Earth Day is a 24-hour space in the month of April, a brief opportunity to be inspired by and reflect upon the place we call home. But maintaining and keeping this “home” in order, is a year-round, ever-increasing responsibility. It requires a call to action.
On Tuesday, actually one day after the official international celebration, the University of San Diego rightly used this extension of awareness to introduce a major new initiative, to reward mindful ideas of campus Changemakers in the USD One Challenge, and to exhibit the leadership of Sustainability Director Michael Catanzaro (pictured, right) and his Office of Sustainability team to keep the university moving forward.
“Today is the first day of a multi-year plan to reduce waste on campus and to divert 90 to 100 percent of all campus waste from the landfill. This isn’t a task for sustainability, but rather a challenge for the entire campus,” said Catanzaro, a double USD alumnus (2001, ’07).
Todd Gloria, president of the San Diego City Council and 2000 USD alumnus, endorsed Catanzaro’s sentiment and USD’s actions as a community leader.
“I’m excited to announce that the university, the mayor and Environmental Services Department of the City of San Diego are currently working to create a unique partnership,” said Gloria (pictured, left). “The intent of this partnership will be to leverage our collective resources and programs with the intention of increasing waste diversion, not only on campus but also in the community. … By examining USD’s efforts to reduce waste on the campus and its successes and challenges, our hope is that this serves as a model to learn best practices in zero waste and help set the course for the region.”
One way the university demonstrated its leadership is through the USD Changemaker Hub’s USD One Challenge. A contest designed to get people motivated by environmental issues and more of the campus to get behind it, entrants submitted a two-minute video of their idea tied to environment: wasteful production and consumption. The videos appeared on the Changemaker Hub’s Facebook page and votes for the finalists were tallied as “likes.” Three winning ideas, each receiving $2,000, emerged.
“Six months ago, the Changemaker Hub challenged our community to critically examine global issues and to select the one that our campus could collectively address,” Catanzaro said. “Together, we chose the issue we saw as most pertinent to our world: the world itself.”
Two recipients, the “Exchange for Change” idea by undergraduate international business majors Chantale Serad and Jenna Van Horn and “Biodiesel Project” by the School of Law’s Assistant Registrar Erik Kim-Holmgren, earned the popular vote on social media.
The Exchange for Change concept brings portable recycling machines on campus so that students, staff, faculty can recycle bottles and cans in exchange for CRV refunds that go back onto their Campus Card. Kim-Holmgren wants to create a biodiesel production facility to produce fuel from used cooking oil for USD vehicles. Also, the glycerin byproduct of the process will be converted to a high-quality soap.
A third winner, junior International Relations and Spanish double major Shannon Schumacher, earned $2,000 for what judges said embodied the One Challenge. She proposed a Zero-Waste Move-Out for all on-campus residential areas in which items, instead of being thrown out, would be stored. Gently used items could be sold to incoming students or donated to those in need. Schumacher’s award, Changemaker Hub assistant director Juan Carlos Rivas said, was “based on the relevance, originality, feasibility, impact and scalability of the proposal.”
Rivas praised all One Challenge entries. “I was impressed with the quality of the submissions and that the ideas were focused on making an immediate impact on campus,” he said. “What it also shows is that one idea can be the beginning of a tremendous change.”
The accompanying Earth fair in the Student Life Pavilion’s Plaza Mayor showcased USD organizations dedicated to sustainability — USD E-Waste Center, the student-led Be Blue, Go Green Team, Outdoor Adventures, Student International Business Council and Fair Trade/Sustainability Task Force — alongside companies such as the 1:1 Movement, San Diego Sustainability Living Institute, Vava Vida, Enjoy Handplanes (run by USD alum Ed Lewis ‘96) Zipcar, US Foods and more.
The observation that the current generation is more likely to be environmental aware and wants to be invested was shared by other companies present at the celebration.
Carmen Vazquez, vice president of student affairs, pointed out the university’s many successes in just six years since sustainability was chosen as a strategic initiative. She added that USD’s Catholic Social Teaching, this semester’s theme of “Caring for God’s Creation,” was fitting for Earth Day.
“Through targeted investment, USD has greatly reduced its consumption of energy (20 percent) and water (30 percent) and the campus is enjoying reduced utility costs and positive environmental benefits,” Vazquez said. “The collective impact of these efforts is equal to removing nearly 2,000 cars off the road or creating 7,000 acres of carbon dioxide-consuming trees. These silent, and sometimes unnoticeable, changes have made wide-sweeping improvements to our campus infrastructure and have contributed to our rising status as one of the nation’s most sustainable universities.”
But no one is satisfied. Catanzaro, his team and others on campus are driven to keep going, to be excited about what’s next.
“While we’ve chosen the One Challenge winners today, it’s our collective challenge to advance our efforts so that we can become a zero-waste campus,” Catanzaro said. “We’ve learned enough over the past six months to understand our waste stream and what it will take to get to zero waste. Though it won’t be easy, it is possible. This isn’t just a Changemaker initiative or a sustainability initiative, this is a campus commitment to help make the world a better place and it can only be done with your help.”
It’s a 365-days-a-year effort.
— Ryan T. Blystone