sustainablespu

Sustainability is about ecology, economy and equity.- Ralph Bicknese


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Mottainai: Waste Nothing, Respect All


Have you ever thought about how much waste you generate on a daily basis? If you’ve spent any time in Japan, you may be more aware of your waste habits. Last December, my sister visited the country and got first-hand experience of this. She was struck by Japan’s lack of public trashcans and surprisingly litter-free streets. Some municipalities have over 44 different garbage categories and people often carry around their trash all day to dispose of it properly at home.

Waste is a serious matter in Japan, guided for centuries by the cultural concept of Mottainai

having respect for the resources around you, to not waste these resources and to use them with a sense of gratitude.”

This way of life and disposal makes sense for an island country with limited landfill space. It’s encouraging that affluent, consumer-based countries have created such dynamic cultural waste norms, especially in light of America’s throw-away habits. For food waste alone, it’s estimated that the U.S. tosses 30-40% of its food produced annually, costing about $165 billion and producing almost 34 million tons of waste. Considering that every ton of food wasted creates 3.8 tons of greenhouse gas emissions, the scope of this issue is staggering. What’s more, globally about $1 trillion or one-third of all food produced goes uneaten.

Due to these realities, we conduct an audit to track SPU’s waste contribution. This year with the implementation of a campus-wide compost program, it was a lengthier collection and recording process. Over the course of May, we analyzed about 750 cubic yards or 292,400 lbs. of waste: 28% garbage, 64% recyclables, and 8% compostables. 

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Keep in mind that recyclables and garbage are often lighter and larger in volume, whereas compostables can be denser and more compact. After hours of sorting pounds of waste and collecting hundreds of data points, we are pleased with the results yet see some areas of improvement in properly disposing of our waste. For instance, over 50% of the waste surveyed from campus apartments could have been composted. 

The data collected last May reflects hundreds – if not thousands – of decisions made on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. It all adds up. As individual choices are magnified by our communities, our own responsibility is a crucial piece of environmental stewardship and Christian discipleship. Here are a few tips to help you on your way towards becoming a more conscious consumer (and maybe even practicing more mottainai):

Think. Become aware of what you’re buying and when you will use or eat it. Try carrying around a bag to keep your day’s trash with you like those in Japan do. You’ll be surprised how much waste one person generates.

Be. Slow down to become present in every moment. When you are mindful of the globalized implications of what (or who) is in front of you, needs and wants become clearer. This can make mundane tasks (grocery shopping, cleaning, bill paying) full of purpose, gratitude, and joy!

Save. Whether it’s glass pickle jars for durable containers or uneaten restaurant food for leftovers, save it! Reusing items reduces environmental impacts and can even save you major green. *Shout-out to my grandma, saver-extraordinaire, and all other grandmothers for modeling mottainai!*

As an institution committed to the flourishing of our students, our city, and all of creation, we look forward to diverting more recyclables and food waste away from our landfills. While we’re pretty excited about current programs in place for campus waste collection (compost and food recovery), we are always interested in new ideas. Comment below with questions or suggestions!


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The Commute


Almost half of SPU’s student body commutes to campus. Have you ever wondered how all of that time getting to and from campus contributes to overall student wellness and SPU’s environmental footprint? Over the last few months, we’ve collected a bit of data to find out.

In terms of happiness, studies connect commuting to lower rates of well-being, physical exercise, political activity, and life satisfaction as well as higher levels of emotional and relational stress. At the same time, some studies have found that the happiest commuters are those who walk, cycle, or take the train to work. In addition to increasing happiness, fewer greenhouse gas emissions are emitted into the environment by commuters who are able to take advantage of these options. If you’re a commuter unable to walk or cycle, consider carpooling or taking public transportation even a few times throughout the year to decrease your eco-footprint – every bit helps. Additionally, be sure to check out the resources offered by SPU’s wellness initiative! 

As far as environmental footprint goes, commuting mileage has a bigger institutional impact than one might think. In 2011, faculty and staff commuting made up 6% and student commuting accounted for 23% of our total Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions.  To continue our efforts in effectively measuring and lowering SPU’s GHG emissions, we conduct an annual Student Commute Survey.

