Doing Right By Doing Wrong?

Authors: Beshoy Eskarous, Mayra Sierra-Rivera, Andrew Mauzy, and Nico Ray Benito

“The waste-management company was dumping the Compost into Landfill, so the university switched companies,” our professor, Nick Leither told us. Was this true? Did Santa Clara University change companies because they cared that compost wasn’t properly disposed of, or was it due to the bad publicity they wedRA1_f-maxage-0_s-200x150ould receive?

We wanted to find out: Does Santa Clara University actually care about sustainability? Or are they simply doing the right thing – but for the wrong reasons?

Sustainability is the ability to maintain a specific set of operations for an indefinite amount of time without harming the environment. It is a continuous mission that requires vigilance from those who pursue it, and yet it may never be fully achieved. Today, Santa Clara University prides itself on its journey towards sustainability, specifically its mission of becoming waste free by the year 2020, focusing its resources on recycling, composting and food recovery. It has become a key attraction in the University’s advertisement to alumni and prospective students. The school has worked hard to create this image – founded oduden its Jesuit values – and the community works each day to reinforce it. In the past few years, Santa Clara University has begun a process similar to many movements across the country. But does this process stem from a place of good intention, or are there ulterior motivations for this movement, such as marketing the school.

Santa Clara University began its journey towards sustainability long ago. The journey has been laborsome and many obstacles have fallen in the way of progress, but one man has spent his life working to create a community here at SCU that values sustainability. Joe Sugg was the assistant vice president of university operations at Santa Clara University for nineteen years. Beginning in the late 1990s, Sugg pointed the university in a new direction, spearheading many different sustainability programs and overlooked energy use and waste management on campus, among many other key aspects of community operations. During his time, he discovered that although this pursuit begins with the university itself and its facilities, the eventual success of the program lies solely in the hands of the Santa Clara community.

“Ten years ago we didn’t have much of a recycling program. We’re now recycling about 50 percent of the waste stream. That’s incredible. We kind of eased into it without any fanfare—and without sacrifice on the part of the people on campus. It was all done organizationally through the way Facilities has changed the way we operate. Now, to get from 50 percent recycling to 80 percent, which is the next goal, is going to take a lot of help—from the residence halls, the GREEN Club, the Environmental Studies Institute, the sustainability coordinator.” – Joe Sugg (Saum)

As a community, we are following in the footsteps of schools such as Pepperdine University, which confirms that seventy-eight percent of its waste is diverted from landfills and dealt with accordingly. (Bailard)

Despite this, many students in this class refuse to believe that sustainability is a genuine goal for the university, or that it even is attainable at all. They argue that Santa Clara University uses sustainability as an empty marketing ploy to attract students and donors, but never plans to actually follow through. Maybe they have a valid point: maybe SCU only puts up the waste management bins for appearances. Maybe they use it to reel students in and keep the facade throughout each student’s’ four years. After all, some companies also use environmental goals as marketing techniques by making the consumer feel more environmentally aware and responsible when consuming their product. Dawn ironically advertised their product as the standard to clean wildlife affected by oil spills, yet they use plastic bottles for their dish wash soap.


This same plastic ends up in oceans and ends up harming animals in other ways. In a competitive economy, companies and organizations are constantly under the pressure to stretch the truth to get ahead. Some even go as far as flat-out lying, falsely advertising their products. The worst part is that even under current FTC regulations, companies are still able to find loopholes to stretch the truth (Alexander, Honesty and False Competition).

As students attending Santa Clara University, we can personally attest to largely being unaware of what the University’s activities are pertaining to sustainability. In fact, our poll showed that 45.8% of students are unaware of the University’s mission to go waste free by 2020, resulting in minimal awareness being raised.


This leads us to think the motivation behind this “goal” might be marketing, and not promoting more environmentally supportive actions. Sure, they have some sustainability measures in place, but does it actually work? For all we know, most students do not correctly recycle and compost their food in the waste management bins the University places around campus, as 62.5% of students claim they are average when rating themselves in sustainability. The University knows this, because as of right now they claim that 59 percent of waste is properly diverted (SCU Sustainability). This means that of all the food that is thrown away, only 59 percent is correctly put in the recycle, compost, or landfill bins. So the questions must be raised: is Santa Clara University doing enough? Or do they know they could do better but are choosing not to because they don’t actually care about sustainability?

