GREEN YOUR SCHOOL: NYU’s Student & Labor Action Movement

As students start getting ready to go back to school, some of them are also getting ready to embark upon a new year of greening their campuses. Green America editorial fellow Sari Amiel discovered five inspiring examples of how students are making their campuses more socially just and environmentally sustainable. Every Monday and Wednesday from August 14th through August 27th, we’ll post one of Sari’s stories here on our blog.

A USAS "speak-out" demonstration marked the six-month anniversary of the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse.
A USAS “speak-out” demonstration marked the six-month anniversary of the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse.

When New York University’s Student & Labor Action Movement (SLAM) is not actively influencing its university’s policies, the group is opening students’ eyes to the abuses that foreign and domestic laborers face on a regular basis.

Each year, SLAM works on three to four major projects. Its labor committee alternates between protesting local injustices and participating in national campaigns that United Students against Sweatshops (USAS), of which SLAM is a chapter, organizes.

“Difficult working conditions is a universal issue,” says junior Anne Falcon. “We work on international solidarity campaigns, which just show how everything is interconnected… Fighting issues here [in New York] reverberates around the world.”

This past year, SLAM worked on USAS’ End Deathtraps campaign. This movement arose in response to the collapse of the Bangladeshi Rana Plaza factory, which caused 1,137 deaths. Just prior to the building’s collapse, garment workers had been ordered to return to their stations even after local police had deemed the building unsafe.

As part of the campaign, SLAM asked NYU’s administration to change its Labor Code of Conduct, which outlines its clothes suppliers’ responsibilities, so that these companies are required to sign The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. This Accord is a legally binding document that requires retailers to take meaningful steps to improve workers’ safety at their supplier factories.

SLAM also organized a die-in as part of the campaign.  In this event, students laid in the hallway outside a meeting of the University Senate, which has both student and faculty members. After persuading the University Senate to pass a resolution in favor of changing the Code of Conduct, the group sang carols about workers’ rights outside the president’s office.

On May 1, the End Deathtraps fight continued with SLAM’s four-hour sit-in at the university’s Gould Welcome Center. The group urged NYU to stop purchasing JanSport merchandise due to the sweatshops that VF Corporation, its parent company, does business with in Bangladesh. SLAM was granted a meeting with university officials, and, five days later, NYU stated that it would stop placing orders with JanSport unless it and VF signed the Accord. For Falcon, this sit-in was the most difficult event to plan and participate in.

“Our plan was to occupy the Welcome Center for as long as it took to get a meeting with administrative officials, so we might have stayed over the entire weekend,” says Falcon. “They might have locked us in, because it was on a Friday.”

Following these actions, NYU did change its Code of Conduct, and it now requires the companies that make its logo apparel to sign the Accord.

Previously, SLAM participated in a USAS-led campaign against Adidas, which it alleged had neglected to pay severance to 2,800 workers that it laid off in Indonesia. This campaign was won nationally in April of 2013, after 17 universities, not including NYU, ended their contracts with Adidas, forcing the company to pay the severance.

On the local front, SLAM has a student debt committee, which is asking NYU to impose a 10-year freeze on tuition and increase the value of financial aid packages by 25 percent. Students voiced these demands in a protest that they staged during NYU President Sexton’s State of the University speech.

“NYU has the worst history of student debt in the history of higher education,” says Falcon. “We want our university, and every university in the country, by extension, to provide more resources for the students, as well as a more democratic means of resource distribution.”

Recently, SLAM achieved a victory in another of its ongoing local campaigns. SLAM claimed a member of the Board of Trustees at NYU Law School violated the rights of employees in his nursing home business by decreasing their vacation and sick days, raising the price of their healthcare, locking out workers, and preventing union formation. SLAM wanted him to resign from the Board, and he did so in May of 2014.

“We’ve had a really good track record,” says Falcon. “We’ve won a lot of our campaigns. So it just sort of happens that we’ve had to start new campaigns pretty much every year, which is fantastic.”

Which is remarkable considering the group is never granted an audience with the NYU president. Instead, it works with a school official whose designated job is to handle SLAM’s requests.

