, done once a semester, on April 11. The club also helps with other events, such as a recent clothing drive and the upcoming EarthFest, both through the Macoskey Center.
OWL is open until April 30 from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and during common hour on Tuesdays and Thursdays. For more information, visit the store’s website at OperatedWithLove.com or send an email to OperatedWithLove@gmail.com.