UConn Today published a story about on of our Environmental and Social Sustainability Small Grants awardees on April 28, 2022.
Grantees Matthew Chen and Hannah Colonies-Kelley are investigating student awareness of UConn’s local food purchasing. From the article:
[The students] “soon discovered UConn Dining Services was already purchasing 36% of its food locally. Other large public universities such as UMass Amherst purchase only 20% of their food locally, on average.”
“I think that especially as such a large university, the example UConn can lead for sustainability is important,” Chen says.
Editor’s Note: During these times of uncertainty, finding ways to proactively care for ourselves and our surroundings can have a grounding effect. However, we must recognize that having this opportunity is a sign of our privilege. I encourage you to take a moment to appreciate the labor of essential workers.
Eco-conscious consumerism may seem like an unlikely investment of time during a global pandemic, but quarantine has allowed many of us to slow down and listen to our bodies. Practicing self-care can take many forms and adopting a skincare routine is one. When we discuss personal care products, however, we should also consider the life cycle and environmental impacts of their packaging.
According to a report compiled by Statista, the 2020 United States skincare market has generated $18.1 million and the average consumer has spent $55 on skincare. The bottles, tubes, and containers used annually by the cosmetic industry adds up to 120 billion units of plastics packaging. But how does this hurt our planet?
Of the 120 billion units of plastic packaging used each year, 70% ends up in landfills. Bioplastics do not degrade naturally or within the average human lifespan. They can be composted, but require such an intense degree of heat to break down that they must be returned to an industrial compost site.
Through the dumping of waste in developing nations and irresponsible waste collection practices, plastic ends up in our oceans and breaks down into microplastics. When ingested, plastics and microplastics jeopardize the health of marine life and move in such a way mimic the movements of prey consumed by fish and seabirds. Plastic pollution, which PEW Research Center estimates currently totals up to 8 million pieces of plastic in the ocean, can also become entangled with aquatic life. This has resulted in the strangulation of sea turtles and marine mammals’ necks, and the asphyxiation of aquatic life.
Alternative forms of packaging have been used by companies in response to rapid deforestation and plastic pollution. An increasingly popular material is bioplastic, which is made from the sugars in corn starch, cassava, and sugar cane. Bioplastics are defined by being composed of 20% or more renewable resources, and are free of the hormone-disrupting chemical BPA (bisphenol A). This alternative seems appealing compared to the use of petroleum-based packaging, but the conservation community warns that there are many contingencies to the success of bioplastics. It is often cited that they emit less carbon dioxide than petroleum-based plastic, due in part to the fact that they are not unearthing trapped liquid carbon dioxide. However, a study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh found that extensive land use, as well as fertilizer and pesticide application, lead to more pollutant emissions than traditional plastic. Not only are these agricultural practices harmful to the environment, but they also threaten our hormonal and skin health.
The use of “natural” ingredients in products and packaging disproportionately impact people of color. On the agricultural side, migrant farmworkers in the United States experience routine exposure to pesticides and other environmental hazards associated with industrial farming (such as California’s continued wildfires), heat stress, and contaminated drinking water. These laborers are essential to the $200 billion agricultural industry, yet farmworkers make about 40 cents per bucket of produce picked. On the consumer side, there has also been an uptick in lawsuits based on exposure to toxic ingredients in household brand health and beauty products. A notable example is litigation based on mercury contamination in skin-lightening products. The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology issued an opinion that women of color are disproportionately exposed to unsafe ingredients in beauty products due to the societal pressures they face to conform to Western beauty standards. For these reasons, looking at sustainability through the lens of human rights and racial/social justice is key to the growth of the sustainable skincare/beauty industry.
So where does our beauty waste go?
