The Sustainability Office has organized various events for the University community to celebrate Earth Month, emphasizing ways to recognize the planet and promote environmental sustainability. The month-long programming, conducted in April, surrounds Earth Day, which is on Friday, April 22. The full calendar of sustainability-related events held by the Sustainability Office and other groups in the community can be found on the Sustainability Office’s website.
The list of events includes a gift card raffle for riding a Middletown Area Transit bus using the WesPass program, a speaker series on environmental justice, and compost bin decorating. Temporary Sustainability Office Director Hayley Berliner explained that the planned events aim to remind the University community of how it can make a positive environmental impact.
“We want to remind people of various actions they can take in their individual lives, as well as systemic changes the University can make and actions that can happen on a statewide or country-wide scale that can make a really big, important difference for the future,” Berliner said.
Various members of the Sustainability Office have been involved in planning for Earth Month.
“We have a bunch of different groups of interns within the Sustainability Office working on a variety of things, and so we’ve just been talking about how to get the projects that they’ve been working on all year to a wider audience and to use Earth Day, Earth week, Earth Month as sort of a launching point for some of their work,” Berliner said.
Sustainability Office Eco-Facilitator and Green Fund member Debbra Goh ’24 has been helping to organize the clothing swap, which is scheduled for 12 p.m. on Friday, April 22 in the backyard of the College of the Environment. Goh believes that it is important for members of the campus community to shift how they focus on the environment.
“I think that we are entering a period of time in the world in which issues of the environment are so intersectional and they affect everyone,” Goh said. “And if they don’t affect you now, they will one day soon, and it’s not just about saving the planet and saving nature because we should love the earth. It’s also about the fact that protecting the environment and protecting nature is one of the best ways in which we can protect the most vulnerable communities on earth, and one of the best ways in which we can protect our neighbors and protect our families and the ones we love.”
In addition to raising environmental awareness through Earth Month, the Sustainability Office began partnering with the Resource Center last semester to organize the first discussion of the Environmental Justice Series. The series is continuing this semester during Earth Month and includes three speakers who will discuss various topics related to environmental justice: Vandana Shiva, Mikaela Loach, and Greg Genco. The Green Fund, which funds campus sustainability projects, helped provide funding for the speaker events, the first of which was a Q&A session with Shiva, an environmental activist and food sovereignty advocate, on Tuesday, April 5 over Zoom.
“We chipped in to get [Shiva], who is this super cool, anti-GMO, Indian scholar [and] activist through Zoom,” Goh said. “The entire mission of the Green Fund is to contribute funding towards projects that support the environmental movement in all its forms, whether that’s intersectional environmentalist or something else.”
The second speaker event was held on Monday, April 11 with Loach, a climate justice activist and co-host of The YIKES Podcast.
“She’s more of a climate justice influencer on Instagram and she’s young, she’s our age,” Resource Center Sustainability & Spirituality Intern Shirmai Chung ’22 said. “So we’re hoping that she would be able to offer more advice on how people can get started as an activist or do community organizing here on campus.”
The last speaker in the series will be Genco, founder of Generation Conscious, which manufactures sustainable detergent sheets. The University currently partners with Generation Conscious to provide students with eco-friendly laundry strips. Genco will lead a workshop on ecosystemic design on Monday, April 18 at 4:30 p.m. in the Resource Center.
“He’s gonna give a talk about ecosystemic design, so it’s basically about how designs for products should be more environmental-centric, should be more sustainable, and how we can do that,” Chung said. “So it’s perfect for people who are more business-oriented or IDEAS [Integrated Design, Engineering, and Applied Sciences] minors.”
Berliner believes the series is important for highlighting why justice needs to be considered in the environmental movement.
“Justice is such an important part of the environmental movement,” Berliner said. “We need to keep incorporating it and embedding it into all the work we do. So just bringing it to people’s attention as much as we can, I think, is really important.”
Conversations on campus pertaining to environmental justice have grown in tandem with those centering on racial injustice.
“I think when you talk about sustainability, especially also here in the U.S….you cannot separate racism from sustainability, ’cause if you look at pollution happening in the U.S., it’s predominantly happening in Black and Brown communities,” Chung said. “I think for me, walking onto campus, I feel like this conversation was really lacking, but I’m very thankful that this conversation has grown in the past year or so. And the Sustainability Office has placed more of an emphasis on equity, inclusion, and justice, environmental justice, and also [been] more inclusive in their hiring process, like deliberately hiring people of color as their eco-facilitators and as their office assistants.”
Goh believes that while Earth Month is just a single month, the ongoing campus events planned by the Sustainability Office and other groups can help students learn about how they can change their actions.
“I recognize that a month of programming or that single Earth Day is not gonna be enough effort to change the world, but it’s a very good way to start getting students to think about it more in their daily lives and to really highlight the fact that the time to make positive change in terms of individual behavioral patterns or in terms of how you’re looking at bigger systemic issues—the time to do that is now,” Goh said.
Jiyu Shin can be reached at email@example.com.