“Rethinking, reducing, and reusing should all come before recycling. The Sustainability Student Worker Network implements projects that get people to think about sustainability in new ways.”
When Natalie Locke ’11 landed a work-study job three years ago in the Sustainability Office, she was one of just a few student workers tackling those issues. By the time she graduated in May, Locke and classmate Matt Kazinka ’11 had woven together an innovative network of 20 student employees focused on campus sustainability initiatives.
The network’s strength is unique among liberal arts colleges, says sustainability manager Suzanne Savanick Hansen, because only a few of the students actually work in her office. Instead, most members of the Sustainability Student Worker Network are based in departments like Facilities or Café Mac. “It has worked very well,” says Hansen. “We have many more and better organized projects because of the network.”
One of Locke’s own projects, a food-waste recycling program in the cafeteria, provides a good example. She fielded a phone inquiry about whether the college was interested in sending its food waste to a nearby farm to be turned into pig feed. Locke met with another student worker and several staff members from other offices to sort out details, and together the team implemented a program that has reduced cafeteria waste by more than 30 percent, Hansen says.
Other projects within the network include vermicomposting (composting with worms) and the Mac Free Swap (an online space to obtain and dispose of goods). Students are working to reduce printing waste in the library, and in the cafeteria, programs like Trayless Tuesdays and Clean Plate Days break the daunting idea of waste reduction into smaller building blocks as simple as assembling a meal on one plate instead of using a plate on a large tray.
Ensuring that the network will live on past her graduation was one of Locke’s priorities. She coordinated biweekly network meetings at which the students discussed the progress of projects, thus allowing information to be passed on to new student workers, who she hopes will expand the network. In turn, she hopes the network will continue to broaden campus awareness about sustainability beyond the basics of recycling paper and bottles.
“I’m a big fan of approaching life with a ‘rethink, reduce, reuse, recycle’ philosophy,” Locke says. “Rethinking, reducing, and reusing should all come before recycling. The Sustainability Student Worker Network implements projects that get people to think about sustainability in new ways.”