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Maroon, Gold, and Green: A Look Into Sustainability Initiatives on the Heights

This is the first installment of a two-part series about sustainability and the climate change conversation at Boston College. 

Looking to the future of environmental sustainability at Boston College, Margaret Ryan said the University should prioritize creativity—it could even reimagine a more eco-friendly version of the Mods.

“They’re not really supposed to be permanent, but what if they replaced them one at a time with more permanent structures and made that a green community for the future?” Ryan, MCAS ’25, said. “You could do solar panels. You could plant more trees to really make it like a whole experience.” 

Ryan said initiatives like the green transformation of popular campus buildings are only achievable with enthusiasm and support from the entire BC campus. But students and the University itself are already spearheading initiatives to make BC more environmentally friendly, she added. 

“Personally, I feel like BC is a little behind other campuses, but I feel like we’re making really great strides to make the campus more sustainable and raise awareness among students as well,” Ryan said. 

Ryan is a sustainability intern for the BC Office of Sustainability—an office within the University that collaborates with BC Facilities Management, BC Dining, and student groups to support multiple sustainability initiatives and projects.

The office’s sustainability goals include topics such as waste reduction and recycling, leadership and social justice, and energy and climate change, according to its website

The Office of Sustainability at Boston College serves as a resource and catalyst to advance University goals for campus-wide sustainability,” the website reads. 

Ryan and the two other sustainability interns are just one part of a large web of resource development, events, and programs created by multiple groups around campus—including students and BC employees—to protect the environment, she said.

(Photo Courtesy of the Office of Sustainability)

A main goal of the Office of Sustainability’s initiatives is to encourage students to participate in more eco-friendly behavior, Ryan said. As a sustainability intern, Ryan said she mainly coordinates the office’s communication and social media efforts.

“I really just try to bring the environmental and sustainable events to the forefront of students’ attention on campus,” Ryan said. 

Bruce Dixon, sustainability program manager for the Office of Sustainability, said he oversees sustainability programming within BC Facilities Management, including collaborative programs with sustainability interns and student organizations like Real Food BC and EcoPledge. 

“I love all of these initiatives, because they do somehow, one way or another, engage with different groups of students, whether it’s EcoPledge students, or just the campus community in general,” Dixon said.

In collaboration with the Office of Sustainability, Dixon said Real Food BC—a food justice and sustainability student club—manages a University garden between Hammond Street and Beacon Street. 

“What that garden does is provide vegetables not only for Real Food, but also for the Centre Street Pantry that provides food for those in need and within our Newton community,” Dixon said. 

Similar to the garden, Dixon said the Fulton Hall beehive is a creative way of increasing students’ awareness of the University’s sustainability efforts. A camera at the beehive monitors a hive that was donated in 2020 and still provides habitats to bees, according to the website

“You can’t see it live stream, but we will do videos of the beekeeper coming in to perform general maintenance on the hive,” Dixon said. “It also covered food for the bees and so and then we replay it on our website on our sustainability website.” 

Out of every Office of Sustainability initiative, Dixon said the Green Ambassador Program—a program of students that encourages fans at football, hockey, and basketball games to recycle—is his favorite. The green ambassadors give away prizes to people who win trivia games about BC sports teams and recycling. 

“During football, we just give away items, and that is a nice icebreaker to inform the fans about using their blue bags and to be aware of recycling in general on campus,” Dixon said. “They can win gift cards to Playa Bowls, gift cards to Subway, and gift cards to Los Amigos.”

Dixon said the Office of Sustainability and EcoPledge recently collaborated to create BCShares, a platform that allows students to share unwanted items with other students. This is another way the University collaborates with students to reduce waste, he said. 

“The inspiration for a lot of it was literally just from Facebook Marketplace,” said Molly Bardong, co-president of BCShares MCAS ’25. “But why would students be paying for things when they could be two doors down in the residence hall?”

Because of its partnership with the University, Bardong said BCShares maintains the University’s desire to promote Jesuit values in all it does. The Jesuit emphasis on serving one’s community inspired BCShares to stay committed to on-campus exchanges, Bardong said, rather than facilitating exchanges with other universities. 

“As we started BCShares, Bruce, who works in the Office of Sustainability, emphasized that we wanted to exemplify St. Ignatius,” Bardong said. 

Dixon said BCShares and the other student projects demonstrate the importance of grassroots movements. By encouraging younger students to make sustainable strides on campus, Dixon said that BC’s current students are taking part in a culture that normalizes sustainable behavior. 

