Lauren Wong | The Poly Post

The importance of sustainability at CPP

By Ryan Lutz, Jane Sagaser and Carlos Callejo III, April 11, 2023

The concept of sustainability is, at Cal Poly Pomona, like it is in many other places in the United States: ultimately misunderstood and lacking proper attention, to the detriment of all.

As the student leaders of Students for Sustainable and Regenerative Action, Students for a Sustainable Future, Bronco Young Democratic Socialists of America as well as graduating seniors we have noticed a few trends during our time here at CPP that are troubling, and we would like to share our observations with the campus community in the hopes that we can affect the change that is needed to see our university thrive.

The real problems are deeper than “Cal Poly doesn’t care about sustainability”—though admittedly that’s what it feels like.

The more we explored the issues and their causes the more it seemed to make sense to us that what we first called a lack of care about sustainability would perhaps more appropriately be a result of other underlying systemic issues which happen to affect sustainability and our efforts, probably as they affect many other such organizations on campus.

Throughout our time here, we have come to know many administrators, faculty and staff who all care deeply about the Earth and its natural resources and are committed to making a positive difference. We acknowledge these people and their work toward finding solutions. To us, it feels more like those people (and any others who would help) are victims of an inefficient system which does not represent the goals we’ve been told we should have at CPP.

Lauren Wong | The Poly Post

We have experienced and heard first-hand accounts from employees in various roles about how the administration (and thus the university, to outward appearances), takes actions that do not value sustainability efforts and subsequently does not allocate enough resources to do its part in necessary efforts — despite its role as one of the top polytechnic universities in one of the most progressive states on the planet.

It’s a very confusing message for CPP to be sending its students and the rest of the world watching our response to climate science. As a campus, we can do and expect so much better.

Jane Sagaser, president of the club Students for a Sustainable Future, shared her perspective and experiences:

“As the president of a sustainability-focused organization on campus, I feel a sense of responsibility to leave a lasting impact for future like-minded, eco-conscious students to benefit from. However, this has proven to be a more difficult undertaking than one would hope. It is a constant battle for students who want to make any real change. I believe the university needs to pay more attention to valid criticism from students regarding sustainability efforts and initiatives on campus.

A recent disappointment has been watching the already scarce number of plant-based options on campus be even further reduced. Rather than increasing the variety of these options to encourage students to eat more sustainably, it seems that the opposite is occurring.

Just last semester, I was encouraged by the addition of vegan pre-made meals in campus store refrigerators, such as the Mother Earth Bowl, BBQ Tofu Salad, and my personal favorite, a simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Upon returning to campus this Spring, these options seemingly no longer exist —apart from the PB&J, which now contains honey and is no longer suitable for vegans.

Despite signs posted around campus boasting of numerous plant-based options, the university’s efforts feel half-baked. Our club contacted the CPP Foundation Dining Services nutritionist to express concerns with the plant-based options and their labeling, as well as a proposal to work together on creating a vegan option guide. Unfortunately, we did not receive a response.

On the other hand, my experiences working directly with the Office of Sustainability have been very positive. Sustainability Coordinator Monika Kamboures and her student assistants have been supportive and helpful in navigating ideas for sustainability initiatives. Most notably, they made me and other sustainability club leaders aware of The Green Initiative Fund: an enormous, nearly untouched $400,000 fund allocated to provide financial support to student-led sustainability initiatives on campus.

While this is a fantastic resource, I do wonder why it is so underutilized. If we brought more attention to it, could we potentially expedite projects that aim to make the campus greener?”

We also recognize that a recent global pandemic has been very disruptive, that we’re only now returning to a somewhat “normal” state of affairs, even though things have definitely changed since early 2020 in terms of student engagement.

Remote work has its benefits, but there’s a big difference to students as offices which used to be accessible by phone or walk-in can now hide behind email, forms or other indirect modes of communication — effectively procrastination masked as bureaucracy.

Working from home and not having a phone line, skirting phone calls when they do come in or referring the caller back to email instead, then never responding or providing subpar responses to those and other emails, and other such attempts at contact to get issues resolved quickly are drawn out into weeks of clumsy attempts to coordinate efforts by email, if they get resolved at all.

Clubs and organizations wait weeks or months for budget or finance approval, event information and approval and other high-volume requests. That’s not supposed to be the norm, but it seems that’s what it has become, whether a result of inefficiency, the pandemic, other factors or probably all of the above.

We take time to share our feedback when it’s solicited, and things just seem to stay the same or get worse. It just seems to us like a problem with organization. It’s hard to tell, though, with all the different offices that keep reorganizing and changing their names and affiliations along with what seems to be high turnover. It’s so confusing. It’s nearly impossible to keep it all straight. It doesn’t work, and we deserve better. We put a lot of our money and time into this school, and we’re disappointed.

Carlos Callejo III, president and co-founder of the CPP chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America, shared his experience and concerns:

“In Spring 2022, Bronco YDSA organized a mutual aid event where we set up a brake light clinic for the campus community. It was received well by many and helped us grow as a club. However, the planning stages preceding the event were an administrative nightmare. I was sent to one administrator after another who told me they would help answer my questions. Often, I received no emails at all which forced us to postpone our event.

These issues have plagued our club since its formation in late 2020, and nothing has fundamentally changed. With my time coming to a close as Bronco YDSA’s president and chairman, I feel concerned for my upcoming e-Board as they will inherent the same administrative issues that my co-founder Thomas and I had to deal with.

These sentiments are not just felt by one lowly political club but many of those who have or have tried to establish a club here at Cal Poly Pomona. We are proud to be Broncos, and we believe flourishing social clubs are important to our campus community. Without proper change, the barrier for new Broncos to contribute to our clubs will only grow worse.”

So, what are we hoping for with this op-ed?

For people to listen.

We’d like to see some major reorganization of the campus’s power structure so we can rely on our administrators to provide leadership to solve the problems we’ve been educated about.

We’d like to see an effort to streamline the campus’s co-curricular processes and departments to make them easier to use and more accessible.

We’d like to see a rededication to sustainability and efforts to address climate change in a real way on campus, taking advantage of assets like the Lyle Center for Regenerative Studies that we already have — to really learn by doing.

We’d like to see less plastic single-use containers on campus, a comprehensive composting program to close the loop on the large volume of food and other green waste we see on campus and more smart solutions that work for students to save them time, money and the environment.

Ultimately, we’d like to see our Earth taken care of as it has taken care of us all. This involves treating each other well, taking care of and getting help for ourselves and others and remembering what brought us all to education in the first place: the quest for knowledge. We need to make our actions match our goals.

Feature image by Lauren Wong. 

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