by Sierra Petro
Sustainability is part of the Purchase College culture from admissions officers who preach the topic to visitors to the number of students decked out in thrifted clothing. Next to Purchase’s vegetarian/vegan dining hall is an open door to the cramped office of Angie Kim, Purchase’s Sustainability Coordinator. Kim has a warm demeanor and tender ten-month status at Purchase, but her passion for sustainability is producing results.
The passion Kim has for the environment has been lifelong. She grew up hiking in the national parks near her hometown in the western part of Virginia between the Blue Ridge and Appalachian Mountains. She spent her junior and senior years of high school at an environmental science and technology-focused governor’s school for half the day. She majored in environmental science at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where she figured out she wanted to work in higher education towards the end of her college career.
“It’s such an impressionable time; you’re learning new ideas, getting away from home, and breaking through belief systems you grew up with,” she said.
When it came to picking a school, Kim was open to any public college. She views working at a public college as giving back to the community. One advantage of Purchase for Kim was its location. New York is a generally progressive state and is a leader across the U.S. in maintaining E.P.A. policies under new administrators who forget about it, said Kim.
She was sold on Purchase when she visited the school. The campus occupies 500 acres of land, but the academic buildings are located in one place with nature surrounding it. “The landscape gave me a sense of home,” she said.
The Purchase community was another deciding factor for Kim. “There was this sense of culture here that I could see everyone was really passionate about the things they held value to,” she said. “It sounded like the people here were really working for good causes.”
Kim learned of the sustainability efforts that existed before her arrival. She said the efforts began in 2007 when President Schwarz signed on for Purchase to become one of the original signatories of the American College/University Presidents Climate Act. The act was a commitment to carbon neutrality (described by Kim as taking in an equal amount of energy put out). A sustainability coordinator (overseer of sustainability efforts) was hired that year.
Senior Energy Manager Thomas Kelly championed sustainability efforts upon his arrival to campus five years ago. Kelly is now Kim’s supervisor, and the two work to bring the many ideas for sustainability together. Kelly said that Kim has excelled in communicating sustainability to the campus from employees to students. “Students are the college’s greatest resource and have been very receptive to sustainability,” said Kelly.
When Kim arrived at Purchase in January, she took a lot of time to observe. She noticed a gap between students and employees when it came to sustainability efforts.
“I heard about all the great things the Green Team was doing and all the proposals the Green Fee was advocating for. Then there was this committee of faculty that wanted to help and do more. I’ve been trying to bring them together.”
Kim is the chair of the Sustainability Committee (made up of faculty from various departments). She works with the student organizations, but does not oversee them. Kim updates the committee on what students are working on and vice-versa. Kim created an open forum to initiate conversation between the faculty and student groups in one space.The first forum is set for Oct. 23.
Michael Kopas, Director of Facilities and Capital Management, hired Kim and said that she has excelled at her efforts to bring employees and faculty together due to some key factors he looked for upon hiring her. “Kim has energy, passion, vision, a never give up attitude, and relates with the students on campus,” said Kopas.
The president of Purchase’s Green Team (a club sponsored by the student government) Matthew Garafalo attested to Kim’s attendance at its meetings. He said Kim helped organize some events that were popular among students. The events include a campus-wide cleanup on the mall and a food waste audit at the dining hall.
Another long-term effort of Kim’s is energy reduction. She said that a significant way to help with carbon neutrality would be an energy conservation hour for an hour a month. Students would cooperate by shutting off any excess electrical products. “In order for a college to be sustainable, it has to always have sustainable options. It needs to be an easy choice.”
Always making sustainable choices is tricky, said Kim. On the day of our interview, she had to use a plastic fork to eat her lunch because she left her own fork at home. Kim said she wants students to know they can start with small changes.
Kim said she has always remembered the test she took in high school that provided the number of earths that would be needed if everyone in the world had the same lifestyle as the test-taker. The test required input such as how long the test-taker usually showered for. “Mine came up as something like 12 and it terrified me,” she said. I’ve been conscious of my choices in regards to living a sustainable life ever since.”
Kim felt a similar feeling upon reading the U.N. report that claims humans have 12 years to dramatically alter their behavior before climate change becomes irreversible and the earth starts running out of resources. “I think it’s true, and we’re fortunate in the U.S. to not see so much of that,” she said. “But, hurricanes are hitting cities in the U.S. that haven’t had to deal with them before. In a weird, kind of crude way the report made people realize climate change is an important issue that impacts everyone.”