Saint Mary’s Commitment to Sustainability Earns a Nod in The Princeton Review Guide to Green Colleges

That’s thanks to passionate learners and committed citizens caring for our common home—with students leading the way.

Campus as living laboratory: Director of Sustainability Ann Drevno with students in the Legacy Garden

Saint Mary’s College of California is featured in the 2023 edition of The Princeton Review Guide to 353 Green Colleges, which highlights schools that are committed to the environment and green practices. 

This is the 13th annual edition of the “green guide,” which is based on data from the Princeton Review’s annual survey of hundreds of four-year colleges. As the guide notes, Saint Mary's takes a Lasallian approach to service and learning, using the study of the liberal arts to produce students who are both passionate learners and committed citizens.

Summer Research Project: Vanessa Carsey '23 analyzes lichen DNA from the area of Napa Valley's Quail Ridge Trail Fire to determine recovery timelines.“Part of our mission at Saint Mary's is educating our campus community on environmental issues and providing them with the necessary resources to implement sustainable practices,” says Saint Mary’s President Richard Plumb. “We support applicable research, strive to incorporate sustainability into our academic programming and business operations, and work to set an example for our students, faculty, staff, administrators, local community members, and industry partners.”

Making sustainability a priority and caring for our common home is an important reflection of the values of equity, justice, and inclusion that shape the work of the College. Saint Mary’s builds upon its unique curricular models to equip students to tackle the most pressing environmental problems, while simultaneously transforming the built campus environment into a living laboratory for equitable and sustainable solutions.

What does this mean in practice? On campus, students, staff, and faculty can take advantage of numerous programs and initiatives offered by Saint Mary's Sustainability programs. Sustainability Student Leaders play a key role in certifying Green Spaces, generating and implementing sustainable food practices, and reducing waste. Campus-wide, there’s work toward the Zero Waste Initiative.

Some students also take part in an inclusive Sustainability Living Learning Community. They lead the Green Gaels student club and Climate Action SMC. And scores of students work in the Legacy Garden, a half-acre living lab on campus.

 

Gold STARS

Ann Drevno, PhD serves as Directory of Sustainability at SMC. Princeton’s green schools rankings are a welcome acknowledgment of the work Saint Mary’s is doing, she says. An even more rigorous environmentally-focused ranking rubric is STARS—which stands for sustainability tracking and assessment and rating system. “Over the last eight years, Saint Mary’s has earned progressively higher rankings,” she notes. “We have gone from bronze to silver to gold in 2020.” 

Thinking green on campus and in work with community partners

Saint Mary's is uniquely situated to be a leader in environmental justice, and more specifically food justice.

Given the College’s location in the Bay area and its heritage, Drevno says that Saint Mary's is uniquely situated to be a leader in environmental justice, and more specifically food justice. “It's rooted in our Lasallian values of social justice, our Catholic values of care for the most marginalized,” she says.

This fall, through a partnership between Sustainability and the Catholic Institute for Lasallian Social Action (CILSA), Saint Mary’s brought on board Makaiya Bedford ’25 as the first food justice intern. Bedford, a second-year Environmental Science and Allied Health Science major, works closely with Drevno to assess the capacity for expanding community-based partnerships with local food justice organizations. “A focus of our work is how to thoughtfully integrate the College’s long history of community partnerships, in historically marginalized communities, with our on-campus half-acre garden that seeks to be a model for food systems change,” Drevno says.

The results of this internship are already coming to fruition. The dozens of students who receive hands-on training in regenerative agriculture techniques every semester at the Legacy Garden now have the opportunity to go off-campus to several urban farms in Pittsburg and Alameda to deepen and broaden their experiences. “The students get off-campus to work in food deserts, and with organizations that hire foster youth and previously unhoused populations,” Drevno says. “So our students get to engage not only in the farm and that food system change but also that underlying social change.”

“Maybe they won't remember that we earned a STARS gold ranking, but they'll remember going out to a farm in Pittsburg, weeding or mulching alongside community members, exchanging stories, making those human connections.”

And it’s those personal experiences, Drevno notes, which will more deeply affect Saint Mary’s students—and stick with them years after graduation. “Maybe they won't remember that we earned a STARS gold ranking, but they'll remember going out to a farm in Pittsburg, weeding or mulching alongside community members, exchanging stories, making those human connections.”

 

River of Words "Life on Earth" by Yajima Yui, grade 5, Category II Art Winner in the 2022 River of Words competition

Saint Mary’s is also home to the Center for Environmental Literacy, which is part of the Kalmanovitz School of Education. Its signature annual event is the international River of Words competition, an event that nurtures “Youth Art and Poetry Inspired by the Natural World.” 

Acknowledged for its pioneering role in the field of place-based education, River of Words has been inspiring educators and their students for over 25 years with an innovative blend of science and the arts. It was founded by esteemed poet and Saint Mary’s alum Robert Hass ’63, who served as Poet Laureate of the United States 1995–97.

Winners for the annual contest are typically announced in March, with a celebration of the winners in the following weeks. In 2022, the River of Words celebration was held in conjunction with Saint Mary’s annual Earth Day festival and Lasallian Heritage Days in April. Plans are underway for a repeat of this collaboration in 2023. Also in the spring, watch for a special exhibit of River of Words poetry and art at the Saint Mary’s Museum of Art. 

 

Cool School and Then Some

It’s worth noting that Saint Mary’s appears in the most recent list of “Cool Schools” published by Sierra magazine, the official magazine of the Sierra Club. Each of the schools ranked has shown its commitment to addressing climate change, protecting the environment, and encouraging environmental responsibility through its campus operations, student engagement, and academics.

Earlier this year, The Princeton Review included Saint Mary’s in its list of The 388 Best Colleges in the country. The 2023 version of the annual college guide recognizes Saint Mary’s as one of its Best Western Colleges and a Green College, and it lauds Saint Mary’s for its academic support services and campus life. 

 

LEARN MORE about sustainability at Saint Mary’s.

 

Steven Boyd Saum is Executive Director of Strategic Communications and Content for Saint Mary’s. Write him.