“[The administration can be] very unreceptive until we significantly escalate the pressure from our campaigns,” says Falcon. “The best way to apply pressure is by…getting more people [involved and] having actions in more public places, somewhere that everyone will see.”

SLAM has been featured in Democracy Now and The Nation, and the Huffington Post mentioned two of SLAM’s campaigns in its list of “the 25 Best Progressive Victories of 2013.”

—Sari Amiel

GREEN YOUR SCHOOL: Fossil Free Stanford

As students start getting ready to go back to school, some of them are also getting ready to embark upon a new year of greening their campuses. Green America editorial fellow Sari Amiel discovered five inspiring examples of how students are making their campuses more socially just and environmentally sustainable. Every Monday and Wednesday from August 14th through August 27th, we’ll post one of Sari’s stories here on our blog.

Stanford students unite to "X out" the fossil fuel industry. Photo by Kira Mineheart
Stanford students unite to “X out” the fossil fuel industry. (Photo by Kira Mineheart)

On May 6, 2014, Stanford University became one of the first schools to recognize the importance of divesting its endowment from companies whose practices threaten students’ futures. Fossil Free Stanford (FFS), one of many student-run divestment groups in the country, was the catalyst behind its school’s removal of funds from coal mining companies from the endowment portfolio.

“I think a lot of the frustration with activism around climate change…is that you can make small-scale changes, but they aren’t really questioning the structures that got us into this,” says sophomore Mikaela Osler, FFS Student Outreach Coordinator. “[Divestment] is a symbolic statement saying that Stanford no longer supports [the fossil-fuel] business model.”

FFS was inspired by a talk, titled “Do the Math,” that author Bill McKibben, founder of the climate nonprofit 350.org, delivered on Stanford’s campus in November of 2012. To avoid a dangerous 2°C rise in the average global surface temperature, McKibben stated that 80 percent of carbon reserves should remain in the ground. Also, many scientists agree that atmospheric carbon—which now exceeds 400 parts per million (ppm)—should stabilize at 350 ppm for the world to avoid the worst effects of global climate change. Through his Fossil-Free Divestment campaign—which Green America supports and covered in the Jan./Feb. 2013 issue of the Green American magazine—McKibben asks people and organizations, primarily colleges and universities, to divest from the top 200 fossil fuel companies in order to financially and socially pressure these companies to replace dirty energy sources with renewables.

“Fossil fuel companies are big,” says junior Michael Peñuelas, a Lead Student Organizer of FFS. “[The Fossil-Fuel Divestment movement is] a way to magnify our individual voices with an institution as a megaphone.”

Last year, FFS submitted a request for review to the university’s Advisory Panel on Investment Responsibility and Licensure (APIRL), a group of faculty, alumni, and students that helps ensure that Stanford’s endowment fund does not go into socially and environmentally detrimental investments.

FFS’s undergraduates cooperated with graduate students, alumni, and faculty to drum up support for their cause. The group pushed the undergraduate Senate and the Graduate Student Council to pass resolutions in support of fossil-fuel divestment, they obtained over 400 supportive letters from alumni, and they drafted a letter that 170 fully tenured faculty members signed. FFS members also knocked on students’ doors, tabled, and organized rallies to increase students’ support for divestment. In Stanford’s spring elections, over 75 percent of undergraduate students voted in favor of divestment from fossil fuel companies.

“It was a big effort to get all the demographics in line,” says Peñuelas. “It’s very likely that [the administration] would never have considered divestment without student pressure.”

While the group was building general support for divestment, APIRL researched the environmental and social impacts of fossil fuels. In spring of 2014, APIRL concluded that climate change would cause “substantial social injury.” Acting on APIRL’s recommendation, Stanford’s Board of Trustees voted to divest its $18.7 billion endowment from 100 coal mining companies. FFS had originally wanted the university to divest from the 100 coal companies and the 100 oil and natural gas companies that own the largest carbon reserves.

“[Stanford] chose half of the list that we gave them, which we were pretty excited about and proud of Stanford for doing, but…in the long term we are absolutely pushing for full divestment,” says Peñuelas.

