Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
June 30, 2022

Students continue to push sustainability initiatives

By Jessica Kim Cohen | December 5, 2013

In an effort to reduce the University’s carbon footprint, student groups around campus have begun initiatives to combat waste and pollution in new ways.

Take Back the Tap, a subsection of Students for Environmental Action (SEA), aims to attack problems head-on by decreasing the use of plastic. Specifically, Take Back the Tap encourages students to stop using bottled water, in lieu of drinking tap water and using refillable water bottles.

“We get lots of support for our campaign. We all know that bottled water is not great, and it’s not necessary. However, I also know that people still do it, so Take Back the Tap is figuring out how to change that actual behavior,” sophomore Mengli Shi, co-president of Take Back the Tap, said.

According to Shi, the majority of people use bottled water out of convenience. With this in mind, Take Back the Tap aims to increase the availability and desirability of reusable water bottles and tap water. Tap water is often cleaner than bottled water, since regulations are more stringent.

“As long as tap water doesn’t come from lead pipes, it is better to drink. A lot of schools, however, still do use lead pipes. So they have all of these water fountains, but none of them can be used. Baltimoreans are growing up thinking that tap water is horrible, but really, it’s just the pipes,” sophomore Michael Clark, co-president of Take Back the Tap, said.

Other Take Back the Tap initiatives have included speaking with dining services about discontinuing bottled water and placing ‘Take Back the Tap’ signs in dining halls. Working with the Office of Sustainability, the students also hope to renovate all water fountains to make them more convenient for refilling water bottles.

In addition to water fountains, the Office of Sustainability has influenced other on-campus renovations, including restoring aspects of current buildings and incorporating sustainable features into new structures.

“Because of where the Office of Sustainability is positioned, within the Facilities Department, I have seen a lot of success in integrating the principles of sustainable design and getting the architects, contractors and building managers we work with thinking about sustainability not as an after-thought, but as a proactive thought in the aspects that they manage,” Ashley Pennington, Senior Program Coordinator for the Office of Sustainability, said.

Green Lab Champions, a group of Hopkins researchers, specifically aims to make the University’s lab operations more environmentally friendly.

“Labs are a big part of our campus. We are a research institution, and we should lead the way in what green labs look like,” Pennington said.

Other initiatives in the Office of Sustainability have included revising their associated student groups, such as ECO-reps. A freshman internship program in the Office of Sustainability, ECO-reps is undergoing extensive changes this year.

The new ECO-reps program will be open to sophomores in addition to freshman, and will be more focused on residential life. Working with former ECO-reps, the Office of Sustainability is also developing a sustainability leadership program to complement the ECO-reps program.

“I think that the most important addition to the program is going to be its emphasis on teaching the leadership and development skills necessary to become a successful environmental leader on campus. Additionally, by bringing past ECO-reps back as mentors, those involved in the program will definitely benefit from past experience and learn from past mistakes and success,” sophomore Julia Adams, Office of Sustainability intern and former ECO-rep, wrote in an email to The News-Letter.

In the past, ECO-reps has been responsible for sustainability programs such as the TerraCycle initiative, which was implemented in some of the residence halls last spring. TerraCycle is a company that collects waste that is typically considered difficult to recycle, and makes it into new products.

“We’re focusing on getting toothpaste containers and shampoo bottles and other things that people aren’t usually able to recycle, unlike paper,” sophomore Cara Schulte, Office of Sustainability intern and former ECO-rep, said.

Many of the new workshops, seminars and activities will be piloted this upcoming spring semester. While ECO-reps formally selects 10 to 15 students every year, the leadership program will be open to all students.

“The leadership program aims to address some of the challenges of the ECO-reps program, such as it being a freshman-only program. ECO-reps gave students a lot of the key skills they needed to learn, but once they were really starting to get a good grasp on them, the school year was done and their time as freshmen was over,” Pennington said.

Another initiative, the Sustainable and Ethical Events (SEE) grant, proposed by SEA, is also in progress. As an environmental advocacy student group, SEA urges the University to make sustainable decisions while educating students about the importance of sustainability.

By supplying funding for certain purchases, the SEE grant would encourage students to make sustainable and ethical decisions for their events. This proposal has currently been tabled by SGA.

Off-campus, students have been involved in statewide campaigns as well.

Representatives from SEA have joined the Maryland Student Climate Coalition (MSCC), which works with schools including Hopkins, MICA and Towson. Students involved in MSCC discuss Maryland issues and campaigns, which they bring back to their respective campuses.

Currently, MSCC is campaigning against the construction of Cove Point, a liquefied fracking facility that is scheduled to be built in 2014.

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