Our demand for resource-intensive products contributes to the loss of 18 million acres of forest each year. This is because skincare products contain ingredients like soy, palm oil, and sugar cane, which are grown on large-scale farms that consume extensive stretches of land. Not only are the effects of our consumption felt on land, but also seen in the oceans. Alarm has been raised surrounding the ethical implications of agricultural sourcing. By diverting land and energy away from food production, companies are exacerbating food insecurity in many developing countries. Ecovia (formerly Organic Monitor), a market research firm that examines the organic beauty industry, compares the debate over “beauty crops” to that of biofuel. While both are striving to improve sustainability in their markets, advancing technology while failing to address food security ignores the basic human right to food. Developments in the industry, such as the commitment to sustainable palm oil-sourcing (see Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil), have been created to address these concerns. Similar roundtables exist for soybeans and cocoa, all with the intent to responsibly and ethically grow consumer crops.
How can you find sustainable skincare products?
Greenwashing has frequently become more apparent as brands jump onto the eco-conscious trend. This term refers to the marketing strategy which deceives consumers into believing that the product is better for the environment (i.e. by having a lighter carbon footprint or donating to an environmental organization). Usually, greenwashed products use earth tone colors, have pictures of natural landscapes and/or leaves, and include key words such as “eco-,” “natural,” and “sustainable.” Greenwashing misleads consumers to think they are making decisions that positively impact or vaguely-reference the environment, when in reality, these companies continue to package in plastic and encourage wasteful consumption patterns. Many argue that bioplastics are an example of greenwashing due to inadequate composting infrastructure or consumer understanding of the waste process.
Along with greenwashing, be wary of the word “organic.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a certified organic label indicating that the crops “are grown and processed according to federal guidelines addressing… soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives. Organic producers rely on natural substances and physical, mechanical, or biologically based farming methods to the fullest extent possible” (USDA 2012). According to the New York Times, an amendment to the certification allowed 38 synthetic ingredients into organic products. With this in mind, conducting research on specific company policies in regards to ethical and sustainable sourcing is key. Look for Fair Trade Certified and Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil Certified products when possible, and explore package-free products/options! Becoming more environmentally conscious doesn’t happen overnight – and it isn’t always financially sustainable for many people. Mindfulness about our practices and consumerism doesn’t mean we’re doing everything right, but that we’re conscious and working towards change.
Four of our interns are now officially UConn graduates! Although this was not the senior year we wanted for them, and our office graduation traditions are now happening over WebEx, we are still so proud of them. They have all been integral members of the office over the past four years, and they will be greatly missed. Below we share everything they have accomplished during their time at UConn, what the future holds for them, and our favorite memories with these special people.
Matt joined our sustainability staff in the spring of 2018 and has been a key contributor on many of the Office’s more technical assignments. He was the author of UConn’s 2018 and 2019 Greenhouse Gas Inventory and served on the Bicycle Friendly University working group. In 2019 Matt took a more active role in outreach and engagement initiatives and led a volunteer team in trailblazing the Blue Trail in the Hillside Environmental Education Park (HEEP) while helping advise on the design of a Pollinator Garden and Pavilion which will be constructed in the HEEP in the near future. He also provided critical leadership in completing UConn’s 2019-2020 AASHE STARS report. His “steady Eddy” demeanor in the office made him a reliable teammate and provided reassurance in his abilities to turn around an assignment quickly and accurately. In the summer of 2019 Matt had the opportunity to further round his engineering skill set while working on wastewater effluent treatment methods for nutrients and chlorine during his internship with Arconic in Davenport, Iowa. Outside the office, Matt is a member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, and is well known for his Duck Pin bowling prowess. He is graduating from UConn with a B.S. in Environmental Engineering. Matt’s post grad career begins in Plainville, CT, where he will be working for Loureiro Engineering. His presence will be greatly missed in the office.
Sophie joined our Sustainability staff in the spring of 2017 and has been a talented intern and truly supportive leader. She has been the graphic designer and webmaster for the office during her time here, using her skills to elevate the brand of the office via a new office logo, a complete overhaul of the website, and countless graphics for t-shirts, events, the campus sustainability fund and more. Sophie was also a lead on many projects, including the Green Office Certification Program, where she led the effort to reach 100 certified offices and before that took on completion of the 2017 campus greenhouse gas inventory. Outside the office, Sophie has an incredible passion for renewable energy, and has been a valued team member of countless labs and projects on campus from developing community microgrids to studying solar cells to analyzing termites. She co-authored the student declaration that was a vital part of this September’s climate strike, and her honors thesis is a holistic assessment of renewable energy implementation options on campus. In her free time, Sophie enjoys hiking, climbing, and writing philosophy essays. This year she received the 2020 UConn Spirer/Dueker Student Humanitarian Achievement Award. Sophie is graduating from UConn with a B.S. in Environmental Engineering and a minor in Philosophy. Starting this summer, Sophie will continue her passion for ethical renewable energy as a design engineer at MPR Associates in Alexandria, VA.