Peñuelas also acknowledged that FFS conducted its campaign in a relatively favorable and receptive environment. Due to the existence of APIRL, the students faced an open dialogue from the administration. Also, as a school on the West Coast, Stanford does not rely on coal to power its campus or to provide jobs in the local community. Students at most other schools have not been as fortunate in their crusades for divestment—at American University and Harvard University, some were even arrested. Peñuelas believes that Stanford’s decision will move the divestment campaign forward, both in other colleges and for the public as a whole.

“We have dozens of articles, dozens of radio shows, [and] plenty of TV coverage of this,” says Peñuelas. “The direct proximate impact of Stanford’s coal divestment is not to end the coal industry, but it’s to cause a giant conversation, which it kick-started.”

The group plans to formally request that APIRL conduct a review of oil and natural gas companies in the coming months.

Sari Amiel

GREEN YOUR SCHOOL: Project Compost, University of California—Davis

As students start getting ready to go back to school, some of them are also getting ready to embark upon a new year of greening their campuses. Green America editorial fellow Sari Amiel discovered five inspiring examples of how students are making their campuses more socially just and environmentally sustainable. Every Monday and Wednesday from August 14th through August 27th, we’ll post one of Sari’s stories here on our blog.

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The Project Compost student staff members pick up compost from around campus in an electric vehicle known as “Cyclops.”

Passionate students at UC Davis are helping their school meet its ambitious goal of being zero-waste by the year 2020. Project Compost, a student-run group, keeps an average of 2,358 pounds of organic waste—such as fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, and laboratory plants—out of landfills each week.

In many spots on campus, students sort their organic waste into special bins, and the university sends the compostables to a private industrial composting facility located 40 minutes from campus. But several campus cafes, plant laboratories, and living communities do not benefit from this service, so Project Compost diverts these venues’ organic waste away from landfills. Project Compost’s founders established the group as an official unit of the student government, so it receives funds from the university.

“The composting that we do on campus is very small-scale compared to the amount of industrial-scale composting that the university already organizes…[but] is sort of an educational way for students to see how the process works, and it also [provides mulch], the finished product, at the end,” says Noelle Patterson, the Student Unit Director of Project Compost. “A lot of the places that we divert from would not have composting if it weren’t for our services.”

Both Project Compost and UC Davis keep substantial quantities of organic waste out of landfills each year—the former collects more than a ton of waste, and the latter diverts over 100 tons.

Project Compost’s 25 student volunteers use an electric vehicle—donated by the campus coffeehouse, their largest pickup location—to carry the organic waste to a 60-foot-long compost pile. A tractor turns the entire compost pile, adding oxygen, which the microorganism decomposers need. After four to six months, the finished compost is ready to use as organic fertilizer. Project Compost distributes the compost to community members and uses some in its own vegetable garden, in which interns grow radishes, carrots, melons, and strawberries, among other plants.

This past year, Project Compost also organized 12 workshops to educate students and community members about composting and vermicomposting, which involves the decomposition of organic matter using worms. The group encourages students to try vermicomposting, which can be done in closed containers on a small scale, making it conducive to apartments and dorm rooms.

“I think that our strongest suit is in the education and awareness we bring to students and the community,” says Patterson.

Patterson also has a favorable view of the direction in which her school is headed.

“I see more compost bins popping up around campus, so UC Davis is making a lot of great strides. I think that Project Compost always has potential to expand… I would love to see the group grow.”

Sari Amiel

GREEN YOUR SCHOOL: Cornell University’s Dump and Run program

As students start getting ready to go back to school, some of them are also getting ready to embark upon a new year of greening their campuses. Green America editorial fellow Sari Amiel discovered five inspiring examples of how students are making their campuses more socially just and environmentally sustainable. Every Monday and Wednesday from now through August 27th, we’ll post one of Sari’s stories here on our blog.

Cornell's "Dump and Run" program gets items that students would normally throw away at the end of the school year into the hands of people who can use them.
Cornell’s “Dump and Run” program gets items that students would normally throw away at the end of the school year into the hands of people who can use them.

 

As each year of college draws to a close, students have to face a reality that, for months, they been avoiding—the amount of stuff that has accumulated in their rooms. With time and space in short supply, students will often throw away many still-useful items. That’s why Cornell University gives its students the ability to “Dump and Run.”