This year, 623 of the 2,469 commuter students provided valuable feedback via SurveyMonkey. Generally, there has been an overall increase in commute distance for both undergraduate and graduate students. Use of public transportation has increased since 2010 and walking or biking is still an easy mode of transport for mostly undergrad students. Carpooling or van-pooling is still not used by many students, even with the reduced parking passes ($70/2-person car, free for 3-person car) offered to carpoolers.

Student input added significant insights to our survey. Although some students were unaware of the resources offered to carpoolers, public transportation users, and cyclists, many students offered additional suggestions including:

  • free ORCA passes
  • improving SPU’s commuter parking options
  • coordinating shuttles or carpools

As commutes get longer and cost of living (and schooling) increases, it’s going to take a conscious effort on the part of SPU and commuters to implement effective programs and incentives that contribute to greater environmental stewardship and student wellness in mind, body, and spirit. Scroll on for more highlights from the survey and be sure to comment below with any questions or feedback!

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Graduating to a Green Lifestyle (in 5 easy steps)


While there are difficulties to being sustainable in college as a student, there will still be challenges when I graduate in a few days! There have been posts about how to be green while a student, but the choices graduates make are just as important. Here are a few things I plan to change once I graduate.seattle-farmers-market-john-ong-flickr

Food Choices: For me, food choices are the majority of my budget besides rent, so making sustainable choices around food is a huge part of my life. Particularly the packaging of the food I buy is what I notice in my trash can. Zero waste tip number one from Lauren Singer is evaluate what your garbage is, and for me it’s filmy plastic that usually was wrapped around some sort of food. In taking her advice I would like to switch to buying less packaged food. The reason I haven’t done this already had been due to my limited time for cooking, so premade food has been my go to. Hopefully with no homework I’ll have some time to cook whole foods that don’t come in packages. Another sustainable option in choosing foods is looking to support organic growing practices and local produce to reduce pesticides in water systems and emissions from transporting produce long distances. Hopefully I’ll save some money making these choices too! Continue reading


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Sustainability & Film: Just Eat It


Food waste is at it again, and this movie shines the spotlight on how America has its work cut out. Just Eat It is a film about food lovers, food waste, and how far some are willing to go to help reduce edible food ending up in the landfills. Food waste is not only contributing to food insecurity, but also to wasted water and land use in growing the food as well.JustEatITimage

If you haven’t seen the other few posts related to food waste, check them out for more information! You can also check out this film if you’re in the Seattle area. There are many showings of it across Seattle and viewing is free so you can learn more about how food waste is happening right under our noses.

If you’d like some positive information though about an organization that saves food, you can learn from and volunteer with Seattle Food Rescue! They recover small amounts of food from local businesses that would usually go to waste and deliver them to low income residents of Seattle. The best part? They do it via bike to prevent further carbon emissions.

Food rescue or recovery is one way to ensure food feeds people and not compost bins!


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COP21 -The Paris Talks Resolution


COP21 –The Paris Talks Resolution

As a follow up to my previous post announcing the COP21 or SIF15 Climate Change talks happening in Paris, I’m going to look at some of the outcomes and highlights following the conference.

The conference ended on December 12th after additional days being added for continued negotiation. There has been an agreement drafted and signed by 195 countries to reduce climate change, with specific plans outlined in that document.

The conference included over 75 speakers and included the Sustainable Innovation Forum, which was the largest business event that engaged NGO’s, individuals, and investors to be a part of the climate change around the world, in a positive way. Speeches given provided examples of ways that businesses can see profits from being energy efficient or creating zero-carbon alternatives to current products adding to carbon emissions.

Many people had a lot to say about the agreement and how they think it will have impacts for our future. The majority seem to say that it was monumental for an international agreement to be reached around the growing issue of climate change. Yale Climate Connections compiled some of the earliest thoughts on the results of the conference just days after it had concluded.cop21-unfccc-paris-agreement-1550x804

The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions put together some bullet points to help sum up the conclusion of the agreement:

  • The goal to limit global temperature increase well below 2 degrees Celsius
  • Commit all countries to reporting progress on their emissions regularly
  • Establish and reaffirm binding commitments to make “nationally determined contributions”, and resubmit these contributions every five years
  • Extending a mechanism to address loss and damage from climate change, which won’t require liability or compensation
  • Require parties engaging in international emissions trading to avoid double counting

Today, countries are signing the agreement in honor of Earth day in New York. This is a monumental occasion and I think one of the best ways to honor the earth we live on. Over 130 countries have agreed to sign the agreement, initiating their process towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions and combating climate change, specifically the 2 degree target.

