What is your role and how long have you been at the University?
I serve the University as Manager of the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning. I’ve been with the department since 2000.
How do you define sustainability?
Sustainability for me is a way of life; it permeates every aspect of my life at work and at home. It defines who I am as a person and citizen. It’s about having a responsibility to our planet and to the next generation and the generations beyond that. It’s about the choices we each make: choices on what we eat, what we wear, how we take care of our homes, the products we purchase, and what we do with things when we no longer need them. This is the filter that I see everything through now. I’m determined to do everything that I can to help make this a more sustainable world so that when my son grows up and has his own family they will have a planet that is still livable.
In what ways have you integrated sustainability practices into your work environment?
At work, I’m known as the obsessive recycler. I haunt the trashcans and take out items that should be recycled. I also purchased a compost bin for our office kitchen to encourage staff to compost food scraps and soiled paper products that I then take home to include in my family’s container that we put out as part of Princeton’s curbside organics program. Our department sponsors dozens of events every year, and I’m proud to say that in the years that I’ve been in charge of those events, we’ve barely thrown out any food. I encourage staff to take home leftovers, I take trays of food to neighboring departments, and lately, we post leftovers to the University’s FreeFood listserv.
Our leftover containers are also made from biomaterials which are compostable; I purchase utensils that are either compostable or are made from recycled plastic that can then be recycled again. The coffee in our kitchen is fair trade, organic and shade grown, and the majority of the candy we have on hand for visitors is also made from organic ingredients; the chocolate is almost always fair trade, as well.
We were using 100% recycled paper before the University policy was implemented by Purchasing, and we’ve been sending in our toner cartridges to be recycled for years, as well. We use natural/biodegradable cleaning supplies when we do our own in-house cleaning, and I use leftover water for our office plants. I also take home all of the soiled paper items I use at work to put in our home compost bin.
Our department has become known for the eco-friendly promotional products we distribute—from yo-yos made from recycled plastic, to reusable water bottles and hot beverage containers, to organic/fair trade lip balm, and notebooks/pens made from recycled materials.
In what ways have you integrated sustainability practices at home?
At home, we take sustainability incredibly seriously. We have one car, which is a hybrid, and in the 30 years I’ve lived in Princeton, I’ve only ever walked to work (first to McCarter Theatre and now to the University).
We’ve been composting for 25 years; when we moved from our old house to our current house 14 years ago, I made my husband take our compost and worms along to our new house. The thought of leaving them behind was unimaginable!
We’ve been vegetarians for almost 25 years, and the majority of the food we eat is organic. Our son has been a vegetarian since birth, and the majority of his clothing has been purchased through consignment stores/yard sales, as have mine so that we limit the amount of new items we buy.
We are obsessive recyclers/composters so we generally put out only 1 garbage bag every 3-4 weeks. We hold yard sales every year to pass along items we no longer need, and we list unusual items that we no longer want or need (like old patio doors, magazines, food items that aren’t appropriate for the weekly food collection at our son’s school) on Freecycle because we know someone else might want them.
We’ve recently switched our electricity to Ethical Electric, so all of our electricity will be generated by wind power and not coal. I’d love to have solar panels installed, but our roof space is small, and the first time I checked into it, it wasn’t actually that practical for us. We’ve also had a rain collection barrel in our yard for years, and we use that water for our garden in the spring/summer.
We use all natural cleaning products in our home, including soap nuts instead of regular laundry detergent. I also line dry our laundry whenever possible.
I’m co-chair of the Go Green Committee at my son’s school, Community Park ES, where we’ve worked very hard to increase sustainable practices for class parties (by providing reusable dishes for each teacher) and school events. We just provided every member of the school with a reusable snack/sandwich bag with tips on how to pack a no waste lunch; we also provided five weeks worth of tips on how parents/teachers/staff could reduce the amount of waste that they and their families produce. Our school also participates in TerraCycle brigades.
What do you think Princeton does best to advance sustainability?
The Office of Sustainability has done a remarkable job identifying areas that the University needs to address to increase its sustainability efforts, and I’m impressed at how much has been done since the office was established. I was thrilled to become part of the Sustainability Ambassadors program, and every time I leave one of the Sustainability Committee meetings, my enthusiasm for the work that members of the University are doing to meet the ongoing challenges of creating a more sustainable campus is renewed.
I’m truly inspired by the dedication, creativity, and passion of the green student groups; their devotion to working to achieve a more sustainable campus environment is incredibly uplifting, and I take energy from all that they have been able to accomplish to make Princeton a more sustainable place to live, work, and learn.
How could the University become even more sustainable?
Although the University has made great strides in its goals to become more sustainable, there’s always more that can be done. My number one wish is for a campus wide composting program such as the one that the town of Princeton offers its residents. It saddens me to see the waste around campus that could so easily be composted—miles of pizza boxes, tons of used paper towels and paper plates, not to mention the pounds of food scraps that are thrown away in offices and classrooms each day. I know that this is something that is being discussed, so I hope that a program will be in place soon. It will make a huge difference in reducing the amount of waste that the University’s population makes every day.
I think that single-stream recycling will also help to encourage reluctant recyclers to make the right choices, but I think that we also need a general education campaign so that all staff/faculty and students understand what can and cannot be recycled on campus. There’s a lot of confusion as to what can be done with certain items, so more information would be very helpful.
I also think we need a “Turn off the Lights” campaign. People have forgotten that this very simple task can make a big difference. I work in Frist, and it’s amazing to see that when students leave one of the classrooms, they leave the lights on.
Lastly, I’d like to see additional changes made to the waste and recycling bins around campus. Instead of the word landfill, I think some graphic images of piles of garbage might make people think about what happens to the item they’re about to throw out, and maybe they’ll think twice before they purchase yet another cup of coffee in a container that they’re not able to recycle or compost on campus. For those of us who are truly passionate about sustainability, it’s a no brainer. But as Olivia Howard of Greening Princeton said (and I’m paraphrasing her), for many people, there is no instant cause and effect. Because they can’t see it in front of them, they don’t understand how their choices directly affect what is happening to this planet. I wish that the University would try to make that a priority—to educate its students, faculty, and staff as to why everyone’s everyday choices so desperately matter.