Since 2003, Cornell’s Dump and Run program has decreased its move-out waste stream by collecting unwanted items at the end of each school year and re-selling things that are still usable at the start of the next year.

“[This program is] really good in terms of keeping as much as we possibly can out of the landfill,” says Karen Brown, Cornell’s Director of Campus Life Marketing and Communications, who oversees the Dump and Run program. “And I think it’s very effective in terms of our relationship with the Ithaca community.”

Before Cornell’s residence halls close for the summer, the Campus Life office reminds students to place their unwanted items in collection boxes, which are situated in several residence halls, sororities, and fraternities around campus.  In the late spring and summer, those living in off-campus residences and homes in the community can also call Brown’s office to request pickups of their donations.

Dump and Run commonly receives refrigerators, clothing, lamps, and storage containers. Many of the donated items still contain tags, says Brown. In the past few years, she has seen a life-size inflatable palm tree, Halloween costumes, aquariums, Christmas trees, and a $700 pair of Jimmy Choo shoes.

Volunteers from local nonprofits, along with a few student volunteers, spend the summer in a 3,500-square-foot storage unit, sorting through the collection of college artifacts to separate still-usable items from things that are clearly at the end of their lives and need to be disposed of.

“We try to recycle everything that we can,” says Brown. “I’m pleasantly surprised [by] how little ends up in the landfill.”

The vast majority of the items are sold at the campus Dump and Run sale on the Saturday after freshmen move-in day. This sale is open to Cornell students and staff, as well as the general public. It’s so popular that, although the sale starts at 8:30 a.m., townspeople start arriving at 5:30 a.m. By the time the doors open, there are usually about 100 people lined up outside.

“I think this program has done a lot to help with our relationship with our surrounding town…because they really appreciate it,” says Brown. “It’s a great way to convince people to clean out their basements and garages.”

After the sale, Brown says the program distributes leftover items to nearby nonprofits that might be able to use them. Dump and Run volunteers give leftover clothes to a local women’s center, send blankets and towels to animal shelters, and donate nonperishable food to food pantries.

However, Cornell does manage to sell most of the donations it receives. It gives almost 100 percent of the proceeds from the sale to the local nonprofits that send volunteers to help with the Dump and Run program. The fraction of the sales revenue that each nonprofit receives is proportional to the number of hours that its volunteers spent working with Dump and Run. Cops, Kids & Toys, the group that helps Dump and Run the most, volunteered more than 3,000 hours last year.

One of these nonprofit groups is a student-run organization. According to former co-Chair Christina Roberti, Cornell’s Student United Way chapter uses its share of the sale revenue to fund its Summers of Service program. Summers of Service provides financially constrained high school students with a stipend so that they can afford to accept unpaid summer internships at nonprofits.

Cornell’s Campus Life office presently stores items in facilities donated by the Cornell Veterinary School. However, a lack of storage space is the largest constraint that Dump and Run faces, so students still end up throwing some still-usable items out at the end of the year.

“When we see things end up in the dumpsters and we know we can’t go get it, it’s disheartening,” says Brown. “I think if we had twice the warehouse space, we would fill it.”

From a student perspective, Roberti really appreciates the Dump and Run program.

“From my point of view, it saves a lot of waste,” says Roberti. “I just moved out of a 14-person house… Anything that wasn’t trash we donated to Dump and Run, but we probably would have thrown it out had it not been for the sale.”

—Sari Amiel

GREEN YOUR SCHOOL: The Oberlin College Ecolympics

Oberlin students take "shots" of a locally grown salad at a 2014 Ecolympics event.
Oberlin students take “shots” of a locally grown salad at a 2014 Ecolympics event.

As students get ready to go back to school, some of them are also getting ready to embark upon a new year of greening their campuses. Green America editorial fellow Sari Amiel discovered five inspiring examples of how students are making their campuses more socially just and environmentally sustainable. Every Monday and Wednesday from now through August 27th, we’ll post one of Sari’s stories here on our blog.

At Oberlin College, April brings warm breezes, vibrant flowers, and golden sunlight—as well as a spirited contest that pits one dorm against another to see which can use the fewest resources.  The Oberlin Ecolympics compares dorm-wide reductions in electricity and water use, with the most eco-savvy dorms winning prizes that include ice cream socials and infrastructure improvements, such as the installation of water refill stations.

