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New Sustainability Coordinator: Putting a Student’s Spin on Sustainability

Updated: Oct 14, 2022

By Robyn Graygor

Afflerbach (in the yellow and white shirt) mixing paint at the outdoors club and native plant garden meeting (Photo by Robyn Graygor)

She’s Grace Afflerbach, and she speaks for the students!

Purchase’s new sustainability coordinator, Grace Afflerbach, has recently begun implementing new sustainability efforts on campus using a community based, collaborative approach.

Afflerbach, a 25-year-old 2019 graduate from SUNY New Paltz, is hoping to represent the environmental values of her fellow Generation Z students in the sustainability office.

“I think that the students that are here now are so much more socially aware and engaged comparatively, and I think I have that connection as well,” said Afflerbach. “I think we have the same goals, the same stuff we care about, so I hope to kind of be a voice for students.”

At New Paltz, Afflerbach was a sustainability ambassador where she worked to develop a plastic water bottle ban, and a pilot composting program. She believes this experience, along with a lifelong devotion to environmental justice will make her an effective sustainability coordinator.

“I’ve sort of always been passionate about environmentalism. I remember when I was in fourth grade, I went with a friend to Alley Pond Park in Queens, and we just walked around and picked up trash and that just has always stuck with me,” said Afflerbach.

Tom Kelly, senior energy manager and Afflerbach’s boss, thinks Afflerbach’s familiarity with SUNY systems and environmentalism will give her a leg up in any project she takes on.

“Grace, being a SUNY graduate, understands the challenges faced with moving toward a sustainable community,” said Kelly.

Being fresh out of college herself, she believes the future of Purchase sustainability lies with student involvement.

“I really enjoy listening to people, students, faculty, and the staff that have been here. They know what they want to see from Purchase, and I really would love to collaborate with people to better purchase as a whole,” said Afflerbach.

October marks the start of her fourth month as sustainability coordinator, since starting in June of 2022. One of her first projects was to help organize the “Mobilizing for a Sustainable Future” Phase T.W.O freshman and transfer orientation event held in August.

She recently also tabled with 511NY Rideshare, a New York State department of transportation program on Sept. 19, to encourage students to cut back on personal vehicle usage and advocate for Car Free Day on Thursday, Sept. 22.

“It’s all an effort to reduce traffic congestion as well as obviously decreasing greenhouse gas emissions,” explained Afflerbach.

Moving forward she plans to tackle issues on her own agenda but also encourages students to give their input on ways to improve sustainability on campus.

CJ Paul, a freshman at Purchase and member of Climate Safe Yonkers Task Force, is relatively satisfied with the current state of environmental cautiousness but thinks there’s room for improvement.

“It would be really cool if they implemented more solar energy, more solar panels,” said Paul.

Afflerbach and Jinzhou Lu (from 511NYRideshare) at their Car Free Day table outside Campus Center North (Photo by Robyn Graygor

When asked if solar was on the radar for purchase environmentalism, Afflerbach explained that solar power will be arriving on campus soon.

“They’re going to install solar car ports in the West 1 and West 2 parking lots so people can park under the solar panels and then in the winter when it snows it will be great because people won't have to shovel off their cars,” said Afflerbach.

Morgan DeMay, a junior environmental studies major, thinks Purchase could benefit from updates in waste management techniques.

“I think definitely more areas for recyclables. Even on the trails in the woods, there’s garbage all the time over there, so I think having one garbage pail at the end of the trail,” said DeMay. “Maybe it will encourage people to throw it out instead of into the woods.”

Jennie Consalvo, a senior environmental studies major, is also interested in the effectiveness of Purchase’s recycling habits.

“I guess make sure they’re actually recycling. It makes me wonder here if it all just gets picked up and thrown in the same place or not,” said Consalvo.

One of Afflerbach’s main focuses is to cut back on plastic water bottles sold on campus to reduce the amount of single use waste being produced. She explained that she’s going to be releasing a water fountain survey to gain a better understanding of the accessibility of water bottle filling stations.

“So that [plastic water bottles] was one of the first things that I wanted to tackle which is why I am starting with the water bottle survey,” said Afflerbach. “Because, if we did ban plastic water bottles there needs to be enough stations for people to refill their reusable water bottles.”

If students are looking for a simple way to become more eco-friendly, getting a reusable water bottle is a great first step, thinks Afflerbach.

“I definitely think if you don’t have a reusable water bottle that’s the easiest thing to do, especially in New York we have pretty good drinking water and clean tap water,” said Afflerbach.

If there are other sustainability concerns circulating campus, Afflerbach encourages all to reach out with any recommendations, concerns, or ideas to better environmentalism on campus as a whole.

“Now looking at it from a staff perspective I would love to see what issues, specific to Purchase, students would like to see. I’m open to suggestions,” said Afflerbach.



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