This week’s Ego comes to you in the form of Mother Nature herself (the cool kind, not the terrifying Jennifer Lawrence kind). Bevan Pearson, Epsilon Eta sibling and co-chair of the Student Sustainability Association at Penn (SSAP), has spent her time at Penn fighting for a greener, more sustainable campus. And while Bevan will be the first to tell you that Penn still has a long way to go, she’s proud of everything she’s seen the student community do in recent years.
34th Street: You’ve been interested in sustainability and environmental activism since middle school. When did you first start to think about all of the issues that environmental activism encompasses?
Bevan Pearson: I feel like everyone says this, but it was when I was 11 or 12 and I saw An Inconvenient Truth for the first time. I actually watched it on a school trip, in Huntsman Hall, which I think is pretty ironic. But after I watched it I was like, “oh my gosh! How did I not know this! I need to do something!” The Quaker school I went to was also really into stewardship, so they talked about sustainability in middle school. Later, in high school, I took an elective environmental science class, and the whole course was just amazing, so I was like, “OK, I guess I’ll be doing this with my life!”
Street: You definitely get to do that with SSAP. As co-chair, what’s your role in overseeing the constituent student groups?
BP: My job (which I share with my co-chair, Hannah Sanders) is to coordinate between the sustainability administration at Penn and our 13 student groups. We run the weekly meetings with representatives from each of the sustainability groups, and hold smaller meetings with the SSAP board to figure out how we can help each of the groups more. Our main goal among groups is to really get them to collaborate with each other, because there are so many of them. Honestly, in a perfect world, there would just be one big environmental group, and we would all just be doing things together. But people have such different interests in the environment, and sustainability is such a multi-faceted field, so of course people want to do different things. I mainly just don’t want the groups to be separately working against each other, or doing the same thing in two different places. That happens sometimes, because groups don’t communicate enough. And that’s why we’re there — if two of our groups have similar events, for example, why not do them together?
I like to think of SSAP as a tree. The Penn Sustainability Office is the soil, and then all of the constituent groups – well, we drew a diagram of this once, and we had all of the different groups as leaves, but I think they’re actually more like different bird species. They each exist in a different ecological niche of the tree. I think that really gets the idea across. Each group has a different, unique role that’s important in the SSAP ecosystem, and none of them are overlapping. Ideally, they all have really different habitats that complement each other and there’s no competition.
Street: How does SSAP work with the administration?
BP: SSAP meets fairly often with the Penn sustainability manager, Julian Goresko, so that we can relay information from the administration to our constituents. He’s also the director for Eco-Reps, so he works with students a lot. He helps us make sure that SSAP is going in the right direction –sometimes we’ll have him come into SSAP meetings so that he can explain to our reps what we do and how the administration can help.
Street: What is the actual green involvement of the administration?
BP: I think a lot of the time us students don’t know how much Penn is doing for sustainability, how much research and thought goes into it. And that’s something we want to improve. That’s the goal of the SAGE committee we’re doing for the next Climate Action Plan, which is going to come out in 2019. I’m helping them get student input for that. Because students come to SSAP, or me personally, all the time, saying, like, “We should compost!” And turns out they’re not the first ones to think about it – Penn is trying to compost, but there are all of these logistical issues with waste management and things like that that make it tricky for them.
I also think that Penn needs to divest from fossil fuels. And I’m angry about it. And I think Penn can do more to be involved with the West Philly community in a sustainable way, which is the whole social aspect of environmentalism.
Street: Speaking of fossil fuels, Fossil Free Penn is a constituent of SSAP. I think a lot of people on campus hear the term “divestment” tossed around a lot, but they don’t know a ton about the issue that Fossil Free Penn is fighting. Can you explain a little bit about what they’ve been doing?
BP: So Fossil Free Penn has actually been around since before our freshman year, but they’ve really escalated lately, which is really exciting. They’ve gotten more momentum. The main idea is that Penn has this giant endowment, and they invest a lot of that money into fossil fuel companies. And those investments are making Penn money, but they’re also helping the fossil fuel industry.
My personal feeling is that that is against what Penn’s values are and should be as a university, because fossil fuels will destroy our future. We, the students, are going to inherit this world, so our school should not pollute it. They should be investing toward a world that would benefit their students and benefit science, research, thought, and intellect. Instead of investing in fossil fuels, if they were to divest and reinvest in renewables, there could be better growth in that sphere. That’s what we want. That’s innovation, and Penn is all about innovation. I think it’s so wrong to play to those big oil companies. It’s conflicting in the interest of its students, it’s conflicting in the idea of being the innovative, cutting-edge university that Penn wants to be. Obviously, fossil fuels are not cutting edge and not innovative, no matter how you slice it.
Street: Can you tell me a little bit about the sustainable things you’ve worked on over the past few summers?
BP: The summer before sophomore year, I worked at Bartram’s farm in West Philly. Right before junior year I was in India for the summer. I worked at a rural sustainable livelihoods organization called Samaj Pragati Sahayog that works to improve the livelihoods of tribal farmers in Madhya Pradesh. We were working on their projects that assess how their different programs are going. Some of them were more research-oriented, but what I mostly ended up doing was writing different stories about interviews we did about food insecurity. I wrote this one story about honey hunters, which was pretty exciting. There’s this one village where the land is really rocky and dry, and they can’t farm that much. Instead, they go out into the jungle during the dry season and collect honey for a source of income. But to do it, they have to walk kilometers and kilometers, and climb the tallest trees in the forest in the middle of the night, when the bees are more docile. They’re doing this in the biggest tiger state in India, and the tigers are most aggressive at night. It was just so cool to interview them about it. And the honey is delicious, too.
Street: And here’s the big one – what can Penn students do to be more green?
BP: Where to start, where to start. Going back to compost, those who want to compost in their dorm/apartment should bring it to the Dirt Factory. They collect drop-offs on Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings. I collect my food waste in the freezer until I’m ready to drop it off! I’ve also become really interested in the Zero Waste movement – my friend Zoë is really into it, and reminds me that I need to constantly be reevaluating my consumption. Like however much I’m doing to reduce my waste is never enough. There’s always room for me to improve.
We should all take a second and evaluate how much we’re consuming, and stop thinking of things as disposable. Before buying a product, let’s ask ourselves if there are comparable products that are more sustainably made. Do you really need it? How long will it last, and is it reusable? If it’s clothing, are you just buying it for one event? If so, can you borrow it from someone or buy second-hand? And please, please, please stop drinking bottled water!
My Common App essay was about...Quakerism! I spent so many years at a Quaker school, and loved all the values, so I kind of tied that in with my life and my interests.
The song I can't stop listening to right now is... "Duel, Pt. 2” by Weekend Affair.
My favorite outdoor spot on campus is...The small orchard down by Penn Park! But I hate it when people get greedy and take a million things off of the trees at once.
When I go to the farmer's market outside of the bookstore, I'm buying...lots of peaches.
There are two types of people at Penn...Those who are afraid to go past 45th Street, and those who interact with the rest of West Philadelphia.