SMC Wins Sustainability Silver Stars Award

Arcade - Waste to WattsFrom turning compost into electricity to educating students on the importance of being stewards of the planet, Saint Mary’s College has taken yet another step in expanding and engaging in environmentally sustainable practices. For the first time, the College was recognized by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education as a STARS Silver Institution “based on its reported accomplishments in campus sustainability.” Institutions participating in the STARS program report progress, set goals, and compare green programs with other colleges and universities.

While the College made improvements across a wide range of areas, the main improvements were in waste diversion, water usage, and extracurricular programs. SMC diverted 50 percent of waste from landfills, reduced water usage by 32 percent, and 800 students now participate in environmental programs outside of the classroom, according to the 2015 Sustainability Report.

“A lot of it comes down to building a culture, not only for students, but staff and faculty, and doing the basic conservation practices. We need to have that culture so we treat this like our home,” said Riley Smith, Saint Mary’s sustainability coordinator. “When you go through the process of gathering data and making it public, it’s liberating for a campus, but you’re also insecure. There are hundreds of other institutions that have done that as well, so there’s that natural competitive, how-are-we-doing feel.”

Hiring Smith in 2015 as the first full-time sustainability coordinator was one of the first major steps in creating a greener campus. Supporting sustainability efforts and being good stewards of the earth are also part of the College’s strategic plan.

The new co-curricular activities included adding discussions of sustainability to the freshman year advising program, a discussion of Pope Francis’ Laudato Si, and a sustainability literacy assessment. The sustainability literacy assessment, sent to all incoming freshmen in 2015, was created by looking at samples offered by the STARS program and helped the College determine how environmentally consciousness new students were. The survey included questions such as, “What is the most important cause of climate change?”

Saint Mary’s improved by over 10 points this year, earning a STARS score of 49.89. The progress is a reflection of big and small changes across campus. Smith’s largest obstacle this past year was gathering data.

“There was nobody internally who had the full knowledge of what our data looked like,” he said. “Setting up a data gathering process requires communication with a lot of stakeholders on campus, because everybody has a little piece of that data, to tell a story.” One piece of the story turned out to be Saint Mary’s use of green energy. The College has been offsetting all of its electricity through renewable energy credits.

Although the STARS Silver rating is valid for three years, continuing and planning to make improvements in the future is a major part of the College’s commitment to sustainability. Smith hopes to combine battery storage of energy and solar power and has already begun the initial stages of “de-lamping,” figuring out which lights are unnecessary and then taking them down. Students have been working with the University of San Francisco to set up a chapter of the Food Recovery Network, an organization that gives leftover food to those in need.

“We’re all on the same team and we’re all doing great work,” said Smith.

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