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Students take lead on environmental initiatives

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This is the second article in a series that The Daily will be publishing this week on environmentalism, showcasing various sustainability efforts across campus.

“Stanford is a living lab of sustainability,” said President Marc Tessier Lavigne in a statement within the 2018-19 annual Sustainability at Stanford report. 

As the University continues to work towards its commitments to environmentalism, such as the project to reach 100% renewable electricity by 2021 and make Stanford a zero-waste campus by 2030, students remain at the forefront of the movement. The 2019 Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS) report ranked Stanford at number two internationally, exemplifying the continued commitment to sustainability on campus.

Organizations and individuals are engaging with sustainability through activism, engineering, agriculture and service initiatives. The Daily spoke with six student groups and individuals to gage their vision for a more sustainable Stanford, and how they are mobilizing students to go green. 

Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW)

Formed in 2003, ESW welcomes students from all majors to work on projects that aim to alleviate global poverty and promote sustainability through engineering. Through local and international partnerships, ESW works to raise awareness for and solve problems relating to conservation and environmentalism. 

“The vision for ESW is to provide a space for students to expand their engineering skills by focusing on real-world sustainability issues and developing solutions,” said Adam Nayak ’22, president of ESW. 

Nayak emphasized the organization’s aim of providing student engineers with hands-on experience in the field of sustainable engineering through partnerships with environmental organizations and service-learning opportunities. For example, the club’s annual international projects include opportunities for students to work on interdisciplinary endeavors within archaeology, international development and biodiversity.

“My involvement in ESW has helped me pair my passion for the environment with my interest in engineering,” Nayak said. 

Stanford Solar Car

A student-run non-profit organization, Stanford Solar Car designs, builds and races solar cars to raise awareness for environmentally sustainable technology, primarily clean energy vehicles. Founded in 1989, Solar Car competes in international competitions and challenges to give members hands-on experience with sustainable engineering.

“The Stanford Solar Car Project aims to provide students with the hands-on experience and broader insight they need to become dynamic engineering and business leaders in the automotive and energy industries,” said Cori Brendel ’20, the SSCP team lead.

“The Solar Car members are some of the most passionate folks I’ve ever met … I want to find a workplace community as inspired and driven as my solar car teammates to tackle environmental challenges via technology,” Brendel added.

Stanford Food Recovery

Stanford Food Recovery (SFR) works to reduce food waste on campus and alleviate food insecurity in the Bay Area. SFR primarily works to recover food on-campus that would otherwise be wasted, and redistribute it to those in need in the local community. 

Through partnerships with the dining hall recovery efforts and local non-profit food truck A La Carte, SFR coordinates the pickup of leftover food from large campus events and redistributes it to food-insecure individuals at locations throughout the local area.

“I enjoy volunteering as a member of SFR because I can see the immediate impact of the work I am doing,” SFR member Kana Cummings ’22 said.

Cummings emphasized the importance of acknowledging food waste across campus. In particular, the ongoing visibility of graduate student food insecurity led SFR to pilot Sunday dinners for the grad student community consisting of self-op leftovers.

Cummings also appealed to students to minimize their everyday food waste. 

“I really encourage people to only take what they plan to eat in the dining halls,” Cummings said. “All of the leftover dining hall food is weighed and tracked … if there is a noticeable decrease in demand, the dining hall will adjust its production, leading to less food waste.”

Sustainable dining 

“Food is an exciting focus within sustainability because it is such a personal issue for all of us,” said R&DE sustainability intern Benji Reade Malagueno ’22. Reade Malagueno, who has been interested in agriculture and sustainability since childhood, was drawn to Stanford in part because of its dedication to environmentalism and sustainability. 

As a sustainability intern, Reade Malagueno assists with R&DE food donation and waste programs. In particular, he co-organized the pilot program of a new food packaging system that donates excess food to charities in the Bay Area and taught a one-unit seminar on understanding connections between food and the environment.

“R&DE is definitely responding to student activism,” Reade Malagueno said. “In the end, student demand is really what drives what the dining halls serve.”

Clara Kieschnick ’22 takes a more informal approach to sustainability. Her passion for environmentalism, particularly the elimination of single-use plastics, inspired her to create her Instagram account, @clara.metalstraws, which is dedicated to spreading awareness for metal straws. “It started off just for kicks,” Kieschnick said. “But I’ve had a lot of my friends buy metal straws now.” 

Kieschnick emphasized her concern about the vast quantity of plastic straws used for coffee and boba consumption in the Bay Area. She hopes that by publicizing the use of metal straws, she will prompt students to consider the impact of their daily consumption on the planet, and invest in reusable items.

“I know it’s a very small thing,” Kieschnick said of the account. “But hopefully it opens up a door to something bigger so people understand the impact of their small actions.”

Engaging students 

When asked for advice to implement environmentalism into everyday life, these organizations and individuals emphasized the impact of diet, one-use plastics and food waste on the environment. 

“People vastly underestimate the impact of our diet on the planet,” Reade Malagueno said. “Small decisions like what you have for lunch can truly make a difference in the long run.”

Cummings encouraged students that its more eco-friendly to use what they have rather than necessarily buy the organic, cruelty-free, biodegradable version of everything. 

“The best way to minimize your impact on the planet is to stop buying more stuff so you don’t contribute to all of the energy that is needed to produce and transport goods,” she concluded.

Brendel encourages students to use the resources available to them at Stanford in order to engage with sustainability and conservation efforts. She emphasized the importance of initiatives undertaken by the student body to educate and raise awareness for the environment and climate change.

“There’s nothing more important than taking care of our planet,” Brendel said. “Working to better our environment and world is everyone’s responsibility.”

 Contact Brooke Beyer at bbeyer ‘at’ stanford.edu

Brooke Beyer '22 is a Desk Editor for the News section. She is originally from Los Altos, California but grew up in London and Singapore. Brooke is studying International Relations and English, with a focus on history and human rights.