“I truly feel that it’s important to allow students and to allow faculty and staff to build upon each initiative so that as years go on, and we have more new students coming in every year as a freshman class, they see that ‘Oh, this is what we’re doing—I want to jump into this, or we do it this way here at BC,’” Dixon said. 

BC Dining Director Beth Emery said that, like the Office of Sustainability, BC Dining has implemented a number of initiatives to be more sustainable throughout her 10 years working at the University. 

“I just have always been interested and saw opportunity for improvement, and I had a student come to me who had a number of questions and some suggestions,” Emery said. “And so I hired her, and she was our first sustainability intern.”

Today, BC Dining has six interns as well as one student manager. Emery said the importance of incorporating students in sustainability efforts cannot be understated. 

“The students inspire me,” Emery said. “I find that our best ideas come from students, and they also get feedback from other students.”

One sustainability initiative centered around the student body is Green2Go, a reusable to-go container program launched in 2021.  

(Photo Courtesy of the Office of Sustainability)

“We’ve tried to convert almost everything to compostable containers with the exception of our current flatware, but we’re going to make that switch soon, maybe in January,” Emery said.

Emery said that BC Dining offers incentives like receiving 10 percent off the price of any non-packaged food items with every use of the reusable containers. Still, Emery said BC Dining interns work hard to increase student engagement with the Green2Go initiative. 

“We’re trying to really encourage students to do the Green2Go,” Emery said. “So that’s the one thing we’re hoping that we can get more students excited about.” 

Emery said BC Dining also incentivises students to use reusable water bottles when getting beverages and hopes to eliminate single-use product usage for other beverages, such as coffee. 

“We’re doing that [at Lower], like you can go down and pour your own coffee here, and if you had a container that was able to take hot coffee, and fill it to the top, you get charged small,” Emery said. 

And similarly to the Office of Sustainability, BC Dining emphasizes initiatives that reduce waste. BC Dining utilizes The Boston College Dining Services Sustainability Report as a tool to track its successes in reducing waste and set new sustainability goals. 

“From waste management, to food rescue, to more regional and socially just purchasing, it is exciting to see how much progress we are making and the wonderful recognition that we have received,” Emery said in the report. 

To address the goals in the report, Emery said that she leads a partnership with LeanPath—a food service organization that aims to prevent food waste from university, hospital, and hotel kitchens across the country. 

In this partnership, Emery said that multiple BC Dining kitchens on campus weigh and take photos of their food waste at the end of each day and brainstorm ways to reduce this waste. 

“So there were a couple things that came out of that here at Lower,” Emery said. “The frontline employees that do the salad bar said ‘Why are we putting out full big pans of produce at closing and why don’t we put in smaller pans, and still have the selection to make a nice salad, but you’re not wasting all the produce,’” Emery said. 

Emery said dining workers’ detail-oriented changes in Lower, Mac, and the Rat create a large cumulative impact in lessening food waste throughout campus. BC Dining has even started to donate leftover food to local charities, Emery said.

“There’s an outside company called Rescuing Leftover Cuisine, and then they deliver that to area locations that accept food donations,” Emery said. 

Emery said there are many moving parts to reducing food waste while also prioritizing student engagement and BC Dining’s business. Though it may be more expensive for BC Dining to offer more sustainable food and resources, Emery said it is the right thing to do. 

“I just think it’s the right thing to do, particularly being on a university campus and trying to educate students to make good decisions for the future,” Emery said.

Ryan thinks BC Dining and BC Facilities do a good job at engaging with freshmen, especially when it comes to Green2Go and composting, she said. But, she does notice a disconnect between the University’s sustainability initiatives and the student body at large.

“I think the main issue there is that not all students follow these programs but once again, there can be more educational opportunities to get kids understanding the importance of composting and making sure people keep separating their waste that way,” Ryan said.

(Photo Courtesy of the Office of Sustainability)

This lack of engagement from students could be a result of students navigating busy schedules and disregarding some emails they receive, Ryan said. Despite this, Ryan said that she has high hopes for the future of sustainability efforts across campus—this includes work from student clubs and the University’s programs. 

“I do feel like things are growing just because more students are interested in sustainability,” Ryan said. “So I feel like the interest on campus is growing.”

Ryan said she thinks smaller sustainability initiatives encourage students to look at the “bigger picture” and consider the growing importance of sustainability moving into the future. 

“Sustainability is going to be so important going forward,” Ryan said. “It doesn’t matter what your career interest is, or, you know, your individual interests—It’s going to apply to so many different disciplines, so I think it’s important for students to view it as something they should be paying attention to and being proactive about.”

November 5, 2023