Saint Mary’s students are exploring earth-friendly alternatives to the cleaning products, plastic bags, paper products, and ink currently used by the College. These “green” projects, conducted by participants in Liberal and Civic Studies courses during the fall semester, are part of a growing effort to reduce the campus’s environmental impact.

Jennifer Strauss, Ellen Nix, and Emily Branford (pictured above, left to right) were among the students examining campus sustainability last spring. Nix wrote an honors thesis exploring the feasibility of composting on campus, an aim she continued to pursue beyond graduation.

In previous courses, students have conducted campus audits and research projects on paper waste, native plants, grounds maintenance, and solid food waste. Last year, students produced research on the harmful effects of polystyrene products. They found that these products were used regularly by Sodexho, the College food service, so they met with Sodexho Director Matt Carroll and presented him with sugar cane-based alternatives. Sodexho has adopted those alternatives insofar as they can, and is looking for vendors who can fill the large orders required by the school. Other efforts resulted in the sale of fair-trade coffee at the student union and sweatshop-free apparel at the book store.

This fall, the College was nominated for a 2005 Flex Your Power Energy Award, part of a statewide campaign recognizing businesses, institutions, and individuals that have made exceptional contributions toward saving energy.

Stephen Woolpert, dean of the School of Liberal Arts, is a major force behind making Saint Mary’s a more ecologically sustainable campus. Woolpert believes concern for the environment is rooted in Saint Mary’s mission.

“It is my firm belief that ecological thinking is a habit of mind that contributes to the public purpose of liberal education, by increasing students’ capacity for responsible membership in their communities,” Woolpert said in a speech accepting the 2004 Professor of the Year Award.

For more information about campus sustainability efforts, see http://sustainsmc.stmarys-ca.edu.

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