Green summit celebrates growing ‘culture of sustainability’

Certification for green labs, energy-efficiency fixes for cooling towers atop campus buildings and beefed-up composting infrastructure at Albany’s University Village and 13 Berkeley sororities were among many grassroots projects-in-progress showcased at the campus’s 11th annual Sustainability Summit, Wednesday in Wurster Hall.


Berkeley senior Maggie Barrett chats about students’ organic garden with staff member Beth Piatnitza at the Sustainability Summit poster session. (Cathy Cockrell photo)

Organized by the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability, the summit is the centerpiece of the campus’s Earth Week celebration — an opportunity to take stock of both the profusion of student-initiated sustainability projects and how sustainability is becoming institutionalized into campus operations and culture.

Calling sustainability in an era of dangerous global warming “a deeply moral issue,” Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, in a video message, said UC Berkeley can take pride in having reduced its greenhouse-gas emissions to below 1990 levels. Setting and working toward an even more aggressive emissions-reduction target “will place Berkeley on the path to carbon neutrality by 2025,” he said.

2014 Sustainability Awards

The Sustainability Summit included an awards ceremony honoring members of the campus community. This year’s winners are:

The Residential Sustainability Program, for its work helping residential managers incorporate sustainability into residence-hall life, and introducing students to the importance of sustainable lifestyles.

The Office of Communications and Public Affairs, for its coverage of sustainability via the NewsCenter, the Berkeleyan, the Berkeley Blog and other  communications channels.

Eli Persyk, facilities manager for the College of Environmental Design, for his role as mentor, educator and promoter of a culture of sustainability in Wurster Hall.

Jennifer Wolch, dean of the College of Environmental Design, called the campus’s emissions reductions to date a huge achievement. But she added that carbon neutrality by 2025 — the ambitious goal UC President Janet Napolitano has set for the UC system — means reducing emissions by 80 percent. To reach that goal, “we’ll need to build differently” and use more green energy, among other measures.

At the summit’s lively poster session — highlighting projects funded by students through The Green Initiative Fund (TGIF) — sophomore Areya Behrouzian described a zero-emission “eco-bike” with trailer that students pedal around campus, delivering heavy loads of reusable notebooks, paper and other items to 16 ReUSE stations.

“On the surface we’re a bunch of students learning to grow kale,” fourth-year student Maggie Barrett said of the large organic garden students operate a few blocks northwest of campus. But in reality it’s about student empowerment, she said — learning to cooperatively manage the plot and teach a popular spring DeCal class on organic gardening and food justice.

Saru Jayaraman

Keynote speaker Saru Jayaraman (Michael Drummond photo)

The latter was the focus of the keynote address by Saru Jayaraman, a visiting scholar at the Berkeley Food Institute and co-founder of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, an advocacy organization whose mission is to improve wages and working conditions for restaurant workers.

Although the industry is hugely profitable, Jayaraman said, it doesn’t provide a sustainable living to its more than 10 million employees, who fill seven of the 10 lowest-paying jobs in the nation.

Jayraraman, author of the 2013 book Behind the Kitchen Door, challenged attendees to “expand the definition of sustainability” to include not only food itself but the poorly compensated and largely invisible restaurant workers who prepare and serve it.