Charlotte joined our sustainability staff in the spring of 2018. With a level of professionalism and organization that we were all inspired by, Charlotte brings whatever initiative she leads to the next level, whether it be the annual Climate Change Cafe, the office’s newsletter, UConn fundraising events or any other communication piece. She is also always coming up with new ideas to bring the whole office to the next level, whether that be the photo contest she created and executed her first semester in the office, or a creative promo video she filmed and edited documenting the student experience at COP24. In her free time, Charlotte was just as impressive, completing internships that included being a Public Service & U.S. Forest Service Sustainability Operations, Climate Change, and Wildlife Ecology Intern as part of the Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership and an REU at the University of Maine where she completed an independent project titled Documenting Human and Societal Impacts of Extreme Weather Events. In her free time, Charlotte can be found collecting bugs for her classes, taking notes in calligraphy, and color-code organizing her planner. Charlotte is graduating from UConn with a B.S. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. After graduation Charlotte will be moving to College Station Texas to attend Texas A&M University to pursue a PhD in entomology.
Jon joined our Sustainability staff in the fall of 2017. He has been the OS’s waste guru, working to streamline UConn’s recycling procedures during his time as an intern. With the ability to inform as he pushes for sustainability, Jon has created personal connections with different stakeholders across campus in these efforts to move UConn towards zero-waste. Jon has brought a wonderful sense of professionalism mixed with humor to our office environment. Outside the office, Jon played a key role in the formation of the President’s Working Group on Sustainability and the Environment, and has been an active member of the working group and its report writing sub-group. Jon is also an undergraduate researcher for EPA-funded clean water valuation research, which he is incorporating into his honor’s thesis. In his free time, Jon is a member of the fraternity Zeta Beta Tau, and has a passion for connecting business & sustainability. Jon is graduating from UConn with a B.S. in Environmental Sciences and a second major in Economics. Jon’s post graduation plan is to obtain a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation and pursue employment that unifies his interests in sustainability strategy and financial analysis.
The fight against plastic continues. Single-use plastic is pervasive in our lives and there is no exception for menstrual products. The products themselves and plastic packaging of tampons, pads, and panty liners generate more than 200,000 tonnes of waste per year. In the US alone, 12 billion pads and 7 billion tampons are thrown out and end up in landfills, sewage lines, and our oceans annually!
Luckily, many different reusable products have been popping up as alternatives on the market. This movement has been led by empowered feminists looking to redefine the quality of products available and take down the stigma of periods while shifting away from these single-use menstrual products. You can find reusable cloth pads, period underwear, menstrual disks, menstrual cups and many more creative solutions and continued innovations!
OrganiCup, a women-led Danish menstrual cup company, is one such company focused both on empowering menstruators and tackling this menstrual waste problem. By providing silicone menstrual cups that are reusable for years and come in multiple sizes, this company is breaking barriers, destigmafying periods, and generating much less waste.
Organicup has launched the “Campus Cup” program, an initiative to introduce their reusable menstrual cups to college students as a sustainable alternative to traditional menstrual products by providing students with free menstrual cups. Identified via our GreenMetric rating, UConn served as a pilot for this initiative.
The UConn Office of Sustainability brought the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) Tampon Time program on board in order to effectively distribute 500 menstrual cups during USG’s Womxn’s* Health and Empowerment Fair on March 2nd, 2020 for the OrganiCup Campus Cup launch date!
