SUNY Oswego's Iced Coffee Implementation Causes Sustainability Concerns

When the dining hall facilities on SUNY Oswego’s campus introduced iced coffee during last fall, students were ecstatic. But there was a select group who saw this implementation as a threat to the campus’s efforts on sustainability.

One of these students was Omar van Reenen, president-elect of Oswego’s student association (SA), who argued that the new plastic cups being used for the iced coffee, were thwarting the university’s dedication to living more eco-friendly.

“The plastic in the cups from the dining halls are made from crude oil, and crude oil is a non-renewable resource,” said van Reenen. “The cups are not sustainable, so it was a big issue for a lot of students. And it wasn’t just one or two of them. It was at least 16 or more.”

The office of sustainability at Oswego aims to maintain the campus’ responsibility to encourage students to develop more sustainable practices. Using clean energy, combating excessive food waste and decreasing the amount of plastic used on campus, as van Reenen and other students tried doing by protesting the plastic cups, are a few of the efforts the office advocates for.

“We want to make [students] more aware of their impact on the planet, more aware of the bigger picture,” said Jamie Adams, the sustainability office’s programming coordinator. “Sustainability is not just about the environment. It’s about water equity, food equity, the way we handle our economy, and so many other things.”

The office puts on various programs throughout the academic year, aiming to motivate students to become more sustainable in their daily lives. Some of the most popular programs include tap-in, which encourages students to decrease the amount of plastic waste from water bottles.

To further inspire students, the tap-in program has barcode stickers that students can put on their water bottles. Each time their water bottles are refilled, they can scan the barcode on the sticker, which earns them points. Once they reach 500 points, they receive a prize.

“Those small acts like tap-in can lead to bigger movements, like having less plastic being put into landfills,” said Theresa Personna, a public relations major and the public relations intern for the sustainability office.

While there are many ideas and projects in the works for the sustainability’s office within the next couple of years, Adams’ focus for the upcoming fall semester was the expansion of Oswego’s bike share program.

The current program allows students to rent out a bike for the semester. It aims to decrease the campus’s carbon footprint by avoiding transportation modes that burn fossil fuels.

Due to popular demand over the bike share program, Adams and the rest of the sustainability office workers are implementing a dockless bike share this fall, similar to New York City’s Citi Bike system.

“We are going to put bikes all over campus and students can hop on the app to find the nearest bike,” said Adams. “They find it, log on the bike by scanning its barcode, and for a dollar an hour, they can ride the bike anywhere on campus and off.”

Adams expressed that she hopes to do more in the future at the sustainability office, such as tackling Oswego’s food waste issue and providing better training to residence hall recycling technicians. However, as a smaller team, Adams said, it is difficult to accomplish the office’s set goals. But as they began to hire interns, she has seen the program expand.

Nathalie Pena, a journalism and French major and the web editor intern for sustainability’s office, explained what she liked most about Oswego’s sustainability office is that it primarily consists of student interns, with the exception of Adams and her colleague Mike Lotito.

“It’s mostly run by students, for students,” said Pena. “We’re essentially the familiar faces you get to see encouraging others to be more sustainable.”

The office of sustainability was created in 2012 after President Deborah F. Stanley signed the American college and university president’s climate commitment (ACUPCC) in 2007. The commitment, which Stanley was a signatory of, aimed to make Oswego carbon neutral by 2050, according to Adams.

After Stanley created a team to create an environmentally sustainable team, the committee members decided to create a two-part office on sustainability, which included Adams’ role as programming coordinator alongside engineering coordinator, Mike Lotito.

“Mike handles all of the engineering aspects of the office,” said Adams. “So one of the first parts of my job is to take that information and make sure it is disseminated out to make sure it makes sense to students, faculty, and staff.”

The second part of Adams’ position is not just to educate students on sustainable practices, she said. It is to provide students with resources and information that they can also take home with them, and apply in their everyday lives.

“We want to make [students] more aware of their impact on the planet, more aware of the bigger picture,” said Adams. “Sustainability is not just about the environment. It’s about water equity, food equity, the way we handle our economy, and so many other things.”

Adams said that while the office’s goal is to change behaviors in the long run, what makes the sustainability office successful is that all of their efforts are suggestive to students.

“Essentially, our motto is if something strikes you as being a concern, here is a way to go about solving it,” said Adams. “Rather than just bossing people around, we really like to empower the students.”

van Reenen and the 180 students who signed a petition to address the concern for the plastic cups are just a few of these students empowered by Adams, Lotito and their team of interns. While the petition presented before SA was voted down, it hasn’t stopped students from fighting for sustainable practices on campus.

“I was extremely disappointed about the resolution not getting passed, but that is not going to stop [us] from continuing to advocate for this,” said van Reenen. “There is always something more we can do.”