Inside USD

Triple Bottom Line Success Story

Monday, September 19, 2011

Educating students to become responsible consumers and professionals. Keeping electronic waste out of landfills and dumps in the developing world. And providing opportunities and scholarships for USD students.

This is what you call a triple bottom line success. At the heart of the socially responsible business model is the commitment to people, planet and profit. USD’s new e-waste collection center, opened last spring, embodies all three.

Student workers staff the center Monday through Saturday, allowing San Diego businesses and consumers the opportunity to get rid of the old computers and electronics taking up space in their homes and offices. Instead of seeing the electronics end up in landfills or in dumps in the developing world where metals and plastics can pose health and pollution hazards, USD works with a responsible partner to make sure the electronics are properly de-assembled and recycled or re-used whenever possible.

Michael Catanzaro, USD’s director of Sustainability, said he’s been “bowled over” by the passion that students have brought to the venture. “Some students thought they were just getting another campus job but once they learned about the economic, ecological and social justice issues, they’ve become passionate advocates for the responsible disposal of these materials.”

Working at the center has been a “unique experience” said Sabina Baker, an environmental studies major and the center’s lead student worker. “Since day one I’ve been excited about getting to play such as big role in the center — the wide range of responsibilities has helped me grow and better understand my own strengths and weaknesses.”

The center is also giving students hands-on opportunities to learn marketing and other business skills. This summer, Professor Leeva  Chung’s communication studies class devoted two weeks to creating a marketing campaign for the center and five students have signed on to help see the vision through during the fall semester. “This kind of academic integration serves to highlight the seemingly endless possibilities that the center creates for the university as both a potential scholarship source and an opportunity for learning and teaching,” Catanzaro said.

Open less than six months, the center is already taking in anywhere from 15,000 to 20,000 pounds of waste each month. To date, about 100,000 pounds have been collected. In terms of reducing carbon emissions, that’s equivalent to preventing the burning of 17,693 gallons of gasoline, Catanzaro said. “The response from the public has been overwhelming. San Diegans are so thankful that we are able to collect these items.”

In terms of profitability, the center is already paying for itself, he added, and as collections increase, revenues from the sale of recyclables will go toward student scholarships. “With regard to the triple bottom line, the center has exceeded expectations.”

– Liz Harman

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