As we ask ourselves these questions, we must ask ourselves one more: Would we be thinking about this if Santa Clara University made no effort whatsoever to become more sustainable? If the university truly did not make an effort, there wouldn’t be debates on how sustainable SCU actually is in the first place. What’s more, these kinds of debates fuel the fire and drive us all to better our community and our world. Regardless of how effective the University’s efforts are or should be, the message is the most important aspect. Education about sustainability is the most important part, and raising these issues causes the students to think about sustainability – and eventually put those thoughts into actions.

We believe that SCU, while it definitely uses sustainability as a marketing campaign, began the sustainability initiative because it truly cares.

Santa Clara University claims to hold a series of Jesuit values by which they operate by. The Jesuit values SCU talks about are not just for show. The fact that students are required to take courses such as ELSJ and are encouraged to take immersion trips.

ELSJ provides Santa Clara students with opportunities for experiencing the gritty reality of the world, thinking critically about the world, responding to its suffering, and engaging it constructively “  – taken from SCU’s web page on ELSJ (

The University expects its students to be challenged to think beyond pure academics. We are challenged to think about the moral and ethical implications of our work, not just the job we will be rewarded with. Going into Freshman Orientation over the summer, this sounded a little too cliche to us too. But then we saw how themes of social justice seemed to seep into every class curriculum, regardless of the subject. We are expected to fulfill certain core requirements for graduation, including classes that essentially will force us to think beyond ourselves: the Social Justice project class, the Ethics requirement class, and this Critical Thinking and Writing class. Each encourages us to challenge the status quo and even the university itself on issues ranging from social justice to sustainability. It’s clear to see, the overall curriculum and activities the school participates in and encourages show Santa Clara University truly cares to make a difference

Aside from the core curriculum, SCU has begun its own mission to become more sustainable and efficient. Santa Clara University’s recent development of its food recovery system has enabled the school to become more sustainable while also educating its students important life values. Students can volunteer to distribute food that can be saved and taken to a soup kitchen as the university follows its core Jesuit values. It began in May 2014, when students partnered with “Bon Appétit (SCU’s dining company) to establish a chapter of Food Recovery Network at SCU. The Food Recovery Network (FRN) is the largest student-led food recovery movement in the nation with chapters at over 70 universities across the United States” (SCU’s Webpage on Sustainable Food). This statistic illustrates that SCU is willing to take on a small part of the problem to later have a big change in the world when its efforts lineup with others.

“To educate citizens and leaders of competence, conscience, and compassion and cultivate knowledge and faith to build a more humane, just, and sustainable world” (SCU’s Mission, Vision and Values).

The university wants every student to know and employ strategies to combat the disparities of the world along with maintaining a healthy environment. Likewise, “the staff at Bon Appétit is now packaging all leftover food from dining services and events for volunteers to pick up twice a week and deliver it to Martha’s Kitchen – a soup kitchen in San Jose” (SCU’s Webpage on Sustainable Food). These actions promote a more just world in which hunger is lessened and our society is made better.

Another effort within the community is the university’s work with Bon Apetit to find a balance between sustainability and efficiency. “All venues use unbleached napkins made from recycled materials, customers who use their own reusable mug receive a 10¢ discount at Mission Bakery, Sunstream, and Cadence Cafes, [and] Dining Services by Bon Appétit offers an Eco-Tray Program in efforts to minimize the use of disposable to-go ware items” (SCU Food & Dining). In our interview with Rich Matosich, the Assistant General Manager for Dining Services, he informed us how Dining Services is working on replacing the current Eco-Tray with a more appealing version.

