Inside USD

Ellie Phillips: Zero Waste, Sustainability

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The University of San Diego is a designated Ashoka U Changemaker Campus. As a steward of this initiative, the USD Changemaker Hub awarded nine current USD students with up to $2,000 each in the Summer Changemaker Fellowship program, which was partially funded by School of Business Administration Board of Advisors member Chris Crane. Each student has worked on a project they’re passionate about that makes positive change. This is the seventh in a series of Inside USD articles about the 2013 Summer Changemaker Fellows.

One step at a time.

That’s Ellie Phillips’ mindset. Whether it’s educating one person to make a positive change in their sustainability habits, or focusing on the next lap in the pool instead of the long swim meet ahead, Phillips likes to keep it small.

So when it comes to her work as a USD Summer Changemaker Fellow and as an intern in the university’s Office of Sustainability, she focuses on educating the individual. “Even if you just talk to one person, tell one person, enlighten and educate them about one thing, that helps. Then they can tell another person, and they can tell another.”

That’s exactly what she is doing. Having grown up on a farm, Phillips, a senior on the USD swimming and diving team, has always been interested in food sustainability. It’s a passion she brought to her Changemaker fellowship. Her work this summer has been devoted to help make USD a zero-waste campus, a challenging task in the long run, but one Ellie is methodically chipping away at through various projects.

She largely focuses on composting and bolstering the Community Garden located behind Missions Crossroads’ residential housing, but also on trying to decrease food waste at campus events. Working alongside Gabby Sghia-Hughes, another recipient of the Changemaker fellowship and intern in the Office of Sustainability, Phillips has spent much of her time researching and planning for the projects, hoping to complete some of them before graduation in May 2014.

One way she’s working toward the campus’ goal of zero waste — meaning diverting as much material and food scraps from the landfill as possible — is by increasing campus familiarity with and usage of composting. Many people, she says, are not sure what composting is, nor that USD even has a composting bin. Located in the Community Garden, Phillips has spent time cleaning out the bin, repainting it, and, perhaps most importantly, working with Dining Services to divert as much food to the bin as possible. The more food waste composted, the closer USD is to realizing its zero-waste expectations.

Although the Student Life Pavilion (SLP) does compost some, her goal is to expand this process across campus and to create a bin near the La Paloma restaurant. But that has to happen one step at a time, she explains. Getting the SLP first to compost 100 percent of its food waste would mean USD is 80 percent of the way to becoming a zero-waste campus.

Phillips is also working to grow the Community Garden and maximize its output. Focusing on educating students on the garden’s potential to be a farm-to-table initiative, she works closely with Dining Services, particularly Missions Café, to advocate for the process of preparing food on campus that is grown in the garden. Food waste would be sent to the composting bin, which would break down into fertilizer to then be used to grow food.

“It’s a little self-sustaining system,” she explains. Once the garden expands, it can also create a profit for Dining Services since they can use the produce and herbs grown on campus, thus decreasing expenses off campus.

She’s keeping it small by working to educate students about the garden and sustainable habits through various opportunities — she did a presentation during the recent pre-orientation weekend, she’s talking directly with students, and she’s creating better signage for the Community Garden, composting and recycling bins.

“Everyone needs to know, and we need to be proud of it because it could be a great attraction for people to our school, for people who are interested in sustainability,” Phillips said.

Taking it one step at a time is how Phillips balances her incredibly demanding and diverse schedule. A USD Honors Program student, she’s entering her fourth and final season as an accomplished member of the swim team, a career during which she has twice been named to the All-Academic list and in the summer of 2012 she qualified for the U.S. Olympic swim trials. A double major in environmental studies and Spanish, Phillips works at Missions Café in addition to her internship, the latter of which she hopes to continue into the school year.

During her summer as a Changemaker fellow, Phillips says she’s learned how slow the process of creating change can be, especially on a campus when so many moving parts are involved. Still, her passion for the work is evident.

“When people do finally all come together, things can happen,” she says. “I’m so glad to have had this experience because I really feel like I’ve gotten to collaborate with awesome people and understand how that collaboration works.”

And the feeling is mutual. While the Office of Sustainability highlighted her great work ethic, positive attitude, and campus-wide impact, Phillips’ Changemaker mentor, University Ministry Director Michael Lovette-Colyer, complimented her “extraordinary humility, grace, and commitment.

“The time and energy she has dedicated this summer have positioned her well to accomplish her goal of educating her peers about the benefits of zero waste … Ellie exemplifies what it means to be a changemaker.”

— Kim Heinle ’11 (MA)

Read about other Summer Changemaker Fellows: Ailsa Tirado, Brian Wisdom/Aaron McCarthy, Leo Brown-Young, Gabby Sghia-Hughes, Kyle Miller, Katinka Bosch and Danielle Cantwell.

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