Q&A with Danielle Elefritz

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Student Government’s director of Environmental Affairs, Danielle Elefritz, discusses her thoughts on sustainability in this Q&A as part of our What You’re Doing series focusing on the sustainable actions of faculty, staff, and students at BU.

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Who are you and how does sustainability fit in with what you do at BU?

I’m a senior at Boston University completing a dual degree in environmental analysis and policy (CAS) and journalism (COM) with a minor in political science.  In addition, I have been the director of the Department of Environmental Affairs for Student Government for two years now.  I will be graduating in May and have the intentions of matriculating law school this fall to study environmental and energy law, but I have yet to decide which school I will be attending.  As such, sustainability is obviously tied to what I do and have done at BU, both in my studies and my extracurricular interests.  Academically, I am interested in climate and energy law and policy and hope to someday work for the federal government on issues related to such.  With student government, I have worked on various initiatives to further improve our campus’ environmental footprint.  Current and past initiatives include reducing single-use plastic bag use by creating an incentive program and designing and distributing reusable grocery bags to students; reducing single-use plastic water bottle use by designing and distributing reusable water bottles to students; “greening” the print center by increasing the use of recycled papers and sustainable ink among advocating for other small changes in printing culture; creating an undergraduate “green fund” to encourage students to take on sustainable initiatives around campus; advocating for students to decrease their energy consumption with the annual Sustainability Energy Challenge and increasing signage as a reminder to students; and increasing the number of “hydration stations” for refilling water bottles around campus.  Our most successful initiative, however, has been our recycling initiative, which calls for implementing dual stream recycling onto each floor of every large residence hall on campus.  We have already succeeded with implementing the program into Warren Towers this fall and are currently working to expand it to the rest of the large residences on campus.  Our goal is to eventually provide access to dual stream recycling on every floor of every large residence hall on campus and in every building, if not every floor, of every small residence (i.e. brownstones, whitestones, and South Campus apartments).

What does sustainability mean to you?

To me, sustainability means making the smallest impact possible on the environment by minimizing both material and energy waste.  I strive to do so by using a reusable mug and water bottle for my coffee and water; by using a reusable bag for my groceries and purchasing foods, as much as possible, with little to no packaging that have been sourced locally; by recycling all possible material wastes (and composting when available); by walking (instead of taking the T or 57 bus) whenever possible; by charging my laptop and phone only when necessary and putting them on energy saving mode when not in use; and by turning off/down lights, the TV, and the heat in my apartment when not necessary.  My biggest challenges have always been to cut back on the heat and length of my showers and to cut back on purchasing new (rather than used) clothing.

When did you first become interested in sustainability?

I first became interested in sustainability during my sophomore year of high school upon studying ecology in an AP biology course.  My interest really picked up in college, however.  I declared an EAP major coming into BU because it was the subject I was most interested in at the time but I had no idea of how engaged and passionate I would become over the following 4 years.  My favorite class I have taken at BU was GE560, Energy Transitions, with Professor Cutler Cleveland.  It sparked my interest in climate and energy law and policy.  Professor Lawford Anderson from ES105, Introduction to Earth Science, is the best professor I’ve had at BU.  He instilled in me passion for the earth as well as a sense of urgency to save it.

What is one thing you do on a daily basis to help make the campus more sustainable?

Along with the actions I mentioned already (i.e. using reusable mugs, water bottles, and grocery bags), I think the biggest impact I’m making on campus is by pushing for increased access to recycling.  Simply adding dual stream recycling to each floor in Warren Towers has greatly increased daily recycling rates in the building and pushing for a similar program for each campus residence will only further increase recycling rates on campus and therefore deflate our waste footprint.

What do you perceive as the biggest barrier for BU students, faculty, and staff to adopting more sustainable behaviors?

I believe that the biggest barriers for the BU community in adopting more sustainable behaviors is lack of education (or apathy) and laziness.  By lack of education I mean that many members of our community are either unaware or do not care (apathy) about our environmental impact.  I think if those who are undereducated or apathetic were made aware of the weight and threat of environmental issues like climate change, waste management, and pollution, then they would more likely to do their part.  Similarly, we must overcome laziness.  I myself am guilty of occasionally buying a coffee in an unsustainable mug or carrying my groceries in single-use plastic bags simply because I did not want to make the effort to plan or carry them with me to class or work.  While for the most part I endure such efforts due to my desire to fight wastefulness, others who are apathetic or less enthusiastic will not.  I believe the way to over come this is again through education and though sufficient incentive programs (i.e. reduced prices for using reusables, charging more for nonreusables, or to the more extreme banning nonreusables).

How would you challenge BU community members to live less wastefully?

I challenge the BU community to partake some or all of the actions listed above and to do even more.  I also like to think that through my Environmental Affairs initiatives that my department and I are helping to educate members of the community as well as making participating in such activities easier (i.e. distributing reusables and bring recycling even closer to students’ homes) in order to try and combat the apathy and laziness I mentioned above.

What would you recommend to someone on campus who is interested in sustainability but doesn’t know how to get their ideas off the ground?

I would encourage them to get involved.  At BU we are fortunate enough to have dozens of environmental and sustainable clubs and organizations – there really is something for everyone.  I would encourage them to find the one that interests them and with which they can make the greatest impact.  For me that has certainly been with Student Government.  If by the very unlikely circumstance that they are unable to find something for them, I would further encourage them to take their ideas to the right faculty and administration – i.e. sustainability@BU, Facilities Management & Planning, Dean of Students Office, undergraduate (or graduate) Student Government, etc.  In every initiative I’ve taken on for Student Government, I’ve always started simply by contacting people by email or phone.  BU has a truly incredible sustainable community and you’ll be surprised at the number of people who are on your side and willing to help you.  Recycling is a prime example – when I started, it was a project that many students had proposed and desired but no one had really pushed for.  I began by setting up meetings with the numerous relevant parties, many of whom were eager to help.  Within just a few months, we had the funding and permission to move forward with the project in Warren Towers.  The experience is also invaluable.  On top of being able to say my department has accomplished this incredible task, I have also made many valued connections and contacts in the process.

What are you hopes for campus sustainability in the future at BU and how do  you plan to help the community achieve these goals?

My first goal is that I do hope to see recycling expanded to all of campus, both large and small residences, by the end of the next academic year.  As a graduating senior, I am sad that I won’t be here to see these successes (especially since recycling has sort of been my baby) but I am very confident in the younger members of my department who will be taking over for me next year.  Until then, however, I will do all I can to fight for our initiatives on behalf of the student body.  Similarly, I hope for the continued success of all of our initiatives and the initiatives of other environmental student groups – especially for the university’s divestment from fossil fuels.

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