Earlier this year, Muhlenberg College was awarded the STARS Gold rating for its commitment to sustainability on campus–a combined effort made by both the college faculty and its students.
The award is given through the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), which recognizes the accomplishments of colleges and universities through its Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) awards.
Through its self-reporting framework, STARS encourages an integration of sustainability in higher education institutions. With over 930 participating institutions across the world, it has become the most widely recognized international standard for higher education sustainability.
One key player on campus that has contributed to the award has been the Muhlenberg Environmental Action Team (EnAcT), a student-run organization that educates the campus on sustainability and environmental issues. Through projects and programs, the club has helped students better understand their ecological impact.
“EnAcT does so much on campus to promote sustainability, such as educating the campus on important issues, holding documentary screenings and putting on Earth Day celebrations to name just a few,” says Natalie Warhit ‘19, former president of the club.
While a sustainability intern for the college’s dining hall, Warhit helped to create a strong connection between Dining Services and EnAcT.
“This connection has allowed for great collaboration that has lead to incredible projects including efforts to reduce food waste, form connections with local farms and promote the reduction of the consumption of meat and other animal products” explains Warhit.
Students can see this collaboration every day at the dining hall. Joining forces, EnAcT and Dining Services created the “Think Before You Sip” program to switch plastic straws to sustainably produced paper straws.
“Currently, the use of paper straws in the U.S. is generally not an accepted practice,” wrote Peter Stark, Operational Manager for Muhlenberg College Dining Services, in a submission to the AASHE for award credit. “Since the inception of the program, we have seen a reduction campus-wide in the number of straws that are being used by our customers.”
Though plastic straws may seem harmless, the United States uses them at an alarming 500 million every day, according to the National Park Service. And due to their small size, straws are less likely to be recycled, landing them into the ocean, ultimately harming marine life.
In response to these dangers, cities like Seattle have banned straws all together. Therefore, campus programs like these have become part of the national effort to decrease waste.
And while EnAcT continues to promote sustainability on campus, Warhit believes students can also make an impact. “Students can recycle, take shorter showers, turn lights and heat off when you’re not in the room and reduce (or better yet eliminate) their consumption of meat and other animal products,” says Warhit.
Looking toward the future, EnAcT continues to be excited about creating a more environmentally conscious campus through events like Earth Day, an annual festival open to the public where vendors and clubs get to promote the holiday.
“We are also planning to start composting around campus and work with the Garden Club,” says Isabel Kaufman ‘21, the current president of EnAcT. She says the club wants to continue the collaboration with Dining Services to expand Meatless Mondays and the Spring Farmer’s Market. “We can’t wait!”