Graduate Student Community Goes Green With Sustainable Solutions

Organizations cultivate sustainability with zero-waste projects and certificate program

Sustainable supplies

Sustainable supplies donated by Grad Success, Student Recreation Center Cooking Workshop, and the Office of Sustainability, following GSA’s new policy to bring reusable supplies to monthly meetings and quarterly socials. Siddharth Agarwal

The California Air Resources Board recognized Riverside as “California’s Coolest City” in 2014 for efforts to reduce its carbon footprint and better manage energy use and vehicle emissions. Four years later, Maïko Le Lay, a doctoral degree candidate in critical dance studies at the University of California, Riverside, has taken the city’s efforts a step further.

Le Lay’s mother, a sustainability advocate, worked on renewable energy and “smart city” projects throughout Europe.

“She is definitively my inspiration to pursue sustainable practices,” Le Lay said, adding that her interest in the field is an extension of her environmentally progressive upbringing.

“Growing up in Belgium and France, there were strict recycling standards for decades,” Le Lay said. “Long ago, the country provided bins for paper, plastics, trash, and glass as well as carbon-rich materials, or browns, and nitrogen-rich materials, or greens. European grocery stores stopped using plastic bags well before the U.S. caught on, and recently, stores were banned from selling plastic cups, cutlery, bowls, and plates.”

Le Lay also recalled being able to compost easily in Belgium. At UCR, she composts at the R’Garden, a three-acre sustainability hub for service learning and community-based research around food systems. However, she noted that her drive to campus cancels out the value of transporting such a small amount of compost.

The contrast between the sustainability practices she saw in Europe and the U.S. inspired Le Lay to make environmental activism a priority during her time at UCR. She first directed her attention to UCR’s Graduate Student Association, or GSA, which splits into a collection of mini-GSAs that represent the university’s various graduate departments. By partnering with mini-GSAs, Le Lay hoped to decentralize UCR’s campus-wide focus on sustainability and make going green a more accessible goal for all graduate students.

In particular, working with UCR’s mini-GSAs provided a springboard for a program that offers easy, effective tools for graduate students to apply to their meetings, teaching, and research:

  • Mini-GSA Sustainability Certificate: The certificate program encourages mini-GSAs to create carbon-neutral plans for tackling their respective departmental needs and mechanisms for implementing long-term sustainable practices within their learning spaces.

On their journey toward cultivating a culture of sustainability in the graduate community, these mini-GSAs and their representatives were recognized for their efforts with the Sustainability certificate:

  • Biomedical Sciences: Jessica Noll, Erin Walch, and Kelly Radecki
  • Chemical and Environmental Engineering: Ayla Moretti, Michele Simkins, Chris Stamatis, and Daniel White
  • Environmental Toxicology: Lauren Walker
  • Genetics Genomics and Bioinformatics: Amy Boyd
  • Mechanical Engineering: Faraz Enayati Ahangar

To earn their certificates, the mini-GSAs have pioneered sustainable practices within their event spaces. These include: purchasing locally sourced food and using compostable dining supplies for meetings and socials; conserving energy and water within laboratories; recycling batteries, electronics, ink cartridges, and Styrofoam containers; and sharing tips for going green on departmental social media platforms.

Le Lay said the certificate program is intended to serve as a catalyst for improving sustainability standards at UCR. She has spent the past three years trying to enact more environmentally progressive practices in the  College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. In the future, Le Lay would like members of both STEM and non-STEM fields to collaborate on sustainability initiatives.

When she completes her studies at UCR, Le Lay plans to pursue a career in teaching and the fulfillment of one of her longtime dreams: creating a charity to improve education worldwide.

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