The Econauts

I was given the opportunity to interview Christy, thrid-year Econaut.

Can you give a brief description on the Econauts and what the organization does?

The EcoNauts are a group of student workers under the HDH Sustainability Department. We focus on spreading awareness about sustainability around campus, and we do this mainly by partnering with RA’s and HA’s to host educational events with their residents. In addition, we take on a variety of other projects like creating vlogs centered around sustainability topics, conducting quarterly waste audits, and hosting Sixth Week Swaps to promote clothing donations and thrifting.

How is your organization involved in the sustainability community?

We attend Inter-Sustainability Council meetings to see how we can partner with other campus organizations, and we are always happy to partner with different groups for their events. In the past, we have attended resource fairs for a variety of campus organizations, allowing us to spread messages about sustainability to many different parts of campus and the student population. We also like to use our vlogs to highlight campus partners working on sustainability initiatives within HDH or that directly impact residents.

Do the Econauts have any specific goals for the 2019-2020 school year?

Over the summer, we revamped a lot of our programs so we are excited to be bringing new, exciting information to residents across campus. We even have digital versions of our programs now that help reduce our carbon footprint further by reducing paper use. We also conducted a bigger and better version of our waste audits this year during fall and winter quarters, which should help us with waste diversion in residential and dining areas.

How are you adapting to COVID-19?

The EcoNauts are sheltering in place at their respective homes but are still working hard to bring sustainability programs and tips to students. With the new virtual format, we are engaging students primarily through social media and our vlogs. Find this great content on the UC San Diego Housing and Dining Facebook and Instagram accounts. As a team, we are looking to come back better than ever during fall quarter. Be on the lookout for all the exciting things we have planned!

The Effects of Palm Oil Production

Palm oil, an edible oil derived from the fruit of the African oil palm, has become a major contributor to environmental degradation. It became a sort of “miracle product” that can be found in everything from cookies to shampoo as it is very versatile and cheap to produce.

However, mass palm oil production has many negative environmental consequences such as habitat destruction, increased carbon emissions, and deforestation. Learn more from the infographics below!

For more information on palm oil and how to avoid it:

Which Everyday Products Contain Palm Oil?

5-minute info – palm oil

What is palm oil and why is it thought to be bad?

How is Coronavirus impacting climate change?

With many countries, states, and cities around the world releasing “stay at home” orders to promote social distancing and try to control the spread of COVID-19, the travel industry has been hit hard. People aren’t driving, flying, or even taking public transport and, as these industries are in lesser demand, the need for oil also falls. Although the drastic changes in everyday life for the average person are undeniable, these practices may have the surprising benefit of curtailing carbon emissions.

Reports from China estimate that carbon emissions have been 25% lower than usual over the past month, directly correlating with the coronavirus pandemic and the strict regulations on travel and social gatherings released by the Chinese government.

Photo courtesy of NASA

What does this mean for long term CO2 accumulation? Will this help to curtail climate change?

For the past 62 years, global carbon dioxide accumulation in our atmosphere has been tracked daily by the Keeling Curve, developed by Scripps Oceanography geochemist Ralph Keeling. According to his calculations, “fossil fuel use would have to decline by about 10% around the world and would need to be sustained for a year to show up clearly in carbon dioxide levels” in order for this to be reflected in the Keeling Curve data as short term variations are often barely distinguishable in contrast to the long term trends.

According to Scripps Oceanography scientist Robert Monroe, these sudden decreases in CO2 emissions will unfortunately have little impact on climate change in the long term as historically, following economic crises, CO2 typically returns to its previous levels as travel and economic activity returns to normal.

For more information on how coronavirus is affecting CO2 emissions:

How the Coronavirus Pandemic Is Affecting CO2 Emissions

Coronavirus: Air pollution and CO2 fall rapidly as virus spreads

What does it take for the coronavirus (or other major economic events) to affect global carbon dioxide readings?

Gary Oshima

UC San Diego Construction Commodity Manager

To find out more about sustainable practices in campus construction, I conversed with Gary Oshima, the Construction Commodity Manager.

What is the role of a construction commodity manager?

