Re-building an Eco Corps—the first step to larger sustainability progress on campus

Illustration+by+Rachel+Choi+

Illustration by Rachel Choi

By Maeve Lawler, Kasteel Well Bureau Chief

This semester, Emerson re-established a cross-campus sustainability program, Eco Corps, following the hiring of four eco ambassadors in September and the formation of six working groups in October.

Its relaunch is a key accomplishment of the semester and a step toward reaching carbon neutrality by 2030, said Jennifer Lamy, Emerson’s sustainability manager. Lamy, who assumed her current role in January, joined the college during Eco Corps’ two-year hiatus after her predecessor Cathy Liebowitz resigned in 2020. 

“I think the major first step is getting these systems in place to plan and then do the work,” Lamy said. “That’s the place we’ve had the biggest progress so far.” 

Having an Eco Corps allowed for various events and projects over the semester, which Lamy sees as a game changer in terms of working toward a more sustainable future. 

Student eco ambassadors—Anna Arriaga, Katelyn Koenig, Elizabeth Pereira, and Ava Tribe—worked with Lamy to restart the sustainability blog, host a food fest with farmers who work with Emerson’s dining services, and plan a “clean out your office day” event for faculty and staff.

In addition to an updated blog, the ambassadors worked with Lamy to update other communication channels, like Emerson’s sustainability website, newsletter, and Instagram. Ensuring communication with people interested in sustainability across campus was a major focus this semester. 

“The more folks are hearing about these topics, the more likely they are to engage and take that next step,” Lamy said.  

This “next step” means making personal sustainability efforts, like composting and recycling, as well as helping the college in its similar efforts. 

Beyond campus, the eco ambassadors took a tour of CORe Waste Management in Charlestown, MA, where Emerson’s compost waste goes

Koenig, a first-year creative writing major, and Tribe, a sophomore political communications major, also took a trip to the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth for the annual Sustainable Student Leadership Symposium, which showcases notable sustainability projects on college campuses and fosters collaboration between students for future projects. 

Beyond the eco ambassador’s work, the six working groups made up of students, staff, and faculty have strengthened Emerson’s Sustainability Action Plan. Each group focuses on different facets of sustainability—like equity and justice or curriculum and research—and aims to have the first draft of the plan in early April. The working groups will then host presentations and hold a public comment period across the college. Lamy hopes the plan will be implemented by summer 2023. 

“Once we get through this planning process we’ll be able to define milestones from now until 2030,” she said. “That will give people a pretty good sense of what the next seven years will look like.”

In October, the college received its second consecutive gold STARS rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, which evaluated Emerson’s sustainability efforts. Gold is the second-highest rating out of five categories. Lamy is shooting for the highest rating, platinum, on Emerson’s next evaluation. 

“That was a great opportunity to see where we are really strong already … and where [there] are some areas where we can grow,” Lamy said. “One of the takeaways from that was that we needed a more concrete [Sustainability] Action Plan.” 

Throughout the semester, Lamy worked with campus services to replace battery bins around campus to ensure students dispose of batteries safely. Additionally, she has allowed students to take up to two reusable containers from the Dining Hall free of charge—a change to the college’s previous $7 purchase policy.

Before the semester ends, the eco ambassadors and Lamy are planning a campus-wide donation drive from Dec. 7 to 16, where bins will be placed in residence halls for students to donate items before moving off-campus for winter break. These items will be placed in storage over the break in preparation for a student shopping event at the start of the spring semester. 

During a dinner at the Dining Hall next week, Lamy and the eco ambassadors will start their “weigh the waste” campaign, where they will weigh food waste from students’ plates and categorize it as edible and inedible. They plan to find answers to what causes food to be thrown away and make students conscious of how much food waste they produce. 

The finalized date for the event will be announced in the coming days. The “weigh the waste” campaign will happen another two to three times next semester. 

“If people are having to scrape their food waste into a bin on a scale that definitely makes them think twice about, ‘Could I have started with one plate and then go on to the second station later?’ Or, ‘Could I have asked for a smaller portion of this, or are the portions too big generally, and is that a larger, systemic thing that we need to think about?’” Lamy said. 

Emerson will also participate in the Race to Zero Waste competition in late January—an annual nationwide event that incentivizes waste reduction. More details will be announced at the start of the spring semester. 

Leading into next semester, the team plans to revamp the Piano Row terrace area and redesign composting, recycling, and trash signage in the dining hall. 

Throughout their semester as eco ambassadors, both Tribe and Koenig noticed where Emerson made progress and where the college fell short. Tribe thinks having a sustainability manager on campus is an integral part of achieving sustainability goals. 

“I think having [a] sustainability manager on campus as a full-time role in sustainability at Emerson is huge, because in the past couple of years, during COVID, we didn’t have a sustainability manager,” Tribe said. “Having paid positions at Emerson strictly for sustainability is a huge step forward.” 

Koenig acknowledged the important work the Eco Corps is doing but said participation from students is needed. 

“There’s a lot students can be doing, even if it seems pointless,” she said. “Like being one person that people can look at and be like, ‘Hey, they’re trying to compost things in the compost bin and not the trash bin.’”  

Over the next several years, Lamy is looking forward to pointing out concrete progress, like reductions in waste and improvements to energy efficiency. She hopes students are involved in this progress.  

“I would love for every single student at Emerson to completely understand what’s going on, what these systems are, and how they can get involved. Because this is something that takes much more than just a small staff,” Lamy said.