Sustainability begins at Orientation
story Lai Ying Tong
An environmentally conscious packing list, a mobile app, and a move-in flea market were just a few of the measures implemented in this year’s Orientation to improve the environmental sustainability of the two-week event. These measures were suggested by I’dECO, a Yale-NUS College student-organized sustainability movement, and implemented by the Orientation Committee (O-Comm) and school administration. They mark the beginning of a long-term process by I’dECO to make Yale-NUS Orientation more sustainable.
These small and large-scale changes affected all stages of Orientation. An environmentally conscious packing list with suggested ‘green’ products for residential living, such as reusable utensils, was sent out to the Class of 2019 before Orientation. To remove the need for catered food, the dining hall opened for service when the freshmen moved in. This reduced food wastage and eliminated the use of disposable cutlery. On some RCX trips—the culmination of Orientation where students go abroad for five days—students travelled locally in larger vehicles such as train and coach, reducing their carbon footprint.
“We see Orientation as an important aspect of how we can inculcate values of sustainability to the College,” Tan Weiliang ’18, President of I’dECO, said. “We need to engage freshmen from the get-go.”
However, some measures were less successful than others. During the Amazing Race, for example, freshmen were not given bottled water. Instead, they were encouraged to fill up on tap water or water from dispensers at checkpoints. “Some of the first-years were quite shocked at first [when asked to drink tap water],” Rachel Ong ’17, an Orientation Group Leader, said. “But gradually everyone adapted to it.”
A majority of the suggestions put forth by I’dECO were implemented this year. However, Tan said, several could not be carried out in time as the proposal was submitted three or four weeks before the actual program. For example, the Orientation program could not accommodate a one-hour discussion session about sustainability. Since this year’s experience has put a system in place, Tan expects that planning for future orientation programs can begin earlier and more measures will be executed. He added that the administration had been extremely supportive of sustainability efforts.
Some of the suggestions were too general and the O-Comm felt it would be more effective implemented on a larger scale beyond Orientation, said O-Comm member Kavya Gopal ’18. One example was an intra-Residential College ‘Greenest Dorm’ competition, where the whole community would be incentivized to lower energy and resource usage in dorms.
Cost was also a significant factor in deciding whether a suggestion was implemented, Chris O’Connell, Student Life Manager, said. For example, the suggestion to purchase food from local organic farms was not fully implemented. “It is not possible to source every item in the dining hall food locally and/or organically as there is a limited budget for food and we have to manage costs,” Mr. O’Connell said.
On the other hand, some of the sustainability initiatives helped cut costs, such as not using bottled water in Singapore, Gopal said. “And if you’re sustainable in one aspect, then you can have more money left over (for other programmes). That also makes Orientation more unique and more interesting.”
Mr. O’Connell hopes to see sustainability continue to grow at Yale-NUS. “Some of it is contingent on students’ interest and what they think is important,” he added.
He also emphasized the broad relevance of sustainability beyond the environmental sphere: “I think it’s very relevant to joining a community… It also speaks to the type of culture and type of place we want to create here.”
The proposal is part of I’dECO’s sustainability blueprint for the school, which is a work in progress. The club plans to gather suggestions on sustainability from the student body this semester. Eventually, they hope to use Yale-NUS Orientation as a model for other institutions to effect the same changes in their orientation programs, said Tan.