In its simplest sense, my role is to develop strategies to maximize our campus spend for construction related expenses.  My position is within the Procurement (IPPS) department of Business Finance but my role deals closely with Capital Planning Management (CPM) which is responsible for new and large construction projects, Housing, Dining and Hospitality (HDH) which is responsible for construction of all student housing and dining projects, Facilities Management (FM) which is responsible for maintenance, repairs and minor remodels of the buildings on campus as well as limited work with the Medical Center and the UC Office of the President regarding system wide construction measures. I look for synergies in each of these departments that may not be realized individually.  “Maximizing our spend” of course means reducing costs but it also could mean adding value where it didn’t previously exist.  For example, I am working to establish a campus standard interactive information kiosk which will provide immediate, on-line information for any user on campus.

What Procurement Sustainability Goals is UC San Diego trying to achieve?  How are we doing?

You are certainly aware of the Sustainability goals that the University has both system-wide and campus-wide.  CPM and HDH have similar construction goals – minimum LEED Silver, Energy and Utility efficiency, Sustainable materials, etc.  For Procurements, our goals are not as well defined because part of what we are trying to develop is a mindset that includes environmental responsibility in the all the decisions that we make.  Yes, we do procure energy efficient or environmentally friendly products but we are also looking at how we can improve our services or how we can influence our suppliers to be more responsible.

An excellent example of improving our services is our Material Support Services team.  The MSS is responsible for delivering packages and supplies to all the campus users.  They have set daily routes and have knowledge and access to all buildings on campus.  With the rise of Amazon, Federal Express and other direct shipping services, there was a considerable increase of delivery trucks on our already crowded campus.  MSS has reached an agreement with these private companies to provide the “last mile delivery”.  Essentially, all packages are now delivered to our central receiving and MSS has assumed the responsibility of delivering those packages to their final destination.  The benefit to the shippers is that they no longer have to negotiate delivery to a campus which has no building addresses and the benefit to the University is that we get more reliable delivery, considerably less traffic and a reduced carbon footprint.

An example of how we influence suppliers is that we encourage companies who have implemented good sustainable practices.  Each RFQ that is issued has a “Sustainability” component in the evaluation which rewards those suppliers who are awarded the contracts.

What challenges do you experience when trying to incorporate sustainability into a construction project?

IPPS procures nearly everything that the University buys: equipment, furniture, office supplies, clothing, food, cars, and more.  The one exception is that, typically, we do not buy construction materials.  The reason that we don’t is because we hire General Contractors to build our buildings and it is the Contractor’s responsibility to procure all of the materials that they need.  As such, we don’t directly control what materials and products are purchased for our capital improvements.  Certainly we have some impact in the materials by what we require in our specifications but we cannot dictate which suppliers or sub-contractors that the General Contractor selects.  In general, the Contractors that work on new capital projects on campus have sustainability goals and values that align with the University but construction is a very budget oriented business.  There is a saying, “In the end, nobody cares about being noble – show me the money” that is apropos. Everyone agrees that Green building practices are beneficial but each initiative still must prove to be fiscally prudent.  One of the challenges that we face as a University is to look at the cost of a building holistically on a life cycle cost basis rather than on a construction cost basis.  In short, there are decisions that we can make during the construction phase which may cost more initially but will prove to save money during the lifetime of the building.  We need to adopt this long range vision of our buildings in order to justify some more significant changes our new buildings. 

The recycled plastic asphalt road was such a huge success.  What other cutting edge solutions are being considered?

The Recycled Plastic Asphalt road has been a success for reasons that are yet to be fully realized.  The amount of waste plastic that we used for our road is insignificant and, even if we paved every street on campus, the impact wouldn’t move the needle on our global waste plastic problem.  The real success of our road is that we got the ball rolling.  Our road was the first of its kind in the United States and the increased interest that we have seen in cities and counties and national paving associations is increasing every month.  The cities of San Diego, Los Angeles and Oakland are considering pilot programs with this product.  California State Senator Ben Hueso’s office has contacted us regarding our street.  Two California based manufacturers have signed licensing agreements which will allow them to source the waste plastic locally – a huge plus for the domestic viability.  Studies with CalTrans have begun as well as the DOT – approval from these agencies would be instrumental in pushing the technology.  It has been 18 months since we laid our street but I feel like the technology is finally taking traction with the public and I expect the interest to grow exponentially over the near future.  What direct impact does that success have to UC San Diego?  None.  How much money is saved or generated by the University?  None.  However, the fact that we were instrumental in introducing this technology to the US and the potential global impact that that technology might have is immeasurable.

Why are sustainably minded projects important to you?

