In Sierra Magazine’s sustainable school ranking released in September, SF State fell in at nearly last place, taking the 182nd spot of the 202 schools on the list. Ranks were determined by looking at each school’s on-campus organizations, waste management, curriculum and transportation use.
“Our hope is that this will create a kind of virtuous feedback loop of competition,” said editor in chief of Sierra Magazine, Jason Mark. “That it will spur a sort of healthy intercollegiate competition in which schools will try to excel in order to look good on this public ranking.”
Sustainable SF State, part of the University’s office of planning and design department, works to improve the environmental condition of the University. The department introduced the three-bin system to SF State in 2012, a system that separates waste from a single trash bin into compost, recycling, and waste bins.
“We can do better,” said Nick Rodesch, SF State’s sustainability specialist who submitted SF State for ranking on the list, in an email interview. “Students and faculty and staff can help SF State be more sustainable by getting involved and connecting people to others who are working on sustainability.”
Lack of waste management in SF State’s residential spaces also negatively affects the University’s placement on the list. Many of the dorms on campus do not use the three-bin system, resulting in trash that could be recycled or composted going to landfills. With an influx of trash at the beginning and end of years, housing waste becomes an issue.
“Our current waste signage is really bad and a lot of people don’t really care,” said Amir Sahit, manager of SF State’s Environmental Resource Center. “It’s boring to look at, and we really want to have something interactive so that’s why we’re going into residential areas.”
One of the biggest setbacks for SF State’s environmental sustainability is its lack of space available for urban farming, in comparison to other schools in the country. UC Irvine was ranked number three but compared to SF State’s 141 acres, UCI has 1,526 acres.
Right behind the Mary Park residential halls is SF State’s Sol Patch ran by the Environmentally Concerned Organization of Students, an organization dedicated to promoting sustainability across all of SF State. Sol Patch is a community garden that holds educational events, socials and workshops, all with the focus of environmental awareness.
“I think that there needs to be a lot more money for sustainability projects,” said Liana Derus, environmental studies major and president of ECO Students. “We need to increase our capabilities by hiring more staff members and making sustainability a higher priority.”
Real Food Challenge is a club on campus that positively affects SF State’s ranking on the Sierra Club because of its fight for food sustainability. Real food is defined by guidelines set by RFC’s national branch, they are: local and community based foods, ecologically sound agricultural practices, humane animal treatment and fair trade among the food. The club’s goal is to reach 20 percent real food procurement by 2020 using these guidelines.
“We’re trying to get a more sustainable purchasing and procurement with vendors on campus like Sodexo,” said Clement Tsang, president of the RFC. “We want to hold dining services and vendors accountable to their purchasing practices.”
RFC works with Sodexo, the company in charge of food procurement for the dining halls on campus, by going over their inventory and invoices and looking to see where improvements can be made. Though they’re focusing on Sodexo’s procurement now, Tsang mentioned they’re also working towards examining restaurants in the Cesar Chavez Student Center.
SF State scored the highest points on their transit initiatives by providing resources like bike parking stations and free shuttles to and from the Daly City Bart station. Beginning in fall 2017 Gator Passes will become available allowing for even easier traveling along Bart and Muni lines.
Since 2013, the University has made it a requirement for all students to take an environmental sustainability class as part of its core curriculum. SF State also made history by being the first school on the West Coast, as well as the first public school, to divest from fossil fuels after its promise to end its investment in tar sands and coal.
“It’s important to note that true sustainability is not a destination it’s a process,” said Mark. “No person is ever going to get to perfect, and that’s okay.”