Lacey Raak head of sustainability at CSUMB shares about reducing waste

By Jessenya Guerra
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Here at California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) we have an entire department dedicated to the sustainability of our school. When I first came to this campus I was attracted by the environmental consciousness that all of the students and faculty had. However when we look closer at our school there is so much more that we could be doing in order to create a more sustainable campus.

The Lutrinae reached out to Lacey Raak, the head of sustainability here at CSUMB to see what more students could be doing to help our campus move towards being more sustainable.

The Lutrinae: What does sustainability mean to you?

“I get asked this a lot and I never answer it exactly the same, which I think captures how many people feel about the term sustainability. It means a lot of different things to different people and as each of us grow and deepen our experience through life-long learning it continues to evolve.”

“However, sustainability for me has always been about a connection to our natural world and to each other.  It is about responsible care and consideration for people and earth systems. I have always been passionate about helping those that may not be able to advocate for themselves – for whatever reason and for however long – that includes nature, groups of people and animals.  To me it is a lens through which to view the world, one that is considerate of more than myself.”

“When I think about this question in the context of being the Sustainability Director at CSUMB it is also about organizational support. I want to support the campus community, enhance student learning and the well-being of all our community members by improving the built and natural environment of the campus and by creating opportunities for student engagement and leadership.”

The Lutrinae: Why is it important for the campus to value sustainability?

“In simplest terms it means the campus considers the impact to the local and global environment when it makes business decisions and it also means it supports (through education, engagement and awareness) it supports individual behavior change to support environmentally and socially conscience decision making.”

“Sustainability is a lens by which to measure so much more about the health of an organization than the traditional enrollment numbers or fiscal well-being. Sustainability includes things like incorporating LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) building standards and Living Community Goals, which can enhance the built environment to support student learning.”

The Lutrinae: How can activities like the school clean up day be helpful for the environment?

“Activities like this are beneficial on multiple levels – first and foremost it removes harmful debris from our natural areas, both land and water. It also helps promote a sense of community.  It is a shared responsibility to care for our campus.”

“My hope is that this inspires more people to stop while walking between classes or meetings to pick up litter they might come across on a day-to-day basis. Seeing someone be aware and act on that awareness will be contagious.  If I see someone stop and pick up a straw or a bag, I will be more likely to do the same.”

The Lutrinae: How can individual students help achieve sustainability on a daily or regular basis?

“I like to think of this as a continuum.  At one end is a person driving a hummer and through their single-use plastic out the window on the other end is a person organizing a beach clean-up and going outside to hug a tree everyday.  The truth is most of us fall in the middle. What I want to encourage every single person on our campus to do is to consider where they are now and what is one additional step they can take towards living a life that is mindful of impacts.”

“I also fall somewhere in the middle…but everyday I try to do more.  I have the reusable bags and the no-straw thing down, I have now begun trying to eliminate plastic from my bathroom and kitchen.  This is hard, but I’m learning so much and saving a lot of money. I now use shampoo bars instead of plastic shampoo bottles. I buy grocery staples in bulk whenever I can. I also say ‘no thanks’ more than I ever have. No to plastic toys for my kids, no to strawberries that come in a plastic clamshell, no to straws and bottles of water offered to me, etc.”

“To answer you question on what students can do, students can do the same things as everyone. The first step for most is awareness. Know where your clothes and purchased goods come from, think about if that $5 t-shirt really captures the cost of the materials used to make it, the person’s wages and healthcare to make it and the shipping of it over an ocean. Think about needs vs. wants and be mindful.”

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