Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
February 21, 2024


Hopkins students engaged in sustainability activities before the school year began.

Sustainability is an important measure to stop the progression of negative changes to the environment, since it looks to protect the natural environment of the Earth and the health of its inhabitants. Many members of the Hopkins community are particularly passionate and active about this issue. 

Sophomore Melanie Alfonzo, who is minoring in environmental studies, explained how sustainability guides the practices she embraces in daily life. 

“Being sustainable means living a responsible lifestyle in terms of how you think about what you do in your daily life and all of your activities and how that affects the Earth and the resources around you,” Alfonzo said in an interview with The News-Letter.

University administration has created multiple initiatives to reduce the negative impact that Hopkins has on the environment. Hopkins Dining gives preference to vendors who supply food that is in season, packaged with minimal materials and grown locally and responsibly. A further goal of this initiative is to support the local food economy by creating community gardens, such as the Blue Jay’s Perch, and hosting weekly farmers’ markets. 

Another sustainability initiative is the completion of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) projects on campus buildings. LEED is an international green building program that rates buildings based on their environmental performance. Hopkins currently requires all new construction to be rated at least LEED Silver, and the university currently has two LEED certified buildings, eight LEED Silver buildings, seven LEED Gold Buildings and one LEED Platinum building. 

The most visible project on campus is the waste initiative, which promotes recycling and composting. Every day, students see color-coded waste bins around campus clearly labeled as either compost, recycling or incineration. However, Alfonzo explained that these bins are not used to their full potential. 

“Further education is needed on which items fall into the incinerate, recycle, and compost categories since there is a lot of mismatch going on right now,” Alfonzo said. 

According to the University’s sustainability website, Hopkins achieved an overall waste diversion rate in 2017 of 43 percent, which surpassed its goal of 35 percent. In addition, a lesser known feature of this initiative is the ability to order a compost bin for student dormitories through the Housing Office. Other sustainability initiatives at the University relate to water conservation, climate and energy, transportation, education and research.

In addition to administrative efforts, several student groups have taken an active role in promoting sustainability practices. WINGS, for instance, is an organization which provides free menstrual hygiene products to underprivileged members of the community, hosts educational workshops and offers sustainable alternatives to single-use menstrual products. Co-director of the WINGS Sustainability Committee, Mariama Morray, described the group’s mission as advocating for menstrual equity. 

“WINGS is about making menstrual products accessible, sustainable and normal,” Morray said in an interview with The News-Letter. “Our future goal is to bridge the gap between sustainable products and the homeless population.” 

This is of special importance because period products produce significant amounts of trash. Renee Nerenberg, who serves with Morray as co-director of the WINGS Sustainability Committee, emphasized the barrier that period stigma poses to sustainability.

“We are trying to normalize menstrual cups and reusable pads through workshops to educate people on sustainable options,” Nerenberg said in an interview with The News-Letter

She further stressed that in order to develop sustainable habits, shoppers should consider the materials from which their menstrual products are made. 

Hopkins students have also created a sustainability hackathon called GreenHacks. Alfonzo, who is a member of the GreenHacks Outreach Committee, explained the purpose of the group as giving a greater platform to sustainability. 

“The goal of this hackathon is to promote collaboration and communication between people who are already involved in sustainability and those who are not as knowledgeable about it,” Alfonzo said. “Last year we got people from different departments around Hopkins to be our judges and we had about 50 participants. The goal this year is to have around 250 people from Hopkins and the rest of the Baltimore community as participants.” 

Competitors do no not need any coding experience or background in sustainability. Registration for the event will be released early next year, and GreenHacks will take place in March of 2020.

In addition to on-campus organizations, students have opportunities to engage in sustainability research. 

Preethi Kaliappan, a sophomore Environmental Engineering major, works in a lab led by Bloomberg Distinguished Professor Paul Ferraro at the Carey Business School. Kaliappan explained the lab’s focus on understanding behavioral economics, especially in relation to the environment. 

“[The work uses] economics principles to predict the likelihood of adopting certain sustainable technologies or how people react to certain conservation practices,” Kaliappan said in an interview with The News-Letter. 

She described sustainability as having a subjective meaning, which is unique to each person based on their specific goals. She also explained why it is important that individuals focus on reducing their environmental footprint. 

“Sustainability fosters a higher level of thinking because you can go about life just using, using, using, but if you stop and think ‘What am I using?’ ‘Where is it going?’ ‘How can I reduce it?’ then you are thinking about your surroundings and you are conscious of what you are doing,” Kaliappan said. 

Alfonzo explained how humans tend to pay attention to short-term consequences rather than future implications.

“People usually just see the direct effect… Someone thinks ‘Oh, I am throwing this away and it is going into a landfill,’ but there are so many routes it could go,” she said. “It could end up in the ocean, degrade and have chemicals come out that could cause disease.” 

There are many actions people can take to increase the sustainability of their lifestyles. Alfonzo believes the first step in developing more environmentally-friendly habits is education. 

“Try to know the carbon footprint of things you buy. There are apps that will tell you the carbon emission and energy usage of your online shopping,” she said.

Kaliappan stressed the importance of starting small. 

“You can be sustainable by turning the lights off in your dorm, going to a coffee shop with a reusable cup, using reusable water bottles, dividing up your trash,” she said. “You do not have to do expensive stuff like installing solar panels.” 

Morray recommends incorporating sustainable practices into as many aspects of one’s life as possible because it benefits the whole world. 

“It is a selfless way of living,” Morray said. “It requires self-discipline, but it feels worth it in the end.”

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