UC San Diego is one of the leading research Universities in the country.  In fields ranging from nanotechnology to climate science to social mobility to marine biology to geopolitical policy to animal behavior to Alzheimer’s research, UC San Diego is a hub for cutting edge technology and the testing of unproven theory.  Innovation and Invention and Discovery are the hallmark of what makes this University thrive.  It is core to our campus and is integral in everything we do.  Perhaps the most important result of this mission is that it teaches our students to open their minds to new ideas and new possibilities; reach beyond the status quo and search for new answers.  And that attitude isn’t something that should just come from the classrooms and labs; that is an attitude that should be fostered everywhere on campus.  No one knows what small idea may trigger another idea that leads to something bigger.  The mindset to always be looking for new opportunities should permeate the campus in every facet of college life.    The reason why it is important to build a recycled plastic asphalt road is not so that our students will go out and build a better street; the reason it’s important is because it helps show people that maybe there’s a better way to do things.  Innovation is everywhere and it is the responsibility of all of us in the University community to remember to promote that ideal.  We don’t offer any classes in it and we don’t offer any degrees but the ability to wonder and experiment and invent are among the greatest lessons to be learned.

Each fall, we get 10,000 new students coming to campus.  They’re young, they’re bright and they’re eager to learn.  We have four years to influence how they look at the world and how they are going to make their mark.  After that, they all go off in 10,000 different directions to shape the world in their own way.  Who knows what small idea or thought leads them to greater things.  We will never know exactly how their four years with us have impacted their careers or their lives – or if it’s even impacted them at all.  But it’s important to remember that it is all of our responsibility to be sure that those four years are a positive and responsible experience.  That’s all we can do.  The road starts here – and our road is paved in recycled plastic asphalt.

“We are the University of California, and there is no reason that UC can’t lead the world in this quest, as it has in so many others.”  President Janet Napolitano, University of California.  Statement issued during the announcement of the Carbon Neutrality Initiative of the University of California.


A few weeks ago, members of the Inter-Sustainability Council along with other sustainability minded UC San Diego students had the opportunity to tour EDCO’s recycling facility – the location to which all recyclables collected on campus are sent. We learned about what happens to everything placed in that blue bin and how exactly each different material is recycled. Slides from Bob Hill’s presentation can be found here. Below you can find some pictures from within the facility!

Engineers for a Sustainable World

I sat down with Billy Park, Vice President of Public Relations of Engineers for a Sustainable World. 

Can you give a brief description on ESW and what the organization does?  

The way I like to describe ESW is that we are a prof/ social engineering club.  We work on 12-14 projects every year, such as solar panels and Bottles to Models,  in which we melt down bottles to 3D print stuff. We also do a lot of networking and outreach with local high schools and hold social events every weekend to make more friends. We also go camping every quarter! 

How is your organization involved in the sustainability community? 

The very nature of our club is being sustainable. We do more looking for ways to spread innovative technologies rather than the political aspect. We also do outreach, and we always do it with the message of sustainability. 

How does your club strive to make your events more sustainable?

When we get utensils we come to the SRC, and we always go down to Roger’s garden to get biodegradable containers so that we can compost. We also always do vegetarian food! A big thing for me is that we don’t do flyers when we table, because they’re not sustainable so instead we do QR codes and posters to try and be as zero waste as possible. 

Does ESW  have any specific goals for the 2019-2020 school year?

Specific goals would probably be increase outreach to high schools. We are planning to network with other universities who have ESW chapters, and we have a networking event(RegCon), where we invite other schools including other schools like SDSU who don’t have ESW. We are also working on sponsorship, and increasing contacts with local industries. 

Do you have any advice for how an individual on campus can be mindful of sustainability?

When it comes down to it, you don’t have to use a plastic bottle. Hydroflasks are much cooler anyways. You don’t have to use plastic plates, or plastic cups. It’s so much better to have a reusable plate, you can just wash it! Pick up after yourself, its common decency! If you can, use public transport or bike!

How could someone get involved in ESW?

You can get involved anytime! We have year round recruitments. Follow us on Facebook or Insta, or email us at You don’t have to be an engineer! Personally, I’m a Math/ Computer Science major. We are looking for all sorts of people who are interested in sustainability. 

Is there anything else you would like people to know about ESW? 

Personally, I like to think of ESW as caring about sustainability, but there is a sort of stigma against people who want sustainability, but if you care about engineering or sustainability or making friends, we are all pretty chill, check us out. 

Last Mile Delivery Initiative

To learn more about this new campus initiative, I conversed with Robbie Jacob, the Associate Director of Logistics here at UC San Diego.