During the Womxn’s Health and Empowerment Fair, excitement and chatter filled the Student Union Ballroom, as students and attendees engaged with different booths highlighting organizations catered towards supporting female/womxn students. At each booth, students could learn about how resources on and off campus connect sustainability, physical & mental health, sex, gender-based violence, intersectional identities, and other topics related to female health & empowerment. The Office of Sustainability even had our own booth with giveaways where we highlighted the cost of different menstrual products and the connections between climate justice, sexual assault, & female empowerment. The biggest draw to the fair, though, was by far the free menstrual cups given out, with students lining up out the door to pick up their very own.
With the opportunity to try out one of the many reusable products on the market for free, menstruating college students on a budget are able to test something potentially out of their comfort zones without spending anything, all while getting one step closer to a more sustainable lifestyle and bringing sustainability to a part of their life that they may have never thought of.
Students walked away that day excited and ready to try out their free menstrual cup! This was a wonderful reminder to support continued efforts to talk about periods, provide comfortable and cost-saving products & resources for menstruating students, and find creative opportunities to incorporate sustainability on the college campus. And this fair was just the start; there are many more menstrual cups that will be distributed at UConn, through the Women’s Center and in public bathrooms across campus alongside USG Tampon Time’s disposable menstrual products.
Keep your eyes open as OrganiCup launches their nation-wide Campus Cup program this fall! Feel free to reach out to the UConn Office of Sustainability with any questions.
Looking for something to watch while you’re stuck at home? Eco House has a suggestion for you. On February 25th, the Eco House learning community held a screening of the exciting new documentary, “The Pollinators.” The event, held in the Student Union Theatre, was open to all students as well as members of the general public. Over 90 students turned out and many more watched remotely.
The film profiles large-scale American beekeepers whose jobs are getting increasingly harder as the years go by. As pesticides such as neonicotinoids become more widespread, bees are dying in record numbers, and bee die-offs are becoming part of the daily routine. To keep up with demand despite this challenge, there is now a constant and large scale movement of hives back and forth across the United States by freight trucks. The almond industry plays an immense role in this, as they rent almost 100% of the nation’s hives for their pollination period. The almond industry’s high demand leaves behind only a small number of bees to pollinate other crops for that period. One emerging solution explored in the film is the regenerative agricultural practices, such as no-till farming, silvo-pasturing and creating habitats for beneficial pollinators. Many of these practices work in conjunction with one another to support the bee population. For instance, the growth of nitrogen-fixing cover crops between normal planting seasons allows for no-till practices and reduces the need for harmful pesticides.
The film was followed by a lively Q&A session with the director, Peter Nelson and producer Sally Roy. The audience came prepared to discuss solutions to the issues facing bee populations and ways in which we can keep the pollinator industry alive. Nelson promoted the importance of supporting local farmers and beekeepers, but also focused on spreading knowledge. The film itself is available upon request for screenings by towns and other large groups, like UConn. Nelson emphasized the importance of spreading the knowledge of these issues so that they can be better understood by the general public, either through the documentary or through alternative educational efforts.
Nelson, a beekeeper himself, personally explained the struggles within the work force and is excited to get to work on his next big project!
The event was co-sponsored by the Office of Sustainability, the Institute of the Environment, the UConn Honors Program and the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Students learn these words at a very young age. But their meaning and importance are often swept aside as kids grow older. Instead of forgetting about these fundamentals, we should be expanding upon them. Recycling, while accessible and easy, is not the best option of the three for environmental health. In fact, of the three, it is the least environmentally friendly. It is better to reduce your consumption of all items in general, but since consuming nothing at all is impossible in the current state of the world, at least reducing consumption of harmful materials would lessen a person’s environmental impact quite a bit. Reusing an item is also better than recycling it, as less energy is consumed in order to make and recycle one item that someone used over a period of time than two or three or four of the same item in that same window. So here is a list of ways to first reduce, then reuse your items before you recycle them.
Replace single use items with reusable ones once you have used up all pre-owned single use versions
If you forget your reusable bags at the store and need grocery bags, reuse them as small bin liners or to pick up after a pet.
Buy items secondhand
Electronics (buy refurbished)
Donate unused items to secondhand shops
See bullets for #2
Repair broken items rather than recycling them or throwing them away
Repair Cafes are places where experts can help people to learn how to fix their own items or help to fix them. Look online to find one near you!
