Sustainability Slammer gathers UMass sustainability and environmental groups

Environmental advocates gathered to promote environmental change


Ana Pietrewicz

By McKenna Premus, Collegian columnist

On Wednesday, Feb. 12, representatives from on-campus sustainability and environmental groups tabled and advertised their organizations during the Sustainability Slammer in the University of Massachusetts Campus Center.

Some of the attending groups included Sustainable UMass, UMass Environmental Community Outreach Club, Sunrise Movement UMass Amherst, MASSPIRG, UMass Amherst Eco-Rep and the UMass Society of American Foresters Student Chapter. The event provided members of the campus community with the opportunity to learn about how the organizations promote sustainable living both on and off campus, as well as how to get involved in promoting a more environmentally friendly school community.

Andrea Papa, a senior political science major, is the secretary of sustainability within the Student Government Association and oversees all sustainability groups on campus.

“I hope to see sustainability be more accessible to people,” said Papa. “I’m trying to work on getting more compost bins around campus so that can be something that’s more accessible to people. I’m also looking at different waste reduction methods on campus. I know when I go to Blue Wall, I see a million receipts everywhere, and I’d like to look into reducing that waste.”

In addition to helping organize this year’s Sustainability Slammer, Sustainable UMass helps coordinate New2U, a program that “collects unwanted items each spring during move-out and resells these collected items each fall during move-in,” according to the Sustainable UMass website.

Siobhan Moynihan, a senior natural resources conservation major, is one of the leaders of Eco Club, a recently formed group that helps volunteer with organizations such as the Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary and Kestrel Land Trust.

“Eco Club is in the formation of going from a caterpillar to a butterfly,” said Moynihan. “It’s a group that really tries to engage people in volunteer opportunities in the Pioneer Valley.”

The club volunteered at the Arcadia Folk Festival last semester with bike parking and waste management, and is currently working on reaching out to new students in hopes to increase involvement in more campus events and nearing Earth Day festivities.

Emma Greenlee, a sophomore political science and Spanish double major, and Melissa Meltzer, and freshman environmental science and journalism double major, represented Sunrise Movement UMass Amherst. Varshini Prakash, one of the co-founders and executive directors of the Sunrise Movement, began the organization at UMass in 2017. The UMass chapter of the national movement works “to stop climate change,” according to the Sunrise Movement website.

“We’ve gained a lot of attention recently for protest movements in the United States,” said Greenlee, referencing the Climate Strike which took place in September. “We’re an environmental justice advocacy organization, and what we’re really focused on right now is our endorsement of Bernie Sanders and the Green New Deal, which we’re really trying to get passed because there is no ‘planet b.’”

MASSPIRG, a student-run and student-funded advocacy group is currently working on a variety of environmental campaigns. Bridget Johnson, a senior history major, is the coordinator for MASSPIRG’s “Save the Bees” campaign and hopes that UMass will go “bee-friendly” by the end of the semester.

“’Save the Bees’ is currently collecting petitions to send to legislators in support of the Act to Protect Massachusetts Pollinators,” said Johnson. “If that bill gets passed, then neonicotinoids, a harmful pesticide, wouldn’t be used unless you had a license to use it.”

MASSPIRG is also aiming for UMass and the state of Massachusetts to commit to 100 percent renewable energy.

“Fossil fuels are obviously really bad for the environment and our generation is the one that has to battle climate change the most, so ‘100 % Renewable Energy’ is a really important campaign and it’s our state-wide lead campaign now,” said Livy Porter, a junior public health major. “I think the campaigns are definitely going to keep growing, and we’re potentially adding more campaigns, as well. We’re getting a lot of new interns and volunteers, which is really exciting too. I think the whole network is just growing.”

Promoting sustainability from an academic angle, Eco Rep aims to teach students about sustainability in the form of a student-taught and student-led two-credit course. A faculty advisor and a student program manager write the curriculum for the class, and a group of five to eight student facilitators teach the class. In order to teach it, students must complete the class twice before applying to be a facilitator.

“It’s a really great way for students to get involved on campus and do a series of outreaches getting involved with projects happening on campus,” said Meghan Sawtelle, a senior sustainable food and farming major. “I’d like to see more students from across campus through all majors get involved. Ideally, getting more activism involved in the class and actually organizing events instead of just supporting ones that we already know of. I think just continuing our levels of engagement and getting more people involved, it’s a great way to meet others who are interested in sustainability.”

The UMass Society of American Foresters Student Chapter also engages students in a learning environment, working with local foresters and botanists to help teach students a variety of skills, such as identifying local plants and using chainsaws. The UMass Student Chapter is looking forward to attending the upcoming 100th New England Society of American Foresters conference at the end of March.

“We’re hoping to expand on campus and spread the word that we’re here for sustainable forest management and we’re accepting people from all majors and forming a bond centered around forests and nature and land conservation,” said Gabrielle Hardyn, a senior natural resources conservation major. “If you enjoy being in the woods and you want to be part of a community, and you also love nature and love learning about it, then we’re a great club to be a part of.”

McKenna Premus is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @mckenna_premus.