Student-led activism: The importance of social sustainability

Elias Goldstein

Warren Wilson College senior Elias Goldstein believes sustainability is impossible without recognizing the ways environmental and social issues are related. As a co-leader of the school’s Community Oriented Regeneration Efforts work crew, he’s working to do just that.

“We’re doing a lot of environmental sustainability, but we’re also partnering up with different crews that are handling social issues on campus,” he explains. This includes CORE’s partnership with Warren Wilson’s student-run Queer Resource Center and the college’s Inclusion, Diversity & Equity Office.

“They’re doing a lot of work around helping people who are traditionally more marginalized in our community and society at large,” he says of the groups. “They’re doing a ton of work to make those voices seen and heard.”

Below, Xpress speaks with Goldstein about environmental issues that still need to be addressed on campus, ways to avoid activist burnout and the importance of combating systemic racism.

The interview has been condensed and lightly edited.

What sustainability efforts on your campus are you most proud of?

I wouldn’t say that I’m proud of environmental efforts on campus. We’re still in bed with Duke Energy, and we’re advertising that we get over 25% of our food from on-campus when the reality is more like 10% or 15%. If we could really dig into getting as much food as possible from our campus and other local sources, that would be huge. But we have Sodexo, a giant multinational corporation, running our cafeteria.

I’m very proud of CORE. We’re managing all the compost on campus. All the food that comes from the cafeteria, we collect and turn into compost. Also, we run a free store. We collect donations from all over campus and set it up like a retail store in our warehouse, and people can take whatever they want for free.

How do you keep yourself motivated in light of the lack of meaningful efforts to combat climate change?

Try to avoid burnout as much as possible. The CORE crew — along with and Y crew and Queer Resource Center — are about to host an Earth Day Parade on campus. A lot of different groups on campus are invited to make floats that demonstrate how they represent sustainability environmentally. It’s going to probably mean a lot of people are driving trucks and tractors around campus and burning gas. It’s not necessarily environmentally friendly, but it is really important for social and community sustainability to have a parade. We need to have times to just chill out and celebrate each other and build the community.

What’s one thing you would like to see Xpress readers do to promote sustainability in WNC in the coming year?

Get involved as much as possible, even if it’s just contributing to Asheville Survival Program, Asheville for Justice, Asheville Poverty Initiative or Bounty & Soul. We’re not going to solve the environmental issues of the world in the coming year, but we can put far more into the mutual aid programs in our local communities. All of these organizations are trying to curb systemic racism and poverty and gentrification, and there’s nothing more valuable than that in my opinion.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Xpress reached out to Warren Wilson College for a response to some of Goldstein’s claims. Brian Liechti, director of sustainability, notes the college’s ties to Duke Energy are based on necessity. “Duke Energy is the only provider here in Buncombe County,” he says. 

He also points out that the college has multiple LEED-certified buildings on campus and “many tactics to reduce energy consumption.” Furthermore, Liechti says the campus’s 300-acre working farm, 11-acre garden and 600-acre managed forest “serve as a living laboratory for the sustainable, energy-wise practices that are brought to life through academics and our work program.”

“We are proud of the many other sustainability initiatives we have on campus,” Liechti continues. “Some of these include divesting 100% of its endowment from fossil fuels, the Guaranteed from Seed program to prevent deforestation, the Warren Wilson College Phenology Stewardship Program to contribute climate change data and research to the USA National Phenology Network, composting nearly all of the waste from the dining halls through a closed loop compost facility and converting all of our campus vehicles to propane Autogas.” 

Additionally, Brian O’Loughlin, general manager for Sodexo Food Services at Warren Wilson College, states: “Sodexo has been working with the students and the college for many years to run the most sustainable dining program possible. We do so in many ways, such as purchasing from our campus farm and garden, sourcing locally through companies like Mountain Food Produce, Dynamite Roasting Co., Four Sisters Bakery and others. We also compost all food scraps, recycle all recyclable products and run a vegan cafe.”



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About Justin McGuire
Justin McGuire is a UNC Chapel Hill graduate with more than 30 years of experience as a writer and editor. His work has appeared in The Sporting News, the (Rock Hill, SC) Herald and various other publications. Follow me @jmcguireMLB

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