And finally, if all else fails, recycle whatever you are unable to cut down on or reuse.
In a blog post like this, we would be at fault if we didn’t mention the privileged nature of individual action. Many sustainable tips include buying a reusable item that is much more expensive than a single use product would be. While, in the long run, these switches can save some people money, the upfront cost may be too much for others. If you happen to be fortunate enough to be able to afford all these tips, please consider also donating money or a box of these reusable items to a shelter or to a charity of your choice.
Since the late 1980s, activists have been attempting to change Columbus Day — a federally recognized holiday — to Indigenous Peoples Day. Advocates argue that the historical account of Columbus obscures his record of colonization, which led to slavery, genocide, illnesses, and near extinction, of the Taino people by the mid-1500s. The Taino were the most numerous indigenous people of the Caribbean islands encountered by Columbus after his trans-Atlantic voyage in 1492.
Dozens of cities and states across the United States have recognized this holiday as Indigenous Peoples’ Day since advocacy began in the late 1980s. UConn has joined in recognizing this holiday in recent years. This year, the Office of the Provost emailed the UConn community about this recognition and the history behind it. The Native American Cultural Program hosts a week-long event series each year in celebration, dubbed Indigenous Peoples’ Week.
Indigenous people, in the United States and across the world, are on the frontlines of the fight for environmental and climate justice. In the United States, indigenous people are often associated with closeness to nature and a low-impact way of life. While this image is sometimes a caricature, in many cases, it holds true. Struggles for land rights and protection against pollution or displacement, whether caused by the effects of climate change, such as rising sea levels and extended droughts, or by big businesses and expanding agricultural interests, are issues of survival for many of the world’s 370 million indigenous people.
Indigenous Ecuadorians have long-pursued legal action against Texaco and Chevron, large oil conglomerates, for pollution of their homeland from large oil spills. While these lawsuits have dragged on for years, and even decades, they serve as reminders of the determination of indigenous people.
In 2016, indigenous people of the Standing Rock reservation came together to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline, which was slated to run through ancient burial grounds and dangerously close to the tribe’s fresh water supply. Thousands of protesters brought international attention to the issue of indigenous land rights and environmental justice. However, in 2017, protesters were eventually dispersed and removed by state and federal authorities and the final phase of the pipeline project was swiftly approved by the Army
Corps of Engineers (ACOE). Although the project was completed and oil is flowing through the pipeline, a federal judge ordered the ACOE to reconsider certain environmental impacts. The reservation is currently litigating the adequacy of that second review, which was done in 2018 – their fight is yet another example of the challenges and environmental risks faced by indigenous people.
The most recent global climate strikes are most commonly associated with Greta Thunberg, the 16 year old Swedish activist who started the Fridays for Future student movement. But indigenous youth have been heavily involved on the frontlines of this movement as well. Other prominent activists include the 22-year old Makasa Lookinghorse of the Six Nations of the Grand River, who is
fighting for Native American water rights in opposition to a permit granted by Ontario, Canada, which allows the Nestle Corporation to pump millions of gallons of water per day from a local aquifer. We must recognize Helena Gualinga, who has fought for climate justice in her homeland of Ecuador, and Xiye Bastida, who has fought against extraction culture and for environmental justice in Mexico.
Indigenous activists have been leading on environmental justice issues long before it has gained the attention of the public eye. This Indigenous Peoples’ Week, we recognize and support them in their continued struggle for environmental and climate justice.
More than 35 student volunteers from Ecohusky, EcoHouse, and the OEP gathered at Gampel Pavilion for two basketball Green Game Days in March to educate Husky fans about recycling and
create an atmosphere buzzing with energy about the environment. Volunteers promoted recycling by engaging with fans as they entered the stadium and by standing next to trash and recycling
containers to make sure recycling was properly sorted. Additionally, by making these games carbon neutral through the purchase of offsets, we prevented a total of 8.5 metric tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere! We would like to thank all of our volunteers who made these events possible and to especially spotlight our senior intern Caroline Anastasia, who has now been part of 10 Green Game Days!