“Ultimately, becoming sustainable will involve significant lifestyle changes on behalf of pretty much everyone,” says Oberlin Ecolympics Intern Abraham Rowe. “It’s important to have people actually attempt to make some sort of changes to their lifestyle, and then [see] what it feels like to live like that.”

Started in 2002, when several Oberlin students invented a building “dashboard” to monitor their energy and water use, the campus-wide contest takes place over three weeks. The contest is still guided by an online dashboard similar to the 2002 prototype, which monitors buildings and informs residents about their resource use. The contests also uses physical displays to keep the spirit of competition high.

Oberlin’s Office of Environmental Sustainability advertises, plans, and oversees the coordination, planning, and marketing of the campus’s Ecolympics efforts, which also involve educational events. In 2014, Oberlin’s 36 Ecolympics events included movie screenings, a local arboretum cleanup, a visit from animal rights activist Gene Bauer, and a workshop and concert hosted by a band that uses only vegetable oil to power its truck.The Office of Environmental Sustainability incentivized student attendance by rewarding the dorm that had the highest percentage of resident participation at the events.

Sustainability Coordinator Bridget Flynn says that the Ecolympics is an “extremely meaningful” competition, due to its student engagement and its tangible results: In 2014, Oberlin trimmed its electricity use during the event by 13,182 kWh, which saved $1,054, and the campus reduced its overall water use by 55,889 gallons, or $559. Rowe values Ecolympics because, once the contest is over, electricity and water use continue to decrease across campus, he says.

In addition, the competition has infected the city of Oberlin, whose public schools held their first resource reduction in conjunction with Ecolympics in 2014. One public school reduced its electricity use by 36.7 percent, an impressive feat given that only 50 to 60 percent of average US building’s electricity use is discretionary, or under the control of the building’s occupants.

Ecolympics is no longer confined to Oberlin’s borders. The students who first invented the Ecolympics dashboard went on to found the Lucid Design Group, which develops resource-monitoring building software for small businesses and Fortune 500 companies alike. In 2010, Lucid helped make this contest national. Called the Campus Conservation Nationals competition, it runs every spring at 119 colleges and universities across the country. Oberlin participates each year, and simultaneously continues to run its dorm-wide contest. Last year, the Campus Conservation Nationals judges ranked Oberlin as a “top-five water reducer.”

Both Rowe and Flynn advise schools that are interested in Ecolympics to check out the many resources that Campus Conservation Nationals offers. Environmental Dashboard Project Leader Danny Rosenberg, a 2012 Oberlin graduate, stresses the importance of involving the entire student body in the competition. “Try to tie [the competition] in with a broader effort to engage the college community on sustainability,” says Rosenberg.  “Try to really build a culture around sustainability.”

—Sari Amiel

Gardeners May Be Unknowingly Harming Bees

FOE-GardenersBeware2014Shared via GMO Inside.

As we transition into summer, gardeners are relishing in the explosion of flowers, fruits, vegetables, and other beautiful plants on the land. Gardeners and farmers recognize that pollinators, such as bees, are essential for growing fruits and vegetables and add plants that are supposed to attract bees. However, what many of us do not know is that many of the “bee-friendly” plants sold at many garden stores contain pesticides that actually harm and kill bees.

GMO Inside ally, Friends of the Earth, released a report today about their study showing that over half of the garden plant samples purchased at top garden retailers (Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Walmart) in 18 cities in the United States and Canada contained pesticides called neonicotinoids. More and more evidence is indicting these pesticides as one of the causes for bee colony collapse disorder. All of the samples where neonicotinoids were detected could cause sub-lethal effects (on immunity, memory, reproduction) and death in bees. Forty percent of the positive samples contained two or more neonicotinoids, and some samples contained very high levels in excess of the lethal dose for honey bees.

Also concerning is none of the plants had labels stating they contained pesticides. Therefore, people who are trying to decorate their yards, enjoy nature, help the bees, and increase pollinators might actually be unknowingly harming bees.

