Deacs Go Green: The Truth Behind Wake Forest’s Sustainability Efforts

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Since its establishment in 2009, Wake Forest’s Office of Sustainability has been the lead actor in implementing and maintaining eco-friendly features around campus, while raising awareness about environmental issues that affect students, such as energy consumption and waste management.

Recent initiatives and the reestablishment of student led groups, such as the “Greeks Go Green” council, have worked to inform students about more environmentally friendly behaviors that they can adopt and to answer questions students may have about the school’s sustainability efforts.

Sophomore Sara Cecere is a Greek-life representative for the Office of Sustainability and noted how some of the biggest challenges facing the organization’s continued progress are the common misconceptions that many students hold about sustainable practices, such as the impact of recycling.

“A big [misconception] that has been brought to our attention is that many students believe that Wake Forest doesn’t recycle,” said Cecere. “We are actually very committed to recycling and it’s a very technical process.”  

Student’s lack of awareness of Wake’s eco-friendly efforts threatens the progress made by the Office of Sustainability and other organization’s efforts in increasing energy efficiency and reducing waste, which contributed to the school’s Silver rating in 2015 for campus sustainability from the AASHE, one of the highest national environmental awards a higher education institute can receive.

On March 23rd, Chief Sustainability Officer, Dedee Johnston, spoke to several journalism classes about the truth behind the complexity and sophistication of Wake’s recycling system. She also emphasized how important and easy it is for students to contribute to the sustainability of the school, even on a small scale.

“Sustainability is not about reducing comfort; it’s about being more efficient,” Johnston said.

She explained that all recycling units are organized by a uniform color coded system so that students, faculty and custodians can clearly distinguish between the different wastes. Once in the bins, all recyclable material is then stored in clear plastic bags, while all non-recyclable material is put into black trash bags, so that the janitorial staff can clearly distinguish between the two. 

Part of the confusion for many students and staff members that may lead them to believe that this material is not recycled is that all of these bags are stored in the same carts before they are shipped off to their designated locations.

While all of these bags are temporarily placed into the same carts, Johnston assured students that the waste management staff carefully separates recycled material from non-recyclable material, so that all recycled items can be shipped off to a recycling center in Greensboro, where their machines sort through material that can be repurposed and sold for profit.

Although 55 percent of all recycled material from campus is repurposed, Cecere mentioned that with the majority of student’s lack of knowledge about the school’s recycling system, students often do not know what they can and cannot recycle, so many items are not properly disposed of.

“Advice I would give to students is to be mindful about what you recycle,” said Cecere.

“Another one of our initiatives is to reduce food waste in dining halls. It’s actually a bigger problem than you think.”

In addition to recycling and waste management, the sustainability office and Campus Kitchen are currently working towards reducing food waste through compositing or donation of leftovers. In fact, 100 percent of all plate waste from the North Dining Hall is pre-composted, which not only reduces physical waste, but eventually adds nutrition back into the environment, according to Johnston.

The Office of Sustainability, Campus Kitchen, and other environmental groups have all seen significant progress over the years and hope to continue reduce Wake’s carbon footprint by informing students about proper recycling procedures through their website and by continuing to recruit student involvement.

In reflection of Johnston’s lecture and a class discussion about Wake’s efforts towards sustainability, journalism professor, Justin Catanoso, said small adjustments in behavior, such as checking recycling labels, eliminating plastic bag use or taking shorter showers “are things that add up in the aggregate” to create a more sustainable school.

“Mother nature doesn’t care about what we think, it just responds to what we do,” Catanoso said.

To learn more about the logistics of Wake’s recycling system, view or to find more ways to get involved in our school’s sustainability efforts, visit


Photo courtesy of Haley Callicott.