Santa Clara University

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Sustainability is her middle name

Lindsey Cromwell ’04 came back to SCU in February 2006 to don the hat of campus sustainability coordinator. She’s the first person to hold that post. And just over a year into Cromwell’s work on campus, Santa Clara Magazine editor Steven Boyd Saum sat down with her to look at what she’s done so far—and what’s on the horizon.

SCM: For starters, explain what the sustainability coordinator does.

Cromwell: I work with students, staff, faculty, the community, people of all ages, and I help promote sustainability on campus and beyond campus borders.

SCM: What kinds of projects does that include?

Cromwell: You name it—if it relates to sustainability, we’ve started doing it. We’ve all heard of the Solar Decathlon project. I work with their outreach component, the Sustainability Decathlon. Three high schools are competing to best “green” their campuses. Several Santa Clara students are mentoring those high school teams. One school is doing a community garden project. Another planned a big Earth Day event where they invited the whole campus to participate.

SCM: The Sustainability Decathlon is something that Santa Clara students participating in the Solar Decathlon came up with on their own, isn’t it? This isn’t a required part of the Department of Energy’s requirements for the Solar Decathlon.

Cromwell: No, not at all. But outreach is a category in the competition. The outreach team started brainstorming ideas, and one night, two of the students decided they wanted to do this huge project.

SCM: It seems to have a real multiplier effect in that respect: Instead of it being a matter of the Decathlon project hitting the campus and the students saying, “Look at what interesting stuff we’re doing here at Santa Clara,” they’re actually trying to help others do interesting work with sustainability.

Cromwell: Here at Santa Clara, our sustainability policy identifies three main areas of what we want to target: environmental stewardship, which is actually walking the walk, showing what we’re doing, changing our operations; environmental education, changing academics to include more sustainability-related topics; and environmental service, the kind of outreach that we do with our community. So taking the education and the stewardship components and applying those to local schools, for example, is one of our main goals.

SCM: What has been accomplished in the past year when it comes to sustainability efforts at SCU?

Cromwell: Overall, we’ve really increased awareness. I put out a newsletter every month, the Sustainability Update. It highlights one project each month that campus community members are involved in: for instance, Bon Appétit moving to corn plastics, or better biodegradable to-go containers; or the Pat Malley Fitness and Recreation Center reducing energy usage. We also have tips for individuals to do things if they want to get involved.

SCM: Those tips, are they online? And what is there for alumni who want to get involved?

Cromwell: They can join our listserv and get updates every month. A few already do. We have a Green Team on inCircle. I usually post those updates in the News section. We have a Get Involved section on the Sustainability Web site, so if alumni really want to dive in, they can participate in projects on campus or start their own projects. We also have links for other interesting non-campus programs.  

As far as stewardship on campus, Facilities has really bumped up its recycling program. This was the first year we’d participated in RecycleMania, which is a nationwide competition. There are about 200 colleges and universities this year. We’ve had a lot more student involvement this year in recycling programs, in the GREEN Club.

SCM: What are some things on the horizon?

Cromwell: Move-out’s going to be an exciting time. Last year was the first year that we started a big waste reduction campaign. Goodwill Industries of Silicon Valley put donation bins in the lobby of every building. We collect used carpets. This year, we’re going to be doing electronic waste, which needs to be recycled responsibly and can’t be thrown away.

We’re going to make it easy for students to reduce their waste. They only have a few days to move out and they’re all flustered with finals. Last year, we saved five tons of waste that was going to get thrown away.

SCM: Five tons! So what did you save?

Cromwell: A lot of clothing and shoes, but we got a laptop, stereos, CDs, PlayStations with games, bulky things that students don’t have time to pack or store. This year, we’re hoping to build upon that and make it even bigger. Another program we’re starting to incorporate is the Graduation Pledge of Social and Environmental Responsibility, where graduating seniors will pledge to consider the social and environmental consequences of the jobs that they’re applying for.

It’s a nationwide program. The graduates who’ve taken the pledge will get a green ribbon to put on their gown, and some of the schools that have had good participation levels include information about the pledge in the commencement program.

SCM: Speaking of pledges, last fall, for the first Campus Sustainability Day, you also rolled out the Sustainability PLEDGE.

Cromwell: That’s something that I came up with on my own, with the help of some colleagues. Santa Clara University community members can commit to doing three things to help make a more sustainable SCU: reducing the waste they produce, reducing the amount of energy they use, and developing sustainable habits.

There’s a whole range of difficulty levels. One level is turning off the light when you leave your office. Another is powering your home with green energy. Depending on your level of commitment, you pick one in each category at least.

Bon Appétit partnered with us, so pledge takers get a free cup of Fair Trade coffee once a month, they get a window-cling decal they can put on their water bottles, and they get a really cute green button that they can put on their bag or wear around campus.

SCM: I understand that one of the unhappy discoveries that came with the trash audit is the number of recyclable plastic water bottles that are being thrown away here on campus.

Cromwell: The GREEN Club has been really active in helping to promote sustainability at the student level. I can only do so much, and if the students aren’t participating…. But what’s great about the University is that everything so far has been working both top down and bottom up.