In celebration of these events, we talked with student athletes at UConn who are passionate about the environment and appreciate the outreach that happens at events such as our Green Game Days. Here is what they had to say…
“Much like the human body, I believe what you put in and what you do to your body is eventually going to affect what comes out. The environment is an organism too. So, the things that we’re experiencing are a result of what we’ve done to the planet.
Education and knowledge are what changes everything. People are born uncivilized until they learn something or they’re influenced by something that leads them to make change for the better.”
– Carlton Steer, Senior Sociology Major, UConn Football Defensive Line
“A large majority of pollution is in our waters – oceans, rivers, lakes, ponds, etc. We’ve seen it in most of the places we’ve raced. While it may not directly affect our regatta performance, it’s a sign of a larger problem that affects all of us – if we see it here, then it’s probably worldwide, and it might be worse where people care less about the environment. It’s disheartening, it’s hard on the eyes, it’s damaging to the wildlife, and it’s why we need to keep pushing for more people to care.”
– Maxwell Miller, Sophomore Finance Major, Sailing Team President
“In order to properly advocate for the right to health for all, it is essential to equip people with the knowledge and skills to take responsible action to protect the environment. Through caring for our planet, we make the basis for just, sustainable, and equitable health outcomes possible.”
– Jen Koo, Junior Allied Health Sciences Major, Track & Field
Thank you to the student-athletes we talked to for your thoughtful reflections. Best of luck to our Husky women’s basketball team in the Final Four tonight!
This past week, UConn President Susan Herbst was part of a coalition of university presidents who took an important step toward achieving an equitable, environmentally conscious future by signing UConn on to the Second Nature’s Call to Action and Guiding Principles for Accelerating Equitable and Just Climate Solutions. Below is the statement she released explaining the role of UConn in creating a future that is healthy and safe for everyone.
As a Land Grant and Sea Grant institution, the University of Connecticut has always felt a special responsibility to set high standards and uphold strong principles on the ways in which we understand and protect our environment both locally and globally.
For these and many other reasons, we wholeheartedly endorse the imperatives articulated in Second Nature’s Call to Action and Guiding Principles for Accelerating Equitable and Just Climate Solutions, which wereannounced recently at the 2019 Higher Education Climate Leadership Summit in Tempe, Arizona.
These principles remind us that universities have not only the power to motivate change and the expertise to offer innovative solutions, but also the responsibility to ensure that those solutions are equitable and developed in collaboration with the people most impacted.
That responsibility is especially challenging when it comes to climate change because of the distance between our actions here and now, and their consequences, which are often far removed in time and space.
It’s our duty as global citizens to adjust behaviors today for carbon mitigation and resilience preparation that will primarily benefit future generations, or vulnerable populations located somewhere else around the world. To this point, Second Nature’s Guiding Principles advise us to think globally; we must continuously review and refine our campus climate action plans to ensure that our goals and strategies reflect the best available science about the effects of climate change.
As a state flagship, public research university, UConn‘s mission has always included public service. We frequently partner with state and local governments and strive to be engaged leaders in our community. Second Nature’s Guiding Principles urge us to extend this engagement to the global community. In the context of climate change, we can do this by accounting for how the long-term costs of our institutional activities might “negatively impact people and the planet, and strive to measure, internalize, and avoid these costs to the greatest extent possible.”
The first step is raising awareness about the underlying science of global warming and collectively accepting our share of responsibility for its harmful effects, which are already occurring in places far removed from our nation’s campuses. This includes subsistence farms in North Africa wiped out in recent years by historic droughts, entire coastal communities in Pacific island nations displaced by sea level rise and flooding, and essential drinking water supplies threatened by receding glaciers in the Himalayas.
Informed by this knowledge and driven by basic human decency, the next step of higher education institutions should be recognizing the urgent needs of the world’s most vulnerable populations by accelerating our climate strategies.
UConn has historically been a leader on this front, and we continue to reaffirm our efforts to this end. We recently adopted an environmental literacy general education requirement that will ensure our students graduate from UConn with a grasp of important, intersectional environmental issues including climate change.
