UCSF Sustainability Stories

Lauren Ng, UCSF Sustainability Coordinator, June 2020

UCSF Community Celebrates Earth Day at Home

For the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, UCSF’s Office of Sustainability had planned to celebrate this important milestone with a multitude of events, from ice cream socials to tree plantings. Then shelter-in-place orders were announced in March. Was it time to plant trees together over Zoom? Would we be video calling in pajamas, eating ice cream from our own freezers? As you can imagine, some events just aren’t the same online.

Yet still we wanted people to be able to celebrate Earth Day at home—so, we created the Earth Day Digest. It featured weekly newsletters with activities to do at home and prizes for the best photo and written entries. Our sustainable prizes included gift cards to Rainbow Grocery and CSA delivery boxes from Farm Fresh to You. With a total of 61 participants, we received over 80 submissions!

Here are excerpts from each week’s winning entries. Click on each week to view the full newsletters.

Week 1: Wellness
In this first week we challenged you to focus on what you can do to cultivate wellness: actions that build community resilience and connect us to our world.

Tina Viju wrote:
“Social distancing is supposed to be the silver bullet for this pandemic, but it has caused painful isolation for many. My tip for good mental health is to turn social distancing into distant socializing. It’s great to incorporate kids into these practices. I wanted my kids to understand the sacrifices and struggles of people providing essential services. My kids made cards and gave them along with gift cards to the mail man and the delivery man. Covid-19 has come to teach us important lessons on not only hand washing but also on gratitude, compassion and resilience. Kindness does not need to be on lock down.”

Week 2: Food
This week focused on things we can do from home to make food more sustainable, such as lower our carbon “foodprint,” reduce food waste, grow our own veggies, and support local farms.

Jamie Rey submitted these photos:

Week 3: Activism
On the week of April 22, Earth Day, we invited you to participate in acts of activism from home.

An anonymous participant shared:
“I chose to have a conversation with our roommate, who is a habitual food waster. My wife and I are nearly the opposite –it pains both of us to waste even the smallest bit of food –while our roommate prefers to avoid eating leftovers that are even a day old and regularly throws out spoiled food simply because she bought too much. We followed the Climate Reality Project’s suggestion to disentangle the discussion from identity, and instead pursue the ‘why’ behind someone’s beliefs and actions. It was helpful to understand and discuss why she had the habits that she did, and then, rather than listing off statistics about food waste and its damage to the environment, describe what happens to an individual bit of food waste and how reducing waste individually can help prevent this urgent problem.”

Week 4: Energy
This week’s focus was actions that reduce our energy use and lower our carbon footprint.

Cara Pennachio wrote:
“I moved out of SF before COVID and hadn’t used a car in 5 years. So when it came time to purchase, I chose a hybrid to make sure I kept my impact small. Before COVID I was investigating CalTrain and rideshare/carpool options to keep my footprint low.”

Week 5: Zero Waste
The topic for this week was zero waste and the ways we can decrease the amount of waste we produce.

Stephanie Chzen shared:
“When I listened to a podcast about China’s ban on purchasing foreign recyclables, it shattered my perception of recycling as the answer to waste and raised my awareness on the issue. Even though I dutifully sorted and washed my recycling, it simply was not the solution. If there is less waste, then there is less to recycle. Reducing and reusing is crucial to preserving our planet.

I also learned that food scraps produce methane in landfills because of the lack of oxygen and are one of the highest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions! So I’ve been actively trying to reduce food waste, like reusing whenever I can, planting kitchen scraps, starting a compost bin, and freezing vegetable bits to make a stock.

My hope is that we can all be good stewards of this home we’ve been given and make this planet a clean and safe place to live.”

Grand Prize Winner: Holly Ganoe

Holly submitted this entry:
“My name’s Holly, and I’m a nurse on 7Long. I’ve struggled to initiate the conversation with others about being more eco-friendly, because I worry about sounding righteous or pushy. However, this year I have voiced my interest in minimizing our waste and doing good things for the environment. For example, at the end of January 2020, I organized a volunteer activity, where fellow nurses and I got to plant trees in Golden Gate Park!
  This year for Earth Day I had organized a group hike and trash clean up. When the event was cancelled due to COVID-19, I sent out an email to coworkers urging them to get outside and enjoy nature (hiking/urban hiking was allowed) and make a vegetarian dinner. All this has led to so many fun and interesting conversations with co-workers and has even encouraged positive environmental action on our unit!

I try to always be mindful of the environmental and ethical impacts of eating meat. After reading We are the Weather by Jonathan Safran Foer, my fiancé and I decided we could do better on our foodprint. We turned Meatless Mondays into Meaty Mondays, so instead of eating vegetarian only on Monday, we eat vegetarian every day except Monday. Mostly Plants by the Pollan Family has been great for recipe ideas! We also decided that all our meat must come from our local Farmer’s Market to ensure it is high quality and ethically-raised. After taking the foodprint quiz I realized how high the emissions of other animal products are, too, so we will also commit to eating 4 vegan meals a week.”

Repurposing flowers for potpourri

Holly also went above and beyond and took part in our challenges: Grow Your Veggie Scraps, Cut Down on Food Waste, Show Off Your Thrifted Fashion—and even the 31-Day Zero Waste Challenge! Holly met the challenges with many inspiring actions, such as growing a garden with veggie scraps, finding creative ways to cook with veggie scraps, purchasing second-hand clothing rather than new, gifting unwanted items to others for reuse, unplugging devices when not in use, drying flowers to repurpose them for decoration, and converting her friends to sustainable bamboo toilet paper. Congratulations, Holly!

The current situation may have you feeling down, but we hope that these entries serve as a positive reminder of all the good, planet-friendly things people are doing out there! We also hope that you are inspired to take some of these actions at home.

Follow us on Instagram to see other UCSF Community members’ entries.