The GREEN Club this last quarter focused on waste reduction. The trash audit is a pretty gross process: They actually jump into dumpsters and throw out cardboard, paper, recyclables, and other items that shouldn’t have been thrown away. Then they make a big pile on a tarp in the middle of campus with signs, so people walking by will see, Oh, that was thrown away when it should have been recycled. The pile of plastic bottles at the end of the day, just from one day’s worth of all the residence halls’ trash—it’s amazing.

What does it show? That we need to improve education and make it more convenient for people.

SCM: One of the other things you’ve done is the dorm storm.

Cromwell: For RecycleMania I started a rally team. We gave them bright green T-shirts that said “I’m a RecycleManiac” and they hosted a rally day each Wednesday during RecycleMania. We also did dorm storms: going through the residence halls on Wednesday evenings to collect recyclables from people so they didn’t have to take the extra steps to take it out. Most of them had a full recycling bin that was properly sorted and all ready to go. Some of them were already taking their recyclables out. But it was great to have that face-to-face contact with people—especially seeing a bunch of students in these bright shirts saying “Recycle! It’s great!”

SCM: What are some other goals for the coming academic year?

Cromwell: To increase participation in the Sustainability PLEDGE is one of my main goals. Since October, we’ve had about 375 people sign up, which is pretty good for the first year.

I’m going to try to increase the sustainability connection between different organizations on campus. Making sure that people know that the Web site there is a resource, and if they’re doing something good, we want to be able to publicize that.

SCM: How is Santa Clara doing compared to other universities?

Cromwell: Being from Hawaii, I always think of things in terms of the ocean. If you think of colleges and universities interested in sustainability as a wave, I would say we’re at the top middle of the crest. We’re not leading the way; there are universities that have been doing this for maybe 10 years or more, under different terms, but the same sort of things. We’re definitely leaders in the area. The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education had its first national conference in October, and we were one of 400 universities that were there.

California is definitely leading the way. We’ve got a lot of great universities that are doing a lot of things. We’re starting to work more with them so that we can partner up and do things even better. There’s also a little competitive factor; you find out another university is doing something, so we start doing that, too, and vice versa.

SCM: If you were to make your wish list of things for the next year—in terms of, say, recycling—what would you like to see happening here on campus?

Cromwell: First of all, recycling is the last-ditch attempt to be sustainable. You’ve heard of the three R’s. I use the four R’s—reduce, reuse, recycle, and respect.

Start by reducing the waste that you make. Make conscious decisions to buy items with less packaging. The next step would be reusing things—your own coffee mug or water bottle. At the last attempt, recycle.

Ideally, all students on campus would be walking around with reusable water bottles and refilling them at the free water provided by Bon Appétit in Benson, where everybody eats. We’d be doing that instead of recycling bottles all the time, because recycling costs money and uses resources, as well.

Last but not least, respect—just having that culture of sustainability, which is actually our goal for all graduating students. We have 1,000 students leaving the University every year. If they have this culture of sustainability, they take that with them to wherever they move to, and to their new lifestyle that they’re going to start as adults in the workforce.

SCM: In terms of recycling on campus, at present you can recycle bottles and cans. Are you working with Bon Appétit on any projects?

Cromwell: Bon Appétit’s a great dining services company, because they’re committed to sustainability and sustainable practices. One of their new initiatives was to integrate more biodegradable products into their line; they’ve moved to using corn plastics in all of their venues for salads. Ideally, now that we have compostable containers, we need to compost on campus, so that’s going to be one of my next main focuses.

Incorporating sustainability into your daily life is not that difficult. By taking small steps, eventually it becomes second nature, and then you can kind of grasp the bigger, more difficult things, but initially worrying about the big things at first make it kind of daunting.

For example, I’ve been working with my mom on how to live more sustainably. She is excited about using her own water bottle every day. Then we’re going to take the next step and figure out how she can start purchasing organic products and other things a little bit more differently. At first, she was pretty nervous about making the transition.

SCM: To those who say personal efforts are all very well and good, but they’re not really going to have a major impact, you would say, actually, these efforts might?

Cromwell: I would say they’d have a huge impact. Frankly, as consumers, we have the power to drive the market, so if we demand better and more organic choices, more “green” products, especially if we start using “green” building products in our homes and in our offices, we’re going to drive the market. We have the money in our pocket, so the way that we spend it can determine a lot.

I also think that a lot of incoming students are going to start considering sustainability and the University’s commitment to it. It may not be the deciding factor of the university that they go to, but it’s definitely going to be something that people are thinking about.

The meeting on March 21, hosted on campus by SCU and Silicon Valley Power, and showcasing energy conservation and efficiency on campus and in the city of Santa Clara, underscored that the University is a major “customer” in the area, and people look to us as an example of best practices. Our commitment to renewable energy is something that a lot of other businesses are looking at, saying, “I guess this can be done. This is a good thing. The University’s behind it.” Not only can we do the right thing, but we can also serve as a role model for other organizations. That’s a great position to be in.

Find out more about sustainability at SCU.

Lindsay Cromwell '05, campus sustainability coordinator
Photo: Charles Barry
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