It has been a solid year in sustainability for UCI. The efforts of multiple student-led initiatives resulted in a variety of seeds planted across campus, from which future green projects will likely sprout. From the Arbor Day Foundation’s awarding of the Tree Campus USA title to the planting of the newest garden on campus, Ants In Your Plants, students have shown up in force throughout the year to show a growing commitment to environmental sustainability, both on the campus and on a personal level.
Kevin Schlunegger of TGIF was among the many groups at the forefront of the sustainability push. Schlunegger, who helped start TGIF in the spring of 2009, spent some time at the TGIF First Annual Project Award Night to look back at the projects of the 2010-11 academic year. While the larger events TGIF sponsored — including the Anteater Garden Initiative or the Farmers Market — may get more publicity, Kevin noted that many of the projects that TGIF have seen are small, student-centric events tasked more toward spreading awareness than on massive change.
“We are what we get,” Schlunegger said. While he noted that he wanted to see more of the larger initiatives, the smaller projects were still equally as important.
“We think these [projects] are valuable,” Schlunegger said.
As some of the larger projects move to completion, he hoped more students would take the initiative to send in applications for their own ideas of sustainability.
Some of these smaller projects are still “large” in the scope of how they affect the environment and the campus perception of sustainability.
In the Claire Trevor School of Arts, TGIF helped the Clean Air Claire project by funding the purchase of a spray-paint recycling machine, which separates the can and the paint, allowing for the safe recycling of the metal can without the non-recyclable paint. TGIF also helped to install three Hydration Stations in DBH, Humanities Hall, and SSL, where students who use canteens and reusable bottles can fill up on cool, filtered water, which helps to cut down on plastic waste from water bottles. In both cases, and with other projects like the canteen and tote bag initiatives, students were introduced to sustainable practices.
Cynthia Leung, team manager and president of Green Campus, felt that TGIF has had a strong upward effect on sustainability at UCI.
“[Awareness] has grown a lot more in the last two years since TGIF started,” Leung said.
Green Campus, which was heavily involved in installing sensor-activated faucets in the sustainability hall of Mesa Court and spearheaded multiple initiatives to spread awareness of sustainable practices, is just one of many sustainable clubs on campus. Leung felt TGIF’s continuous growth will set a presence for the other sustainability clubs on campus.
“The next big step,” she said, “is to have other clubs step into the light.”
Alexis Kim, the director of external affairs for TGIF, also saw similar growth in sustainability awareness on campus.
“Baby steps? I see that happening,” Kim said.
While the movement for sustainability at UCI is not old, as the culture continues to grow, students slowly come to inherently know what the meaning of sustainability is.
Furthermore, she explained, as sustainability becomes a part of campus life, students will be more likely to come up with ideas in the future.
“When people live and breathe sustainability, they will come up with amazing ideas,” Kim said.
Schlunegger looks forward to next year’s TGIF operation, while agreeing with the development of the green culture at UCI.
“Change happens really slowly. But TGIF will create so much more change.” Schlunegger also noted that many projects this year helped to add sustainability to normal events, like funding dinnerware for banquets in order to cut down on Styrofoam waste. He hopes that in the next year TGIF will be able to move toward more infrastructure-based initiatives, like the Hydration Stations. He also expressed interest in tackling issues with electronic waste on campus.
“E-waste has been neglected,” Schlunegger said. “I want that to change for next year.”
To that effort, TGIF helped to fund a virtualization project within the New University to install low-overhead computers to reduce electrical usage. The goal is that, in the future, OIT might also adapt the practice of “cloud” style computing to reduce the electrical usage of the on-campus computer labs. While some projects, like the Garden Initiative, were able to start fairly large on campus with a great deal of administrative support, other initiatives will have to start small and work their way up.
Ultimately, the goal is the same – as TGIF and the other sustainability clubs on campus slowly ramp up their efforts on campus to spread the knowledge of sustainable practices, the campus will slowly but surely come to integrate sustainable practices and infrastructure in all areas of campus life, from dining to housing and beyond.
Regardless of whatever barriers might appear in the future for continued growth, one thing is for sure – the seeds of green change have been planted by students at UCI, and the future looks to hold the fresh fruits of their labor.