While “bees” often annoy us at cookouts buzzing around our food and offering a sting, we must realize those are usually not even honey bees but are yellow jackets or wasps. Honey bees are relatively docile and are extremely important to our food supply. Bees and other pollinators are essential for two-thirds of the food crops humans eat everyday such as almonds, squash, cucumbers, apples, oranges, blueberries, and peaches. One out of every three bites of food we eat is pollinated by honey bees.

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Beekeepers have lost an average of 30% of their hives in recent years, with some beekeepers losing all of their hives and many leaving the industry. Farmers are unable to meet their pollination needs for popular crops such as almonds and berries. Neonicotinoids are the most widely used class of insecticides in the world (manufactured by Bayer and Syngenta) and are increasingly implicated for bee deaths. These insecticides can kill bees outright and make them more vulnerable to pests, pathogens, and other stressors while impairing their foraging and feeding abilities, reproduction, and memory. Neonicotinoids are widely used in the US on 140 crops and for cosmetic use in gardens. They can last in soil, water, and the environment for months to years to come.

The European Union realizes the importance of bees and the danger of neonicotinoids and has put a two-year suspension on the most widely used neonicotinoids in an effort to protect bees. A majority of the UK’s largest garden retailers have already voluntarily stopped selling neonicotinoids. Here in the US, at least 10 nurseries, landscaping companies, and retailers are taking steps to eliminate bee-harming pesticides from their garden plants and their stores. More than half a million people have signed petitions demanding that Lowe’s and Home Depot to stop selling neonicotinoids. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has received more than a million public comments urging swift protections for bees. US Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D, Ore.) and John Conyers (D, Mich.) introduced the “Saving America’s Pollinators Act” to suspend the use of neonicotinoids until the EPA reviews all of the available data. It has 65 cosponsors and is a bi-partisan bill.

Take Action

You can help the bees and our food.

  • Demand that Home Depot, Lowe’s, and other retailers stop selling pesticides and plants pre-treated with pesticides that are poisoning bees.
  • Urge Congress and EPA to act to protect bees.
  • Buy organic or from farms using Integrated Pest Management (IPM) since organic farming supports 50% more pollinator species than conventional, chemical-intensive agriculture.
  • Start plants from seeds that are open-pollinated, have not been treated with pesticides, or choose organic plants for your garden. Get bee-friendly gardening tips at www.BeeAction.org and www.garden4bees.com.
  • Avoid the use of systemic bee-toxic pesticides in your garden by using alternative approaches such as providing habitat to attract beneficial insects that prey on pest insects in your garden. If pest pressure is too high, you can use insecticidal soaps or oils and other eco-friendly pest-control products. Get more tips and resources at www.BeeAction.org and www.garden4bees.com.

 

 

Shared via GMO Inside.

Growing Cities: A film about urban farming in America

Growing Cities, a new documentary film about urban farming in America has the opportunity to be broadcast on PBS nationwide this fall — if the filmmakers can raise the funds to make the broadcast possible.

InGrowing Cities, filmmakers Dan Susman and Andrew Monbouquette travel the country, visiting everything from rooftop farms to backyard chicken coops. They discover urban farming is about more than simply good food. It’s about growing stronger and more vibrant communities, too.

Growing Cities has been an official selection at more than 25 film festivals and screened in more than 200 communities worldwide. A national PBS broadcast would give the film exposure in millions of homes across the nation.

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The hurdle the filmmakers now face is to raise $30,000 to sponsor the film’s airing nationally on public television this fall.

“We are so thrilled for this opportunity,” Susman said. “We’d love to continue encouraging people to plant a seed and grow wherever they are. But we need help. We’re young independent filmmakers, so we really depend on others to get this message out there.” They’re enlisting help across the globe by running a Kickstarter project. Their project, which launched June 9, will run for 30 days. It’s the second Kickstarter the team has run; the first, in 2012, was the most successful Kickstarter project ever run in Omaha, NE.

Since Kickstarter is all or nothing, the project must meet its goal of $30,000 by July 9 for the filmmakers to receive any of the funds pledged.

“If this Kickstarter is successful,” Susman said, “we believe this is the chance to spread the Good Food Movement further than ever.”

Learn more about their Kickstarter here. The film must raise $30k in 30 days.