Sustainability Spotlight: Julianne Crawford, Rice Environmental Club President

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We met with Rice Environmental Club President Julianne Crawford (Lovett ’15) to discuss campus sustainability, her club’s activities, growing up in Germany, and more.

Where are you from?
Julianne Crawford: I am originally from Southern California, but my family moved to Germany for three years when I was seven years old. Now we live in a suburb outside of Chicago.

Did living in Germany as a child shape your environmental consciousness?
JC: Yes, definitely! Living in Germany and attending the International School of Düsseldorf, I spent several years learning alongside students from cultures distinct from my own. With peers from over fifty countries, the exposure to diversity broadened and enhanced my appreciation of the values, norms, languages, and characteristics that were both common and unique to our native countries. Over time, I began to observe and assimilate some of the local practices into my life, many of which had underlying environmental implications. I learned that washing the car at home was not allowed, grilling with charcoal was limited to twice a week, shopping with reusable bags was ubiquitous, and home recycling required not only separation of paper and plastic, but also required glass recyclables to be separated by color. I observed that biking was the preferred mode of transportation, and that it was mandatory for the output emissions of our chimney to be inspected twice a year. Although foreign at first, I soon embraced these norms as my own, and as a way of life. When I moved back to the United States, I experienced a sort of reverse culture shock. After living in Germany, where the commitment to the environment was so fundamental, returning to a country that still struggled with recycling, had relatively lenient emission standards, and depended heavily upon unrenewable resources, was in my mind a lamentable regression. This experience was certainly a strong impetus behind my interest in environmental issues.

As a second semester senior looking back at your time at Rice, what was your favorite environmental class or activity?
JC: My favorite environmental course was Dr. Cohan’s Energy and the Environment (CEVE 307). I really enjoyed that the class facilitated a discussion about how to address environmental issues through policy and technology. Our final project was to develop a detailed business plan for how to profit from an energy source in an environmentally sustainable manner. My team proposed implementing a geothermal heat pump at Rice’s next prospective residential college, and we analyzed its potential economic and environmental advantages.

As the President of the Rice Environmental Club, can you tell us what projects are underway for the club this semester?
JC: We have so many exciting projects underway this semester! We are planning to work with the CAAM department to create an environmentally-related assignment for CAAM 210, host an energy competition between the North and South colleges, help to revamp the terrace above Hanszen and Wiess, host an environmentally-themed trivia night at Pub, organize a Toxic Tour of Houston’s eastern end, and plan an eco-friendly cleaning products event.

Shameless plug: We are always looking for new members and new ideas, so if you’re interested in joining, we meet on Mondays at 5:45pm in the Lovett PDR.

What has been your favorite project while leading the Environmental Club?
JC: Last semester, in conjunction with the SA Environmental Committee and Richard Johnson’s ENST 302 class, we hosted a Food Waste Reduction Competition between the residential colleges. The objective of the competition was to reduce post-consumer food waste in the serveries, and to educate students about its adverse effects, including food insecurity, and increased water and fossil fuel consumption.

We weighed garbage both before and during the competition in order to calculate each servery’s percent reduction in waste, and we asked students to submit pictures of their empty plates to earn points throughout the week. Overall it was a huge success, with an average waste reduction of twelve percent between the serveries!

What is your ultimate “Green Goal”?
JC: My ultimate “Green Goal” is to become zero waste. When we throw something away, our mentality is that it’s gone forever…that it disappears. In reality, trash exists forever in landfills, oceans, on beaches and in our communities. Most of what we eat, drink and use comes packaged in plastic, a material design to last forever, despite its single-use convenience. The United States alone produce about 250 million tons of waste each year, which is enough to cover the entire state of Texas twice. Evidently, waste is a huge problem in our country.

Recently, I’ve been inspired by bloggers like Lauren Singer (Trash is for Tossers) and Bea Johnson (Zero Waste Home) who lead zero waste lifestyles. To many people, producing no waste seems like a huge leap, but Lauren Singer breaks it down into four simple steps: (1) stop buying packaged food; (2) make your own products; (3) buy used clothes; (4) downsize. I’ve been slowly working to reduce my own waste, and hope to lead my own zero waste life in the near future.

You spent a lot of time reviewing Rice’s environmental performance as a campus sustainability intern working for the ACSEM. In your view, what should Rice do to become a more sustainable campus?
JC: It’s funny you should ask. When I was an intern, we put together a list of “opportunities for improvement at Rice.” I distinctly remember that one of the items on the list was to create a sustainability newsletter or publication. So, great job with that! Another area where we saw definite need for improvement was O-Week. Steps have certainly been taken to “green” O-week, but there is still room for improvement: freshman should be required to attend a presentation about green living on campus; they should be given the option to receive their O-week books electronically rather than in print; they should be encouraged to attend workshops for making eco-friendly cleaning/body products…and the list goes on. After all, the most effective way to inspire the entire student body to lead environmentally conscious lives is to impart these ideals onto the incoming class.

What do you plan to do with your Civil Engineering degree?
JC: I just finished applying to graduate school, so fingers crossed that I’ll be there next year! I’m hoping to complete a Master of Science degree in structural engineering so that I can more capably contribute to the comprehensive movement of sustainable structural design. Throughout my four years at Rice, I’ve come to understand the inherent relationship between structural design and the consequences of climate change, the depletion of valuable natural resources, and the resultant health and social implications. Ultimately, the way in which we design structures must change in response to these factors. Given the opportunity, I would like to evaluate wood and other bio-based composites as structural material alternatives. These materials, while still maintaining comparable strength and durability to steel and concrete, store carbon, can biodegrade anaerobically to produce fuel and feedstock once they reach the end of their useable life, and represent a renewable alternative. After graduate school, it is my career goal to become a licensed structural engineer so that I can conceptualize and create structures that incorporate sustainable practices, materials and systems into their design.

When you are not studying, leading Envi Club, or filling out graduate school applications, what do you like to do for fun?
JC: I love to run, bike, canoe and hike…essentially, I just love being outdoors. In high school, I would go on 10-day canoeing trips in the Boundary Waters of Canada, and recently I’ve gotten into backpacking. This past weekend, I went on a backpacking trip with R.O.P.E. along the Lone Star Trail, and my dad and I received a permit to hike a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail this summer. I’m an avid runner, and as I have yet to own my own car, biking has been my life for the past four years.

I also really enjoy building/creating things. Over winter break, I built my second gingerbread bridge (“gingerbridge”) using construction-grade gingerbread, and learned how to make bow ties on my sewing machine. My next project is to sew reusable sandwich/snack bags!