UConn is also an active agent in local climate adaptation projects, notably through the University’s Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Adaptation (CIRCA), which works with economically disadvantaged communities to improve their climate resiliency.
In 2017, we joined a multi-sector coalition of American businesses, state and local governments, NPOs, and colleges and universities by signing the “We Are Still In” pledge, reaffirming our commitment to the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement.
Last fall, we joined 17 other major research universities in the University Climate Change Coalition (UC3), sharing our expertise in order to accelerate solutions to global warming. And, for the past four years, our UConn@COP program has brought a delegation of students to the U.N.’s annual international climate summit for an immersive, hands-on learning experience, with the goal of developing future leaders in climate science and policy.
This year, UConn’s Sustainability Office will meet with departments and stakeholders across campus, including at a student summit scheduled for next month, in order to update our strategic goals and metrics for climate leadership through 2025. This is the next five-year milestone in our long-term Climate Action Plan. It’s also the perfect opportunity to utilize Second Nature’s Guiding Principles as a more global and equitable lens for reviewing our progress and envisioning more impactful strategies toward a carbon-neutral campus.
The midterm elections that took place this November have ushered in a new vanguard of representatives ready to fight for the needs of the people. These newly elected representatives have harnessed public enthusiasm for change to beat out incumbents, and are entering Congress full of ideas and energy. One of the most well-known of these newly elected representatives is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. A 29-year-old Latina from the Bronx, Cortez is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Along with a number of her colleagues, she has announced a plan called “The Green New Deal” that pushes for climate change to be prioritized in Congress. Ocasio-Cortez is just one example of the many Hispanic activists across the country and world that are fighting to protect us from environmental degradation.
In our country, Latinx people are more concerned about the environment and more willing to take action to protect it than the general population. This makes sense, since a history of environmental racism means they are one of the populations most affected by environmental hazards like particulate pollution and poor water. Despite often being excluded from the mainstream environmental movement, Latinx people have always been heavily involved in environmental activism.
In Latin America, environmentalists are fighting for their lives, literally. As the area continues to develop and those in power exploit the land and its resources, indigenous and poor people are displaced. Their way of life, their land, and their livelihoods are stolen from them, and governments do very little to protect them, if not encourage the exploitation. When people decide to organize and fight back, they are threatened or killed. A 2016 report from GlobalWitness found that two-thirds of the 185 environmentalists murdered in 2015 resided in Latin America.
UConn recognizes the importance of this reality. The USG Sustainability Subcommittee is one organization on campus that is dedicated to working towards a just and sustainable planet for all people. They are organizing a series of events this semester that make clear the importance of including Hispanic people and other diverse groups in the environmental movement. Keep an eye out for their events this semester!
We cannot possibly cover all of the passionate Hispanic activists that have dedicated their lives to environmentalism. However, we have highlighted some activists here which showcase the breadth of Hispanic people’s influence on the environmental movement.
Elizabeth Yeampierre is an internationally recognized pioneer in the environmental movement, intent on creating a platform for oppressed communities in the fight against climate change. A Puerto Rican attorney with indigenous and African roots, she was born and raised in New York City, and has fought on behalf of her community for her whole life. She has pioneered a model of intergenerational, multi-cultural, and community-led organizing that is award-winning and effective.
Yeampierre is a leader in numerous organizations across the country, including the Climate Justice Alliance, a national coalition of community-based organizations focused on environmental justice, and Building Equity & Alignment for Impact, which aims to strengthen relationships between philanthropists, large environmental nonprofits, and grassroots organizations. She was one of the driving forces behind the historical People’s Climate March in 2014. She is also a leader in New York City policy. She currently serves on mayor DeBlasio’s Sustainability Advisory board, and has been instrumental in historic legislation such as the passing of New York’s first Brownfield legislation and the adoption of NYC’s Solid Waste Management Plan. On the federal level, she was the first Latina chair appointed to the EPA’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council, and was also a member of the National Environmental Health Sciences Advisory Council. In addition to delivering inspirational speeches around the world, Yeampierre works as the Executive Director of UPROSE, a grassroots organization that focuses on sustainability and resiliency in Brooklyn, NY.
