Doubling in size and scope in just three years, the Green Teams sponsored by the PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies spread out across the Garden State this summer to tackle how industries and communities adapt and innovate greener ways of doing business. Over 10 weeks, the students engaged in hands-on projects such as installing solar panels; creating eco-friendly outreach materials; reducing food, water and material waste; analyzing greenhouse gas emissions data; mapping potential electric bus routes; and connecting investments with global sustainable development goals set by the United Nations.
As they made final presentations, Anne L. Kelly, senior director of policy and BICEP Network at Ceres, a sustainability nonprofit, remarked on the disconnect between the students’ work to save the planet and ongoing global calamities – wildfires, melting glaciers and sweltering heat. “What a summer it’s been to be talking about sustainability issues,” she observed.
A few weeks earlier, “the young people in green,” as Amina Mohammed, the Secretary-General of the United Nations described them, drew her attention during welcoming remarks to officially open a session at the High Level Political Forum on global sustainability partnerships.
Montclair State University was represented by Amy Tuininga, the Institute’s director, who joined diplomats, UN officials and education experts sharing experiences and strategies on a Higher Education Sustainability Initiative panel.
The Green Teams based at Montclair State, she said, research, innovate and offer creative approaches to catalyze and propel forward sustainability efforts in a growing number of Fortune 500 companies, nonprofits and cities in New Jersey. In turn, students learn valuable skills in team work, professional project management and delivery that increases their value as future employees. “This is definitely a partnered, collective effort and we are grateful to all who participate,” Tuininga said.
Sixty students took part in the 2018 Green Teams, coming from 18 different colleges and bringing with them diverse interests and majors, from STEM to business and graphic arts. The paid internships are supported by the PSEG Foundation, academic and corporate partners and a grant from the National Science Foundation and offered in partnership with New Jersey Higher Education Partnership for Sustainability.
Students were assigned to the City of Newark, Earth Friendly Products, Hackensack Meridian Health, Hydrogen House Project, Jersey City, New Jersey American Water, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, NJ TRANSIT, Prudential, PSEG, Stryker and SUEZ North America.
The opportunities, said Peace Biyibioku, a rising senior and finance major at Montclair State, “opened my eyes to ways I can do my part to produce less waste and save water, and also how I can use my career and ideas to make the planet better.”
The students’ work across New Jersey included promoting low-carbon transportation policies, expanding clean energy incentives, recycling programs and basic energy efficiency measures. They met one-on-one with city residents and small businesses to find green connections, whether environmentally, economically or socially. They pulled invasive plant species from a watershed. At a home that runs entirely on electricity generated from the sun and stored hydrogen, students rewired solar panels, learning to use new tools and technologies.
For Lauren Willett, a Montclair State senior majoring in sustainability, the trip to the UN was especially empowering. “It definitely gave the teams confidence in our projects,” she said.
As they move forward with their college and career plans, mentors urged the Green Teams to continue on this path. “Whatever aspect of your career, find what you are passionate about,” said Jason Kliwinski, CEO of Green Building Center in Lambertville, a guest lecturer. “Find your core competency and then ‘green’ that.”