Can you briefly describe Logistics 2.0 and how it works? 

The Logistics 2.0 project revolves around aligning the logistics operations for UC San Diego to the LRDP (Long Range Development Plan) published by UC San Diego. Supporting campus growth, the need to remove vehicles from campus, therefore congestion and provide a better delivery service to support world class education and research.

How is this a more sustainable alternative to the prior delivery system? 

The Logistics 2.0 initiative has 5 pillars, one of which is a Carbon Neutral last mile. The UC President, Janet Nipalitano, set the course for schools to be carbon neutral by 2025. We are doing our part by transitioning our last mile delivery method to be 100% carbon neutral over the next few years. Over the past 8 months we have tested a few electric vehicles to deliver items to campus customers and the plan is to transition 2 vehicles per year over the next few years to be electric delivery vehicles. This removes over 180 tons of carbon for last mile delivery to campus.  We are also going to be utilizing electric bicycles to deliver to non-vehicle access areas once some construction projects on campus are complete.

With the help of RMP, our facility is a living laboratory for UC San Diego with solar panels on the roof, a battery storage facility on site and electric chargers at our facility we are set up to be the first in higher education to provide a 100% carbon neutral last mile delivery to support campus. Our goal is not only to be sustainable, but by aligning with the LRDP we can help campus envision the future state without the congestion of delivery vehicles impacting campus employees and visitors.

What was the inspiration for this initiative? 

Over 30 years ago, leadership of UC San Diego decided that a central receiving operation was imperative in supporting campus needs. Now, more than ever, it is critical to have an operation where delivering to a central location and allowing us to consolidate with our resources can remove over 7,000 truck trips a year on our campus. UC San Diego is transitioning to a walking campus, and the question is how do you deliver to locations where vehicles are not allowed. UPS / Fed Ex do not want to spend their time walking across 15 acres of non-vehicle access to deliver items. We are evolving the Logistics operation to support this transition.

What are some of the challenges in trying to become more sustainable on campus?

 We are lucky that we are a living laboratory and have some infrastructure in place to pursue this. That being said, there are more enhancements needed at our facility to support 100% carbon neutral last mile delivery. Electric delivery vehicles are new to the market and are first iterations of future products so testing vehicles and implementing the technology is a challenge.

Are there any other sustainability related projects that you are currently working on? 

Eventually we would like our Logistics operation to be an asset for campus on the disposition of packing material (boxes and air bags). We are working to build into Logistics 2.0 a way that we can support RMP or campus initiatives around removing cardboard and packaging materials from campus. This would include us “backhauling” materials from campus to our facility to be recycled.

Pay-by-Plate Expansion for Parking Pay Stations

Beginning November 25, 2019, UC San Diego Transportation Services has expanded their new pay-by-plate program, using the app Parkmobile as part of their goal of phasing out plastic and paper permits. TS sent out a notice about this expansion, stating:

“Transportation Services (TS) will be expanding the pay-by-plate program for all pay stations (excluding patient parking) starting November 25, 2019. Using license plates as a parking credential enables TS to verify parking fee payments by electronically reading vehicle license plates; essentially, the plate becomes the permit. This added expansion is part of our commitment to our environment, reducing the need for plastic and paper permits. Using license plates as the parking credential also safeguards permitholders from warnings or citations when permits fall or are forgotten.

In this next phase, campus pay stations will be reconfigured to accept license plate information, eliminating the need for visitors to display a paper permit on their dashboard. The pay-by-plate conversion starts November 25, 2019 with the pay stations located in lots P703, P704, and P705. We will continue to convert the pay stations on campus and we will be completed by no later than December 20, 2019. Signage will be posted at the entrance of the lots and on the pay station’s screen.

In the future, UC San Diego will move towards using license plates in lieu of physical permits for our faculty, staff and students. In preparation, we ask that you log into your parking account at and review the vehicle(s) you have listed. Please ensure that both license plates and vehicles are accurate and update your account, as needed.”

Although this may seem to be a small change, thinking about the number of plastic student, faculty, and staff permits are made every quarter, in addition to the paper visitor passes, phasing out these physical permits in exchange for a pay-by-plate program would have a fairly large environmental impact!

Ellie’s Garden

Ellie’s Garden| Clara Pierone

I sat down with Clara Pierone, president of Ellie’s Garden, located in Eleanor Roosevelt College. 

