Forum debates hiring sustainability officer

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Author: Emma Lodes

Students, faculty and administrators discussed the possibility of hiring a sustainability officer for the college at Occidental’s second annual Sustainability Forum last Thursday.

University of California at Los Angeles’ (UCLA) Sustainability Officer, Nurit Katz, and Pomona College’s Sustainability Coordinator, Ginny Routhe, each gave short presentations on their school’s sustainability programs. The floor then opened for a panel discussion with Occidental administrators and experts on sustainability.

Published by the Sustainable Endowments Institute, a special project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, “The College Sustainability Report Card” gave Occidental College a B-. Peer institutions Pomona, Whitman and Macalester Colleges all boast superior grades on their green report cards. For each school it evaluates, the organization conducts four surveys to gather information about sustainability in campus operations, dining services, endowment investment practices and student activities. A school’s overall grade is calculated from the grades received in each category. Occidental’s low grade can partially be attributed to its “D” in Endowment Transparency and “F” in Shareholder Engagement.

During the panel discussion, Occidental administrators agreed that strong student voice is one of the biggest driving forces of change at Occidental. Urban and Environmental Policy (UEP) major Dylan Sittig (senior) is a strong advocate for hiring a sustainability officer at Occidental.

“Us students must make a case to the president that sustainability is something that we must push for,” Sittig said.

Occidental College has already implemented some programs to improve sustainability, including recycling and compost bins, an eco-clamshell (a re-usable to-go container) system in the Marketplace, the campus garden and the bike rental program. However, several students at the forum mentioned they were unaware of some of these initiatives or believed that the programs were ineffective. Advocates of hiring a sustainability officer believe that such an employee would coordinate Occidental’s sustainability programs and projects to ensure that they are effective and work together cohesively.

According to Katz and Routhe, many schools throughout the United States, including most of Occidental’s peer institutions, have hired sustainability officers or coordinators in recent years. UCLA’s Green Initiative Fund provides money for student-led sustainability projects. Pomona’s “ReCoop” is a program in which students gather left-behind items – such as half-empty shampoo bottles or mini fridges – and sell them back to new students in the fall. According to Routhe, the college makes around $12,000 dollars each year from the sales.

Although Occidental has made strides with the new solar panels, water bottle refill stations, bike share, green tours and organic garden, many schools do not recognize Occidental as being on the forefront of sustainability. Katz and Routh both identified Occidental as an institution that has not yet joined the elite of ‘green schools.’

“You just need to package and communicate it better,” Katz said, speaking to the students present at the forum. “You have the pieces, you just need the nexus to put it together.”

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