By Katherine Sawyer
As a new year begins at Tufts and we all notice the changes made around campus to the academics, campus groups, and the buildings themselves, it might do to take note of another important yet subtle shift on campus: Tufts is working to bring environmentalism to the forefront of student life.
Major changes have occurred to both campus life and the academic arena to make Tufts a more environmental institution. As we returned to campus, the absence of water bottles in Hodgdon and the addition of new, free reusable bottles in the Campus Center were very obvious reminders of the impact students can make towards green changes at Tufts. Just as trays and single-sided printing went before, the number of disposable water bottles on campus has been significantly reduced by student efforts. Tufts students are increasingly making their voices heard and demanding a more eco-friendly campus.
Student groups have been making similar strides. The new face of student environmental organizations, Tufts Sustainability Collective (TSC), represents a new model for sustainability at Tufts—one that strives to improve both the efficiency and effectiveness of student environmental action. The umbrella organization, which encompasses Tufts Bikes, Tom Thumb’s Garden, Students for a Just and Stable Future (SJSF), and the Sustainable Action Squad, aims to “improve synergy between the branches and serve as the center for information about current environmental events on the Tufts campus.” By bringing all the green student organizations together, they work at “fostering a strong green community at Tufts.”
These branches of TSC lend support to the idea that Tufts is in the process of becoming a truly environmental institution. Tufts Bikes, for example, was founded by a group of students who recognized the problem of a lack of green transportation for Tufts students and took action to fill this void. Not only do the bikes provide free, zero-carbon-emission transportation, but their very public presence demonstrates that Tufts is working to be greener. Tom Thumb’s Garden, the Tufts student garden, sends a similar message. Students wanted a garden, so they created one. They plant, tend to, and teach about the garden, providing a very aesthetically pleasing reminder of the efforts students can make.
Accompanying these student efforts, Tufts is also becoming a much stronger environmental institution academically. When Colin Orians, a professor of biology in the School of Arts and Sciences and a professor at Tisch College, was named director of Tufts’ Environmental Studies program in September 2010, he made “building a bigger and better Environmental Studies Program (ENVS) community” his top priority.
To this end, the Environmental Studies program has introduced a new Geographic Information Systems (GIS ) course to Tufts this semester. There are also several environmental courses offered at the Ex-College, including one on architecture and the environment, and another on sustainable food systems. The ENVS program also began a weekly Lunch and Learn program; the university will invite one professional in an environmental studies-related field to speak with any interested students and faculty.
The administration is also working to create new green initiatives, such as the Eco-Reps and Eco-Ambassadors programs. The Tufts Eco-Reps program was created in 2006 and was put into action starting last fall. They are a group of residential students who work to raise awareness about ecological issues, encourage environmentally responsible behavior in their hall mates and peers, and plan environmental events and activities. The organization aims to allow students to help “green” student dorm life.
As co-coordinator of the Eco-Reps program, senior Rachael Wolber hopes the program can help “green” the values of Tufts students. “The program was reinstated at Tufts after a hiatus because, although there were a lot of environmental groups and projects on campus, it didn’t really feel like environmentalism was one of Tufts’ ‘core values,’ and it wasn’t something that every student cared about,” she said. “We seek to change that culture by targeting freshmen and sophomores in dorms with events and resources to get them thinking about how the way they live, even in a dorm, can impact the environment.”
The Eco-Ambassadors Program, which boasts a similar mission statement, trains faculty and staff on how to better bring environmentalism to the workplace. The program exists to help these staff members make their workplaces more sustainable and to serve as sustainability resources within their offices or departments. The Eco-Ambassadors learn about the many different ways to “green” their offices and form a network of Tufts employees committed to green work environments.
Tina Woolston, the director of the Office of Sustainability and Coordinator of the Eco-Ambassadors Program, believes that these types of programs are helping to institutionalize environmentalism. The Tufts administration’s master plan is also calling more attention toward environmental efforts, and Woolston believes the future of environmentalism at Tufts is bright. “I think it’ll be larger,” she said. “The students coming into Tufts have more interest [in environmentalism] and the younger professors do as well.”
The administration has also made some symbolic efforts to highlight environmentalism, making way for a “Tufts Gets Green” session during freshman orientation and creating an environmental panel led by President Monaco. Hopefully these new outlets will become an institutionalized part of Tufts commitment to the environment.
Environmentalism at Tufts is in a period of change, seemingly for the better. As Wolber said, “I think that it is changing from something that only certain groups think about and act upon, to something that the entire body is conscious of, and I think the university is actively working to create that shift.” If this current trend continues, we can hope that Tufts has a very bright (and green) future ahead. O