Feature Stories


Ana Toepel, Green Impact, September 2019


UCSF Green Champion Spotlight: JoAnn Lopez

The spotlight this month is on JoAnn Lopez, who just recently retired from her role as UCSF Student Life Coordinator. JoAnn received the 2019 Sustainability Award in the Campus Staff category for her tireless commitment to UCSF’s zero waste goal and for ensuring that the Student Life staff has all of the materials and information it needs to support the efforts toward zero waste.

One of JoAnn’s great contributions was helping her office achieve UCSF’s LivingGreen Gold certification, the second highest certification level possible. With kindness and a positive attitude, JoAnn encouraged colleagues in the department to properly sort waste, be mindful of how much waste is being created, make events as green as possible, and ensure that purchases are the most sustainable they can be. When nominating JoAnn for the sustainability award, Daniel Chau, Recycling Analyst for UCSF Facilities Services, shared that she put in the hard work to make the goal of zero waste a major focus for Student Life and to create a culture of minimizing waste.

Another accomplishment of JoAnn’s was working to make UCSF’s Student Food Market zero waste. Kathy Chew, a colleague in Student Life who nominated her, noted that prior to JoAnn working on this effort, the market had received feedback it was producing unnecessary waste. JoAnn was extremely proactive and worked with the recycling program team to dump and recycle expired food cans and to compost expired food and spoiled food from the market. Chew added that because of her dedication the market was able to cut down their waste significantly.

Read on to hear from JoAnn about her life-long commitment to sustainability.

What sparked your interest in sustainability and zero waste?
Recycling and repurposing were prominent in my childhood. My family was creative in reusing and recycling items—nothing was wasted. Most of our bicycles were built from a pile of bicycle parts. When household items no longer worked, we’d find a way to fix them or we recycled the parts. When I started at UCSF in the ‘90s I began to learn about sustainability efforts from my supervisor, Aífe Murray. We purchased recycled paper, repurposed paper by reusing the clean back side for printing or as note paper, used water pitchers instead of individual bottles, and worked closely with the recycling staff who answered numerous questions and assisted with our event and office needs. Sustainability is definitely a life-long relationship that requires tending to everyday.

Why do you think sustainability is important for UCSF?
UCSF is the 2nd largest employer in San Francisco and the UCSF community is recognized world-wide. Our greatest gifts are our visitors, patients, staff, faculty, and students. We’re privileged to meet people from all over the globe, and we can easily model sustainability behavior that can make a significant difference in the world. When people arrive on our campus they step into an environment where they can experience meaningful sustainability efforts. For example, at the Chancellor’s New Student Reception, incoming students are welcomed by the Recycling Program team who assist them with sorting their waste at the bins. We can take what we learn at UCSF with us wherever we travel and make a difference even if it feels small. We can start by doing our part—plus a little bit more.

What accomplishments are you most proud of in your sustainability efforts at UCSF?
I am proud that Student Life is committed to supporting UCSF’s sustainability efforts. Student Life staff considers recycling options, watches sustainability videos, has signed up to receive the UCSF LivingGreen updates, actively participated in our LivingGreen Office Certification, consistently uses refillable beverage containers, flattens and recycles cardboard, provides ongoing training to our students and student workers, uses cloth towels, considers non-toxic cleaning supplies, asks the community to recycle their shopping bags for the Student Food Market, understands the importance of donating to schools and non-profit organizations, and makes use of the monthly opportunities to drop off e-waste and bulk items to be recycled. Staff makes every sustainability effort possible and stretches to accomplish Zero Waste in 2020!

How do you integrate sustainability into your personal life?
I take a deep breath. I recycle, rethink, and repurpose items. When I see people standing at the recycling bin looking puzzled, I start a friendly, non-judgmental conversation about the effort, its importance, and how it works. About 98% of the time, I carry and use my metal or glass beverage containers everywhere I go—even restaurants. I have my cloth shopping bag on hand, too, and refuse packaging from vendors as much as possible. I borrow books or I buy used books, read them, and then keep them in circulation by giving them away. As I go through my day or when I sit quietly, I seek opportunities where I can change my thinking to simplify my life, minimize waste, reduce plastic usage, and repurpose or donate items. I have helped people organize their closets and encourage them to donate often and to buy less, too. I like this heartfelt saying: “Fill your life with adventures, not things. Have stories to tell not stuff to show.”

What actions related to sustainability would you encourage the UCSF community to take?
In my view, the best action is to use all avenues to learn more about sustainability efforts at UCSF and then support everyone who steps into the community to learn about these efforts. Every individual at UCSF can easily make a difference the moment they step onto campus, because there is effective signage and recycling receptacles everywhere you turn. Plus, the information is easily available online as well. We can model positive sustainability behavior at UCSF daily by stepping up and having friendly conversations with others that create opportunities for making choices that support sustainability efforts. On a daily basis, do something for our environment and for others.