As the novel coronavirus pandemic shifts daily routines and habits, environmental scientists are facing new questions: Will emissions from automobiles increase if people use public transportation less post-COVID-19? Will public transit survive? Will everyone now plant gardens at home and compost their food and garden scraps? How is the virus exacerbating the disparities caused by environmental racism and access to technology?
Montclair State faculty, staff and students – working with Student Life and University Facilities and in collaboration with the PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies (PSEG ISS) – have been tackling these questions in addition to developing stronger and more aligned green efforts across campus.
Meanwhile, they’ve also been working to create virtual programming for the 50th Annual Earth Day taking place April 22 as well as to launch a campus-wide sustainability website.
“We’ve done a lot to build Montclair State’s reputation for sustainability by aligning our efforts,” says Amy Tuininga, director of PSEG ISS. “We stand to gain a lot by sharing our resources.”
Early in April, PSEG ISS (@pseg_iss) got Earth Month observances underway with SIP – Swift and Intentional Progress – Talks.
“The SIP Talks are offered via Zoom and led by individuals who are making a difference and making our planet a better place,” explains Tuininga. “The talks last approximately 5-10 minutes, with speakers addressing key issues related to Earth Day, particularly in the context of COVID-19, and participants are welcome to share thoughts and to ask the speakers questions, altogether lasting 30 minutes.”
“It connotes a short sip of something warm, nourishing and inviting,” adds Tuininga, “offering a brief conversation every evening between undergrads, grad students, professors, retirees, community members, and business leaders.”
Topics and speakers have included Matthew Rivas (NJ Department of Environmental Protection) and Fatou Dieng (Ansell Healthcare Products LLC) discussing “Recycling and PPE”; Dawn Lerman, Director of Fordham’s Center for Positive Marketing; Lou Troiano, founder and owner of Foam Cycle; and Michael A. Cohen, professor of International Affairs and director of the Doctoral Program in Public and Urban Policy at The New School speaking on Smart Cities and Innovation in Urban Sustainability.
Tuininga explained that she herself has learned a few things through the SIP Talks. “I was concerned about not recycling all the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and I found out that all biohazardous materials are burned. So that’s a different environmental impact to consider.”
Upcoming SIP Talks topics include Climate Change & COVID-19 (April 21), Food Security, Composting & Community Gardens (April 22), Waste Management – Plastics & Composting (April 23), and Transportation & Emissions (April 24). All PSEG ISS Earth Month events, including SIP Talks, can be found on the PSEG ISS calendar at montclair.edu/pseg-sustainability-institute/earth-month-calendar.
In addition, Tuininga is encouraging all to sign up for the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network 24-hour Earth Day “Happiness and Sustainability Around the Earth” celebration on April 22.
PSEG ISS is also working to reschedule a presentation on 5 Things to Tackle Climate Change by Ralph Izzo, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Public Service Enterprise Group Incorporated (PSEG) that was originally to take place on campus on April 16.
Along with PSEG ISS, other University partners in the Earth Day celebrations include the Office of Commuter Life, the Center for Student Involvement, the Office of Greek Life, Campus Recreation, Annual Giving and Alumni Engagement, the Office for Social Justice and Diversity, Student Communication, 90.3 WMSC Radio, and Residence Life.
The campus community can find virtual Earth Day events ranging from DIY Earth Day crafts to Environmental Bingo to Instagram story Q&As and online gardening tutorials by searching #EarthDay50 and #RedHawkEarthDay.
Antonio Talamo, coordinator of Commuter Life and Student Life Service Desks, became involved in virtual Earth Day planning through his work on the University’s announcement to reduce reliance on single-use plastic water bottles, originally targeted for an on-campus Earth Day rollout.
“Commuter Life events usually take place in person and on campus; however, due to circumstances we’ve moved all programs virtually. To promote our new and reconfigured Earth Day events, we’ve turned to social media which has helped us reach more students than ever before,” says Talamo.
Through his sustainability work, says Talamo, he’s learned so much. For instance, he first became aware of the term “environmental racism” while working with Hamal Strayhorn, director of the Office of Social Justice and Diversity, to plan for the University’s virtual Earth Day. As shared by Strayhorn, environmental racism refers to the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on communities of color (think placement of garbage incinerators and toxic waste sites, the concentration of highway-generated pollution, etc.).
“I was intrigued by Social Justice’s topic of environmental racism which I was unaware of,” related Talamo. “I’m so glad I know this now. I love the diversity of the programming.”
Finally, University Communications and Marketing has been leading the effort to launch a new campus-wide Sustainability website. Project Coordinator Ariana Leyton explains that the site will act as a “sustainability hub,” with links to PSEG ISS, the Campus Community Garden, Facilities and Green Building, the Environmental Club, and more.
The site will launch with the announcement of the University’s new reduction of single-use plastics initiative.
“All this information existed before,” says Leyton, “but now it will be gathered in one place for ease of access and better promotion. It’s a testament to the University’s dedication to sustainability at all levels.”
University sustainability resources and programs can now be found at montclair.edu/sustainability.
Story by staff writer Mary Barr Mann.