Can you give a brief description on Ellie’s Garden and what the organization does?  

Ellie’s garden is a club that tends to three plots in ERC. We plant foods and flowers and all types of plants, and we also do composting. We get coffee grounds and food scraps from students and events! We also really encourage the community to take what we grow. 

How is your organization involved in the sustainability community? 

For, one we promote growing your own food, and eating food directly from the ground, trying to educate people for healthier and more sustainable eating. We promote composting, and lend compost bins to students. We also are known to do a lot of tree plantings which are good for our planet!

Does Ellie’s Garden have any specific goals for the 2019-2020 school year?

I think we are really interested in getting more students composting. We’d really like to get a solid bin loaning program operating and a more educational program to get as many people do do it as possible. That’s definitely a goal this year. We are hoping to get another fourth plot and turn it into something beautiful, like maybe a butterfly garden! 

Do you have any advice for how an individual on campus can contribute to sustainability?

Definitely being aware of where your food is coming from and reducing packaging and being aware of campus resources, like Ellie’s Garden. Be aware of what can and can’t be composted!

How could someone get involved in Ellie’s Garden?

It’s so easy! Show up and garden wit us anytime. We have gardening sessions Sat 12:30-2:30, and Wednesday 10am-11am between Africa and Asia halls. You can come and go as you please! Not a large commitment to be a member. We also love to take people’s requests for things to plant, especially if it will be eaten. 

Is there anything you’d want people to know? 

There are so many places which promote sustainability who are happy to talk to people! We’d love to talk to you about sustainability.  The resources are there, you just need to take advantage of it. 

How could you start composting at home? 

Get a bin, you can get a bin from us or you can use your own. We just don’t take milk and meat products, but we take eggshells, onion skins, other produce scraps, stems, coffee grounds and tea bags. Empty it when it starts to get full. Compost bins are between Europe Hall and North America hall. I will add that we have been getting a lot of composting bags, but they take a much longer time to degrade than their food. It is important to note that plastic can’t be composted! People still don’t get that sometimes. Although, paper can be composted, and compostable containers, like the ones that come from the Food Co-op can go into the compost! Compost is basically green stuff, brown stuff, water, oxygen, and little bugs! 

Ocean Lover’s Club

Ocean Lover’s Club | Kylie Morgan 

In an effort to promote sustainable organizations on campus, this interview focuses on the Ocean Lover’s Club, represented here by club officer Kylie Morgan. The Ocean Lover’s Club is a student organization which promotes community engagement and clean oceans. 

Can you give a brief description on Ocean Lover’s club and what the organization does?  

“As a club, we work toward keeping the ocean clean, educating the community, and appreciating where we live. We host ocean cleanups and assist larger organizations on campus in order to promote the larger goal of sustainability. A few of the events we hold include bi- weekly ocean cleanups. We also host bigger, fun days where everyone is welcome, so that people can appreciate the ocean.”

What does it mean to appreciate the ocean?

 Appreciating the ocean means spending time there in a positive manner. Go there when you have a bad day! I was there recently and as the wave crested, I thought I had seen a big fish, but we figured out it was actually a leopard shark! That’s another thing, we try and make sure people aren’t scared of the ocean, or scared of sharks. 

How is your organization involved in the sustainability community? 

We are a part of the Inter- Sustainability Council (ISC), and we attend ISC events.  We also collaborate with Students for Conservation to do beach cleanups! Additionally, we attend sustainable events on campus. For example, even though the Ocean Lover’s Club doesn’t focus on food, we sent officers to the Sustainable Food Expo to support sustainability events! 

Does Ocean Lover’s Club have any specific goals for the 2019-2020 school year?

This academic year is about growth as a club. Last year was the first full year for us! The Ocean Lover’s Club is still a small club but this year we are looking to expand! 

Do you have any advice for how an individual on campus can be mindful of our oceans?

Being really mindful of microplastics! A lot of people aren’t really aware about the issue of microplastics, but a lot of beauty products and facial scrubs contain harmful microbeads! Also,  support local brands who are also for the ocean when you can. 

How could someone get involved in Ocean Lover’s Club?

We have club meetings every other weekend, and beach clean ups every other weekend. We also have snorkeling and kayak events every quarter and ANYONE can come out! 

Is there anything else you would want people to know about the Ocean Lover’s Club? We are just a really happy community of friends and positive growth. We want to try and support you in any way we can to support the sustainability community in the way we know how!