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Earth Week plants seeds of change

Week of events highlights year-round initiatives, aims to inspire change through food, art, film

As students enjoy the sunny weather, this year’s Earth Week aims to celebrate sustainability efforts at Brown and educate community members about how to contribute. With events such as a solar panel demonstration, trash sorting, composting, bike rides, panel discussions and film screenings, the Earth Week committee hopes to “make sustainability accessible to everyone” through “fun events that people will want to show up to,” said Haily Tran ’16, the committee’s coordinator.

The Earth Week committee, which includes representatives from each of emPOWER’s 10 subgroups, started organizing in December and began meeting in earnest at the beginning of the semester, said Tran, who also served as a coordinator last year.

One of the week’s main events was an eco-friendly dinner Wednesday at the Sharpe Refectory. The event featured a local and seasonal menu, a mozzarella-stretching demonstration by Narragansett Creamery and presentations by food-focused student groups as well as eco-friendly vendors who supply food for Dining Services. Approximately 305 pounds of compost were collected at the event.

The dinner was “a celebration of the things we do year-round,” said Isabelle Aubrun ’16, a Dining Services sustainability intern. Though sustainability was highlighted at the dinner, “it’s a well-kept secret” that Dining Services takes steps to be eco-friendly throughout the year, Aubrun said, adding that she hopes students realize “there’s a very concerted effort to have good-quality food.”

So many students signed up to volunteer at the Earth Day dinner that there were not enough positions for all of them, said Meggie Patton, academic and student engagement coordinator at the Office of Energy and Environment, who served as an adviser and helped with logistics for Earth Week. The situation was “the greatest problem to have,” she added.

Dining Services and the Sustainable Food Initiative also sponsored a dinner special called “Turn Down for Wheatberry” at the Blue Room Monday, Aubrun said. The dish — which included local vegetables, grains and all-natural meat — may become a permanent feature at the Blue Room or the Ratty, she said.

Events focused on food can reach a wide segment of the Brown community, Aubrun said, adding, “Food is a pretty big unifier.”

Though “it’s easy to get bogged down in the negatives” when talking about environmental issues, SuFI tried to “keep things positive,” said Rosie Kissel ’17, a SuFI representative on the committee. “Food is one thing you can get people excited about.”

Earth Week’s other large event is a community fair on the Main Green Sunday. Both student groups and community groups from Providence and Rhode Island will be present. In addition to education, the fair will provide “zero-carbon fun and relaxation” through music performances and the inclusion of other groups such as the Brown University Relaxation Project, Tran said.

By inviting community groups, the committee hopes to “integrate campus sustainability to local sustainability,” Tran said. “There’s a lot of overlapping issues between the Providence community and the Brown community.”

Getting some community organizations to attend the fair posed a challenge since many had other events planned for Earth Week, but the groups that attended last year were happy to return, Tran said.

The week’s kickoff event — a seedling giveaway for faculty and staff — had to be rescheduled for Wednesday due to rain Monday, she said. But the rescheduling did not hurt the week’s momentum, she added.

Coordinators also faced the challenge of scheduling and reserving space amidst the many other events happening on campus this week, including A Day on College Hill, the Social Enterprise Economic Ecosystem Development summit and the Brown Folk Festival, Tran said. But the Earth Week committee established good relationships with those groups and has been able to share space with SEEED and help the Folk Festival with sustainability, she said. ADOCH coordinators also plan to work with the Earth Week committee next year to make their events eco-friendly, she said.

Earth Week helps the University reach its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 42 percent from 2007 levels by 2020, Patton said. So far, emissions have decreased 26 percent, largely through eco-friendly renovations and other infrastructure improvements, but “a huge part of our energy footprint comes from people occupying the buildings,” she said. Earth Week encourages the “behavior change, engagement component of energy use,” she added.

The committee strove to make the entire planning process environmentally friendly, said Kissel. Most of the promotion for the week’s events was done online to save paper, and the committee decided not to order T-shirts because it could not find a green producer, she said.

“We hear a lot of doom and gloom” about the environment, said Maya Faulstich-Hon ’17, a SCRAP representative and committee member. But Earth Week is “a celebration of this planet that we live on,” she said. The week’s goal is “turning the focus of sustainability away from the problems and more toward the solutions,” she added.

The committee also hopes that Earth Week will educate students and prompt them to change their behavior. The events aim to “create those moments that really get people to consider their own personal impact and what they can do,” Patton said.

“There’s a lot of things that we do as people on a day-to-day basis that really have huge impacts,” said Bailey McLaughlin ’17, a SCRAP representative and committee member. “Everybody is capable of changing for the better.”


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