Our world faces numerous barriers regarding sustainability. But at Boston University, there is hope. From first-year students to graduating master’s students, Terriers are making substantial inroads in addressing environmental issues.
BU Sustainability and [email protected] awarded seven Sustainability Innovation grants earlier this month to student-led projects for the BU community and beyond.
With the $500 grant, teams of students can bring their ideas to fruition and launch high-impact projects centered around carbon, curriculum, connection and more.
The Queer Art of Sustainability
Jere Schulz, a master’s student in BU’s School of Theology, co-founded The Queer Art of Sustainability to empower gender and sexually diverse people advocating for enviornmental justice.
“I’m really very passionate about queer culture, queer content, I think that you can never have enough,” Schulz said. “I was thinking, what about the sustainability of people, particularly queer people?”
After first thinking about investigating the impact of sex products on the environment, Schulz pivoted to look at the “sustainability of queerness” and drag performers, many of whom he said have been performing on “TheServeNetwork” on Twitch, a video live streaming platform, since the pandemic.
The project will culminate in a Twitch event featuring multiple performers recycling materials from past shows in their performance, sharing stories about their work and “how drag sustains them as people,” Schulz said.
They said missions like this are especially important because studies have shown that climate change can disproportionately affect the LGBTQ+ community — queer people are more likely to be excluded from disaster relief, become homeless and have less access to health care, and environmental changes can further negatively impact those existing threats.
“We really want to emphasize that sustainability goes beyond the things that you typically think of,” Schulz said. “Queer life … and I would especially name that trans life is something that is not talked about as being sustainable in America, and so we wanted to uplift that reality, that people and communities should also be really involved in the conversations around sustainability.”
Schulz said creating more queer content, at BU specifically, is very important. Schulz said she hopes the University’s support for this project leads to further efforts to amplify queer voices.
Schulz said he hopes the event and ones like it help preserve this “really important cultural phenomenon,” during the pandemic, while allowing more people to engage with and learn about queer culture.
Tara Sarli, a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences, founded Petal Grove Company to create plant-dyed stationery from used paper found in BU recycling bins, some of which also have seeds customers can plant after use.
Sarli said she created the project after seeing a TikTok about an alternative paper creation process.
The process involves wetting old paper, blending it and then framing it with metal wire, she said. For some paper products, Sarli bakes the chia seeds and flax seeds into the paper in the oven. She said the body of the notebook will have dried petals.
She is also trying to create a pen with compostable ink.
As a low-income freshman, Sarli said she was encouraged to take initiative after seeing the email about the grant. She encourages others to recognize the value of their ideas and be persistent in reaching out to individuals and organizations.
“It’s never too early to start a project that can help me to reach financial freedom at an earlier age than I had already thought,” she said. “You’ll never know if it is successful if you never give it a try.”
BU Low Carbon Dining
BU Low Carbon Dining aims to help students become more conscious of how their dining choices impact the environment by adding an icon to dining hall menus indicating a “low-carbon option.”
CAS sophomore Amir Wilson co-created the project with Rachel Koh and Jonas Kaplan-Bucciarelli. Wilson said because college students are already passionate about their environmental impact, he hopes this effort will encourage more discussion and engage the student body to think more critically about their consumption.
“The purpose is to spread more awareness around the student body about what is going into making certain food options available to them,” he said. “Providing a carbon icon that indicates this information would allow them to make better decisions in line with their moral and ethical beliefs.”
Wilson said the plan was modeled after systems at the University of California, Berkeley and University of California, Los Angeles, and the determinations would be made by the World Resources Institute’s Cool Food Pledge calculator.
Kaplan-Bucciarelli, also a CAS sophomore, said he hopes the University will adopt their method.
“We’re proposing this specific method as a way that BU could measure the carbon impact of their food,” he said. “If they like it, which we hope they do, then it would be the method that they use.”
Broccoli in the Fridge
For busy young professionals and on-the-go college students, Broccoli in the Fridge is an app that helps people limit food waste through features such as tracking expiration dates, logging leftovers and personalized grocery recommendations based on users’ needs and leftovers.
The project started off as an assignment for Ideas to Impact, a Questrom School of Business course, said CAS senior and co-founder Ezgi Eyigor.
“Sometimes I would see my friends not recycling, because in their own houses they do but on a college campus they’re too busy,” she said. “Sometimes it feels unreal when you’re in a dormitory, but it’s still waste, it still [is] affecting our world.”
Eyigor said individual actions are vital in addressing large-scale problems.
“If you see something on that street that is bugging you … don’t be another person walking,” she said, “just be the one that initiates and starts it.”
Rachel Koh, a first-semester freshman in the College of General Studies, centered her project “RE:purpose” around the idea of waste.
The project’s “purpose,” Koh said, is to match organizations and create a system in which one company’s waste is another’s raw materials, which encourages transparency. She said such “relationship-based recycling” minimizes waste and also preserves natural resources — a double positive impact on sustainability.
Koh — who grew up in Borneo, a tropical island in the Pacific Ocean — said she’s passionate about conserving biodiversity by changing business practices. This idea, she said, was an extension of her desire to reduce waste and make an impact.
“I grew up very aware of conservation and of the ways in which the jungle where I lived is being damaged and uprooted to make room for commercial palm tree plantations,” she said. “I’ve always been interested as well in the intersection between sustainability and business, particularly in the ways that all of the waste that we interact with we usually purchase it.”
Before winning the grant, Koh worked with the BUild Lab’s First-Year Innovation Fellowship, through [email protected], to bring her ideas to reality, she said. Koh said RE:purpose will work with Goodwill to transform unusable clothing into tote bags and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University to repurpose construction waste into art.
Energy Street TV
Dan Katzenberger, a first-year student in Questrom’s online MBA program, founded Energy Street TV: an entertaining series of educational videos and activities about energy, environment and the role humans play in shaping both.
Katzenberger described the channel’s content as a “combination of ‘Bill Nye the Science Guy’ and ‘MythBusters’” and one that would enable audiences to connect with the natural world.
“My ultimate goal is I want to give young people the hope, the knowledge and the tools they will need to help complete the transition to 100% renewable energy,” he said.
Katzenberger added the grant will help him keep him to a deadline and make the project a reality — the videos, he said, will be on YouTube in April.
Colors of Climate Change Initiative
The Colors of Climate Change Initiative intends to create sustainability-oriented course curriculums geared toward middle and high school students through “Boston Wheelock science teaching practicums,” according to the [email protected] website.
Mira Bookman, a graduate student in BU’s Wheelock College of Education and Human Development and co-founder of the Initiative, said she created the project to disseminate sustainability curriculum to educators.
“The purpose of this grant and the project is to really come up with some standardized way of getting the information out there,” she said.
In addition to classrooms, their work extends to social media, where they will feature student artwork about climate change and environmental issues in addition to infographics.
Bookman said she advises students seeking to make a difference to start by looking at their own lives.
“Focus on starting small and addressing those issues that you see in your everyday life,” she said. “I feel like with sustainability, with climate change, it seems like such an overwhelming issue that a lot of people focus on the broader picture, rather than breaking down what can we actually be doing in our everyday life to make a small difference.”