Berta Caceres was a fearless environmental leader in her country of Honduras, one of the most dangerous places to be an environmentalist in the world. While still in college, she co-founded the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), and continued to lead the group for the rest of her life. The COPINH led a variety of important grassroots campaigns including protesting illegal logging, plantation owners, and US military presence on indigenous land. Caceres supported a wide range of social and indigenous issues including feminism and LGBT rights. As indigenous rights and human rights are inextricably linked with the environment, she became known as a prominent environmentalist. In 2015 she won the Goldman Environmental Prize for a campaign that was successful in pressuring the world’s largest dam builder to end a project on the Gualcarque River that would have “jeopardized the water resources and livelihood” of the surrounding land and people. However, her work to protect the people of Honduras eventually led to her death. In 2016, she was assassinated in her home by armed intruders. Fellow activists say one of Berta’s favorite expressions was “they are afraid of us because we are not afraid of them.”
Youth activist Jamie Margolin is one of the 21 youth who have filed a lawsuit against the federal government alleging that the action it has taken that has led to climate change is depriving the next generation of life, liberty, and property, and has failed to protect essential public trust resources. The case made it to the US District Court this fall.
Margolin, however, is not waiting around for a decision to be reached. While this case is proceeding, she has created a national climate movement. She is the founder of Zero Hour, a diverse youth-led movement dedicated to concrete action to end climate change. In July of 2018, Zero Hour held a three day event in DC consisting of a day to lobby legislators, an arts festival, and the Youth Climate March itself. Sister marches happened in tandem across the nation and world. Margolin’s movement is focused on concrete action, not just rhetoric – they have a science-backed platform stemming from the lawsuit, and their march included a specific set of action items. They are also successfully intersectional; their platform fully recognizes that solving social issues is vital to fighting climate change, and having women of color at the helm brings a diversity to this movement that has led to its success.
Vanessa Hauc is an Emmy award-winning trilingual reporter who has used her platform to educate Spanish-speakers and the larger world about environmental issues. She started her career in Bogota, Colombia in 1993, and in 1999 moved to LA. She graduated from the University of Nevada with majors in Communication and Journalism, while working at nearby TV stations. In 2002 Hauc joined the Telemundo network as reporter and co-presenter of “Al Rojo Vivo con Maria Celeste,” and has risen up the ranks to her current position as a correspondent for Noticiero Telemundo. Telemundo is one of the largest providers of Spanish-language content in the country and has a global reach, providing programming in more than 100 countries.
Hauc has taken advantage of this global audience to spread awareness of environmental issues by creating her own segment “Alerta Verde” (Green Alert), to educate the public about the importance of protecting the environment. After much success, Telemundo made Alerta Verde its own company, and is now at the forefront of environmental news coverage.
Hauc has also been on the frontlines of environmental crises throughout her career, reporting on the ground from disasters. She covered Hurricane Katrina, earthquakes across the world, including Chile, Japan, and Haiti, and the Chilean miners’ rescue. She has also dedicated her time to travelling the United States challenging legislators on anti-immigration policies, has received a Master’s degree in Economy and International Politics from the University of Miami, and studied French Culture and Languages at the University of Aix in Provence, France.
One of the world’s greatest accomplishments in the last decade was the Paris Climate Agreement, signed by 195 countries in 2015. This historical agreement was largely due to our next environmentalist, Christina Figueres. Figueres has a master’s degree in social anthropology and is a diplomat for Costa Rica. She became the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2010 and assumed responsibility for the annual international climate change negotiations. She was determined to bring the world to a consensus and implement a regulatory framework for carbon emissions that everyone could commit to. She successfully directed a series of annual negotiations across the world that culminated in the Paris 2015 Conference of the Parties (COP21), at which the Paris Climate Agreement was signed.
Christina is not satisfied with just the Paris Climate Agreement. She continues to push the world towards increasing climate protection. She is currently organizing Mission 2020, a global initiative to have world carbon emissions begin decreasing by 2020.