Additionally, from the “Why not?” speech given by the UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner, the hope is that developing countries could skip the steps of the developed nations and go straight to low-carbon and low-impact transport solutions. The focus of his speech is really how private sector businesses can make a huge impact on how the future of emissions changes.

It is an exciting day in history, so celebrate the Earth today and the rest of your days!


Sustainability & Film: Mad Max and Water Wars


(Spoiler alert* If you haven’t seen it I don’t want to ruin it for you, go watch it*)

*Mad Max Fury Road contains violence and some nudity, it is rated R, suggested for ages 16 and up because it has intense sequences of violence throughout, and for disturbing images.*

“Do not, my friends, become addicted to water. It will take hold of you, and you will resent its absence!” –Immortan Joe

I recently watched the new Mad Max film and really enjoyed it. It’s not only an exciting action flick with great cinematography, it touches on social issues in ways that I was not expecting at all. If you have read reviews of the plot, you know that the setting for the movies is a desert wasteland, and most of the film takes place across a wide expanse of empty land. The New Yorker has a great review has more to do with the plot and style of the film, but I’m going to focus on something the movie also shows us, the importance of water.

In other recent blog posts, I’ve touched on water use reduction and how our campus is doing our part, but this movie takes water scarcity to the extreme. Mad Max shows us that water is vital, when most of us take it for granted. I consistently fill up my water bottle with clean cold water (and I sometimes complain when it rains), but the characters in this film are for the most part very careful with their water. They clamor to fill bowls and pitchers when the aquifer rains down water on top of them.

Water scarcity is in the forefront of the plot and a driving force behind the way the characters travel in the movie. It is part of the reason they leave their location at the beginning of the movie, and finding water is the goal of their travelling. Although difficult for us in Seattle to imagine, this drought-stricken wasteland could be our possible future, and Hollywood’s focus on water scarcity is a way of warning us about our current problems. One of these problems is the privatization of water, which I plan to follow up on with an additional blog post as part of my water series.

An additional similarity is that water will be a source of conflict, and according to James Fergusson at Newsweek, this is already contributing to the unrest in the countries of Syria and Yemen.  His article goes into the history of how there have been many conflicts related to water scarcity.

This however does not just happen in the Middle East, but our own droughts in recent years have severely affected the state of California. Currently 61% of the state is an extreme or exceptional drought according to the United States Drought Monitor, and groundwater was until recently unregulated. This allowed land owners to do as much pumping of groundwater as they pleased. After the 2014 summer, the need for groundwater legislation came to the forefront to end the battling between landowners for water. California state legislation was passed in September of 2014 and then updated this year with Senate bill 13 that amends and clarifies previous Water Code sections of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. These changes create regulation of groundwater basins and provide a foundation for local agencies to limit excessive use of basin water. This is the first step in ensure water is used to keep people healthy and safe during warm months.

Mad Max Fury Road shows us the importance of respecting the resources we have, especially in light of our own water troubles. So the next time you turn on the faucet, think of that dry dusty landscape—and respect the water that comes out of that faucet for the valuable resource it is.


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Follow up on the Food Waste Fight and Faith


In some of my previous posts I touched on the problems of food waste , as well as some solutions for the rising problem in America. I also appreciated and reflected on parts of Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter in a 3 part series about how faith and sustainable practices go hand in hand. The Pope is not the only person who has noticed this connection and is asking faith communities to step up to the issue of climate change. The Environmental Protection Agency here in the states has also recognized how the faith community can partner in helping the planet. With this thought, the EPA has launched their Food Steward’s Pledge to help reach the goal to reduce food waste by 50 percent in the next 14 years.

This move towards encouraging members of the faith community is based on changing food waste through systemic channels. In an interview with NPR, Gina McCarthy the EPA Administrator says that this strategy allows the EPA to tap “into incredibly motivated and dedicated people”. NPR’s report goes on to highlight many religious groups who are taking part in the food waste fight, whether they are Jewish, Muslim, Christian, or other faith groups.

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