The Eco-Tray Program “offers an Eco-Tray that can be purchased with a refundable $5 deposit. Students receive a keychain that they exchange for a clean and sanitized tray. They can drop off the dirty tray at any Bon Appétit venue and pick up the keychain to start the exchange over again” (SCU Food & Dining). This is an effort to persuade more students to use these trays instead of the paper or china plates. The problem with the current Eco-Tray, says Rich, is that it is still inconvenient. You are unable to stow it away in your bag without getting food everywhere. We also think that another issue with the plate is it is not visually appealing, so when students such as ourselves see it, we don’t feel the need to get that instead of the normal plate.

Santa Clara University is not the only university to become greener. Pepperdine University facilitates environmental stewardship through communication, implementation, and education of a values-centric framework, which shows how both marketing and education can motivate the movement in order for it to be effective. In other words, Pepperdine University is becoming more sustainable because of its values, much like Santa Clara University. Communicating and marketing the idea is also a way of motivating other entities to have similar initiatives (Pepperdine Magazine). At Pepperdine, sustainability is viewed through the lens of their faith-based mission; this results in a moral imperative for the University to do the right things for the right reasons. Similarly, while SCU is motivated by the marketing opportunities, education and the university’s core values have always been at the center of its attention.

Santa Clara University’s mission for sustainability is valuable regardless of any ulterior motives. Although it may seem like a longshot, No Waste By 2020 is a goal that is very possible. The university is constantly striving to better itself and reduce its carbon footprint with the further development of clubs and programs centered around sustainability. It seems that the only true obstacle to the community’s achievement of this goal isn’t the school, but instead is the students.

From our research, we conclude that the university truly does care to make an effort. The people in charge of Dining Services and Sustainability that we met throughout this process renewed our faith in the school through their evident passion for their work. Yet our poll showed the students may be the problem, not the university. So we set up a GoPro next to one of the waste bins in the Bronco to see if students went through the effort of separating their food.




SPOILER AHEAD. Watch the video before you keep reading.




Surprisingly, every person in this video seemed to go through the effort of separating their food correctly!


It wasn’t perfect, but this video showed us that the Compost and Recycle bins do actually make a difference.

So it seems the students do care. In our poll, we found that 66.7% of the students think that Santa Clara University actually does take sustainability seriously.

poll questionWhile it is good to know that Santa Clara University’s efforts are effective, we need to realize that the message SCU sends out to the students by putting out the Compost and Recycle bins is more important than how well students actually sort out their food.


If SCU didn’t set out these bins in the first place, the question of how well it works would never have been raised. This, in turn, encourages people to talk more about sustainability.


“What a joke. AS IF those compost and recycle bins actually work….



And when you stop and think, how often do you see three bins labeled “Compost, Recycle, and Landfill” outside of the SCU campus? You don’t see them commonly in shopping malls or movie theaters…or anywhere else, for that matter.

Maybe Santa Clara is doing the right thing after all – for the right reasons.



Works Cited

Alexander, George J. Honesty and Competition: False Advertising Law and Policy under FTC Administration. N.p.: n.p., 1970. Print.

Bailard, Rhiannon. “Pepperdine’s Green Routine.” Pepperdine Magazine | Pepperdine University. Pepperdine University, 03 June 2014. Web. 11 Apr. 2017.

California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle). “Zero Waste.”California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle). California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, 13 Dec. 2016. Web. 11 Apr. 2017.

Clark, Leilani. “Zero-waste Bloggers: The Millennials Who Can Fit a Year’s worth of Trash in a Jar.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 22 Apr. 2016. Web. 11 Apr. 2017.

Held, Julia. “Center for Sustainability Switches from Single Stream Recycling Pepperdine Graphic.” Pepperdine Graphic. Pepperdine University, 26 Aug. 2016. Web. 13 Apr. 2017.

“Pepperdine’s Campus Wide Recycling Program.” Pepperdine’s Campus Wide Recycling Program | Pepperdine University | Seaver College. Pepperdine University, n.d. Web. 11 Apr. 2017.

Santa Clara University, and Father Engh. “President’s Report 2010-2011.” N.p., n.d. Web.

Santa Clara University. “Explore Sustainability.” Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education. N.p., n.d. Web.


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