Students take green steps toward sustainability
BY ERIN MERDINGER
Student environmentalist Elysse Grossi ’08 learned the importance of conserving resources at a young age.
“My mom used to get so irritated when she would find paper scraps, toilet paper rolls, and other recyclables in the trash,” Grossi recalls. “She would hold them up and say, ‘Reduce, reuse, recycle! It’s your generation, not mine!’”
“One day, I just got the message,” she says.
Today, she’s busy passing the message on. Grossi’s conservationist streak continued during her undergraduate years as a health science major at Cal State East Bay. In 2007, she started Club Green, a short-lived student organization that promoted environmental awareness on campus through coordinating events such as Earth Day celebrations, environmental film showings, and a green job fair.
Grossi is one of a growing number of students working to put the environment at the top of University priorities through club events, academic pursuits, and student leadership activities.
Stan Hebert ’76, associate vice president for Student Affairs, has noticed a change in students’ mindset toward issues of sustainability in recent years.
“It’s no longer a radical position,” Hebert says. “Sustainability and the environment would not have been a general student concern 20 years ago, but now it plays a regular role in student discussions.”
Hebert attributes this change in students’ attitude partly to the increase in support and awareness from administrators and faculty members, who weave elements of sustainability into their instruction and courses through methods from cutting down on paper handouts to teaching classes such as “Sustainable Development” and “Resource Management.”
“One of the reasons I chose CSUEB for my undergraduate education was our ongoing dedication to sustainability,” Grossi says. “I thought I would feel at home on a campus that uses solar energy and sustainable landscaping.”
Now as a graduate student studying cell and molecular biology and a full-time outreach coordinator for CSUEB Student Health Services, Grossi continues her drive to make Cal State East Bay a greener place.
Grossi’s current projects include collaborating with Associated Students Inc. and the Marin Agricultural Institute to bring a farmers market to campus starting spring quarter. Additionally, she is working with Student Health Services to make the department as paperless as possible by moving medical records, appointment schedules, and resource materials online.
Another area in which Hebert sees increasing student involvement in sustainability is in organizations such as ASI, which added an Environmental Affairs Committee in 2008.
“The student-driven initiatives are the ones that continue to grow,” Hebert observes.
Sarah Kim, a junior majoring in political science, has spearheaded a plan to bring a sustainable alternative transportation option to the University. By the start of spring quarter, she says, Cal State East Bay will provide a car-sharing program through Zipcar, a service that offers members hourly or all-day access to a loaner car. Currently, only five CSU campuses offer Zipcar service.
“Not only does it provide convenient and affordable transportation for people who live or work on campus,” says John Williams, a Zipcar spokesman. “It also helps a university reduce demand for parking and associated congestion, as well as reduce emissions and environmental damage from building more parking.”
Each Zipcar could take 15 to 20 cars off the road, and members of the program report increasing their use of public transit by about 20 percent and decreasing their overall driving miles by 40 percent, Williams says.
“It’s a consolidation effort,” Kim says. “The less vehicles we’re using, the less emissions we’re putting out.” Additionally, Zipcar vehicles, expected to include a hybrid car, are more fuel-efficient than most cars students drive, Kim says.
Zipcar will start the program at CSUEB with two vehicles on the Hayward campus and will add more cars as demand increases.
Students in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies also have made strides toward keeping the environment and sustainability at the forefront of discussion at Cal State East Bay. As part of his applied field studies class, student Brandon Johnson in December participated in the Climate Action Plan Workshop hoping to spark general student interest in environmental affairs at CSUEB. The workshop also allowed students to help the University meet a state requirement under the California Environmental Quality Act that calls for local governments to create climate action plans.
“We just set the foundation, established an outline of what needs to get done; now we need to move toward action,” says Johnson, a senior in the class whose presentation focused on moving University landscaping and buildings toward carbon-neutral designs.
Students also presented ideas for a more sustainable campus, ranging from addressing commute-related greenhouse gas emissions, which account for 60 percent of CSUEB’s total emissions, to imposing a student-generated green fee. The green fee concept was modeled after a San Jose State University plan to use green fees to pay for a campus climate officer staff position.
Environmentally conscious students also can be found in less obvious fields of study such as the Multimedia Graduate Program. For his thesis project in the program, Daniel Weinstein, a second-year graduate student, created a mobile phone application with an environmental spin.
Weinstein’s application, called Fescue Rescue, is a quest-style game that encourages participants to explore Bay Area trails and parks and promotes habitat restoration. As players walk through a wilderness area, such as Point Pinole Regional Shoreline, with a mobile device in hand, the game shares information about native species such as the Alameda whipsnake, salt marsh harvest mouse, and Mount Diablo sunflower. During the quest, participants use Weinstein’s technology to interact with “characters” like the California red-legged frog, while following the game’s prompts to assist in restoring a clean pond where the amphibian can thrive.
“Fescue Rescue games are played in a ubiquitous learning environment that teaches players about the ecology, restoration, and sustainability of the natural environment,” Weinstein says. “One desired outcome of playing Fescue Rescue is to encourage people to care about preserving and restoring natural, public, and open spaces.”
Weinstein says he hopes to publish Fescue Rescue as an iPhone game geared toward outdoors enthusiasts, including park visitors, natural science students, citizens facing environmental decisions, walkers, hikers, mountain bikers, and naturalists.
Although student projects like Weinstein’s Fescue Rescue exemplify the recognizable progress being made across the University at the student level, green leaders like Grossi still see student involvement as the most difficult, yet key component in achieving environmental sustainability on campus.
“When I first started here there wasn’t an Earth Day celebration or an ASI sustainability committee,” Grossi says. “We’re moving in the right direction, but there are things we can do to make it move quicker.”