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Sustainability Commitee Develops At UST

Improved green initiatives become a core part of the UST community

By Stephanie Hernandez
On October 17, 2014

Sustainability initiatives on the UST campus have been student lead and run, including an attempt in 2008 by the ECOS club, when recycling bins were first placed around the campus buildings. 

These student efforts, however, have long been in need of both consistent student involvement and financial support to guarantee successful implementation. 

Currently, ECOS and UNICEF student clubs both receive grants to manage the on-campus recycling, a system put in place last year. 

“We must support our own system, because this is a student initiative,” Diego Lagos, SGA vice president, said. “That’s been the tough part also: when we have something initiated by the students, it goes year by year.” 

Consistency in both student willingness to participate, coupled with funding, have resulted in a low recycle rate. 

“Both are issues, but on the administrative side, it would be money, because it is an expensive thing to establish.” Lagos said. “We have discussed having the city of Houston provide the recycling bins, and it would be the responsibility of the students. But even if you did get the money, we need students to commit.” 

Currently SGA provides the money for the club grants, with the Council of Clubs monitoring. 

“We do understand that its urgent, and it needs to kick-off somehow,” Lagos said. ‘We are willing to provide support, if that’s the only way we can spark it, so we can have something going on for the next few years that will sustain itself.” 

The recycling program at UST is completely student run, which differs from other universities in the Houston area. Rice University, for example, has an Office of Sustainability, and work with the City of Houston with some student involvement. They work with Waste Management to have their recycled items picked up. According to their FAQ page, 25 percent of their campus waste is recycled, with the long term goal of having 40 percent of their waste recycled. A current concern for one of the clubs, ECOS, is the necessity for increased student involvement so more UST waste is actually recycled. 

“We did America Recycles Day in previous years, and this year we are in charge of the Italian Festival recycling, like we have in the past,” said Monserrat Gomez, the ECOS president, said. “The manpower to do the recycling [is needed]; our clubs are small, so we don’t have that many members to assist with the recycling. We tried to get more of our members involved with the recycling when they are free.” 

The annual Italian Festival draws over 300 people to the UST campus each year. Some of the plates and cups used for the Italian cuisine has the potential to be recycled, such as plastic wine glasses, cans for soda and beer and water bottles.  

“We are trying to get more clubs involved with the recycling, to help us out and deal with the challenges of recycling,” Gomez said. “For future things, we are trying to get more recycling bins on campus, like on Crooker Patio, but we are also trying to get the funding for that.” 

To deal with these persistent issues concerning not only recycling, but overall campus sustainability, the university has started to develop a Sustainability Committee. Prof. Clarence Sirmons, who first came to UST in Spring 2014, has taken on the role of Sustainability Coordinator. 

“I have multiple roles: sustainability coordinator, lab coordinator and instructor of sustainability, environmental and urban planning classes,” Sirmons said. “The role of sustainability coordinator is a departmental position that was recently created, and I am the first one in this position. I have a dual role as a staff member and instructor.” 

The Sustainability Committee officially held its inaugural meeting at the beginning of this semester to lay the groundwork for making UST a more green campus. 

“There’s a lot of things that go into it, there are some initiatives that we want to get going at a departmental level,” Sirmons said. “Maybe offer more courses and services hours in sustainability areas, but also at the university level. The Sustainability Committee will be reporting to the vice president of academic affairs, providing our recommendations to better unify existing sustainability initiatives on campus.” 

Currently, the Committee is in rudimentary stages of planning and development. 

ECOS officers President Monserrat Gomez and Secretary Abigail Kvinge recycle during the annual Italian Festival.

“We are more so defining what sustainability means at UST, and what we want our goals as a committee to be,” Sirmons said. “We are starting off very broad, and once we have established those fundamental things, then we will start looking more specifically at individual initiatives to takes under our wing, potentially a comprehensive recycling program for the campus.” 

As a Catholic university, this Sustainability Committee aims to emphasize social justice doctrines concerning sustainability - an issue often overshadowed by other more controversial concerns. 

Pope John Paul II, in his World Peace Day Address on January 1, 1990, said “the most profound and serious indication of the moral implications underlying the ecological problem is the lack of respect for life evident in many of the patterns of environmental pollution. Often, the interests of production prevail over concern for the dignity of workers, while economic interests take priority over the good of individuals and even entire peoples. In these cases, pollution or environmental destruction is the result of an unnatural and reductionist vision which at times leads to a genuine contempt for man.” 

The rest of the address goes on to critique the destruction of the environment because of agricultural and industrial development, and it cites the Bible, and human duty to treat the environment as a sustainer rather than an exploiter. This address is the foundation for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops 

Environmental Justice Programme, which aims to encourage Catholics to uphold obligation to the environment as God’s creation, and to adopt more sustainable lifestyle practices. Numerous encyclicals, such as Pope John XXIII’s Mater et Magistera and Pope John Paul II’s Centesumus Annus have also stressed the inherent dignity of the environment, and condemned the destruction of our planet in the name of consumerism. 

“That’s one of the motivations behind starting this on our campus, the Catholic social teachings and regard for the environment, and also the protection of the poor, who more than any are disadvantaged by environmental issues because they don’t have the money to go to other places or move to non-polluted environments,” Sirmons said. “The last few popes have acknowledged this as a major issue for Catholics all over the world. There also other reasons: sustainability initiatives also save money, which is always an advantage. Students also expressed interest in sustainability initiatives and course offerings.”

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