We came across a wonderful program that was taking place at Stanford University in California called ‘Ditch That Dumpster’. We reached out to one of its organizers for a Q&A discussion for an inside view of sustainability from a university student’s perspective.
Cyrus Pinto is a sophomore economics major with an emphasis on sustainability. He is the head of the Zero Waste division of Students for a Sustainable Stanford (SSS) where he has forged new partnerships between the Athletics department and on-campus business operations. Through his interdisciplinary studies, he hopes to fuse traditionally contradictory fields with sustainability and pioneer a new (economically and sustainable) “green”.
When did you decide you wanted to get involved with promoting sustainability?
My work in an ecology lab on campus initially sparked my interest in natural conservation, and my interest developed more after I took an introductory seminar on Environmental Economics. My conversations with the professor made me realize not only how crucial sustainability is, but rather the importance to bring sustainable initiatives to financial parity with nonsustainable practices.
How did the project of “Ditch That Dumpster” begin? And when did it kick off?
My friend and mentor in the group, Nicole Gaetjens, initially began the project. She organized a multidisciplinary team of students from political, business, and volunteer organizations to bring them together to make the move out process more sustainable, as she witnessed the material waste firsthand during her freshman year. We held the first event in June 2010, and this year the event will take place June 9th, 10th and 11th.
How would you describe the general attitude toward the environment and climate change on your campus?
Extremely favorable. The vast majority of students engage in sustainable practices, which can be attributed to the prominence of a sustainable vision in our campus and in the surrounding community’s culture. Sustainability has grown from a fashionable trend into a seamlessly integrated component of everyday life.
Would you say that applies to across universities as a whole?
I would call the attitude favorable. Universities are a bastion of environmental progress and their student populations tend to be more open minded as a whole.
Where do you see the climate change initiative in the next 10 years?
I see the sustainability initiative focused on fishery conservation. We are on track to full fishery collapse by 2048 because of our current consumption level and mismanaged seafood stocks. I envision the US leading the charge, using Alaska Salmon fishing as the current model, and hopefully export our technology and ideas overseas.
What do you think universities can (or *should*) do to improve the environmental awareness and action of its students?
There needs to be more staff-student interaction. I view professors as mentors for the academic career, but relationships with the staff are just as crucial because they can mentor you in your extracurricular endeavors. Personally, I could never have had the same success in my initiatives without the help of the university staff.
If you had to give a grade for the work done on campus towards improving and implementing environmental practices, what would it be? Why?
I would give it an A. The attention and effort that is collectively poured into sustainable initiatives by students, staff, and faculty is remarkable, as well as the collaboration between all three parties. For example, to make the football games more sustainable, the ZeroWaste Group of Students for a Sustainable Stanford is teaming up with stadium operations to improve recycling, and last year the Athletics department teamed up with an engineering professor to use the solar lighting towers that one of his classes built as a final project.
What kinds of out-of-the ordinary practices do you do to conserve energy?
When I was growing up I would go around the house after everyone went to sleep to make sure all the lights were turned off in the house. If I discovered a light was still on the next morning I would remind my parents and brothers that they were not just wasting energy, but they were also wasting money by leaving that light on. This naturally led to my interest in environmental economics.
What can universities/students learn from other industries such as hospitality and government with regards to environmental practices/policies?
Students tend to have more idealistic principles of sustainability than industry or government which tend to be more pragmatic. I think that each of these groups can learn from the others. Students can factor financial considerations into their sustainable initiatives, and hospitality and government might be able to capture some of the youthful energy and optimism.
We thank Cyrus for his time and congratulate him for being an innovator and leader on campus and in his community. Hearing from individuals such as himself reassures us the future is in good hands.
We’ll continue to bring you news from the forefront of the work for sustainability throughout the month with a continued look into hospitality, government and universities as we get closer to Earth Day.