By Hannah Remmert
Ever wonder who are the driving forces behind Miami’s sustainability initiatives? While many people deserve credit, in terms of student involvement, the Associated Student Government has positioned one person to play a significant role. Currently, the person in this role is Seamus Pugh, the Secretary for Infrastructure and Sustainability. We wanted to find out a little more about what he’s been up to and what his role entails. The following is what we found out:
Q: “First question- just tell me a little bit about yourself; name, major, how you got involved with ASG.”
A: “Sure. My name is Seamus Pugh; I’m the Secretary for Infrastructure and Sustainability. Let’s see- I do independent research in the department of Biology and the Center for Behavior and Neuroscience, I’ve been doing that since my freshman year. I got involved in ASG last year. I was an off-campus senator last year on the Sustainability committee and ran for [this position] because I was very involved in the committee last year. Oh yeah, I’m a senior zoology major with a pre-medical co-major, neuroscience and art and architecture minors.”
Q: “So tell me about the bike sharing program. I hear they’re bringing one to campus maybe?”
A: “Everyone’s asking questions about it! So it became an initiative a couple of years ago that didn’t really have a lot of traction. I worked on it a ton last year, but this year they kind of formalized it and centralized it with the Lean committee [a group that any faculty or staff member can be on that takes a project and kind of streamlines it]. This one is kind of unique, because they’re taking something that doesn’t exist and seeing if there’s a big enough demand for it, and if they establish that there is a big enough demand, they’ll write reports to recommend a model. So that’s what we’ve been working on all year.”
Q: “Cool. So where’s it at in this stage in the game?”
A: “So today’s actually the last day of the trial phase. There’s a Western professor named Jacqueline Daugherty that’s doing a project involving making questions for the transportation survey, so there was carbon footprint stuff on that, and there were questions about bike sharing. So today’s the last day for that. Yesterday we looked at the “final” results, and we’re actually ready to talk about it now, since we didn’t want to bias the data. It still has to go through formal processes, crunching the numbers and whatnot, but we’re looking at a few different models, and hopefully we can get a recommendation by the end of the year.”
Q: “Cool! So is this something that’s definitely happening then?”
A: “Yeah. At the beginning of the year we were hoping to get a pilot next semester, but that was kind of ambitious. So hopefully we’ll be getting one at the beginning of next year. And what it looks like, we still have yet to determine.”
Q: So what do you think are some of the biggest issues that Miami is struggling with in terms of sustainability?
A: Miami is actually doing pretty well sustainability-wise. Carbon footprint is pretty good. East Quad opened up last year and they’re 50 percent more efficient. I think overall we’ve cut power usage by 22 percent over the last five years. They’re increasing the geothermal power at the plant over at Western, they’re building some new tunnels over there. East Quad and North Quad are going onto one plant on the north side, which is going to make everything more efficient. Overall, we’re doing pretty well.
Q: What are your biggest goals for the upcoming semester?
A: Obviously hammering down a model for bike sharing would be amazing. My committee has been working on a bunch of things; we have a bill coming up in senate that would help reduce plastic bag usage on campus. It essentially would institute a very small bag tax, like maybe 20 cents, that if you use a plastic bag, you’ll have to pay the bag tax.
Q: So this would be for students purchasing items at places like MacCracken Market?
A: Yes. Part of this is also making them less available. Right now, the bags are just kind of sitting there. If they’re behind the counter, you have to ask for it, versus just absentmindedly taking one. Because the thought is, if you buy something small and you have a backpack, you don’t really need a bag. The main point is to reduce, not eliminate, because you can’t eliminate them. It’s not going to happen.
There was also a big issue with not being able to use reusable coffee cups. So for the most part if you go to a dining hall, they’ll tell you that they can’t bring your cup behind the counter so they have to pour it into a cup, take your mug over, pour, then throw away that cup anyways. So there’s almost no point. I’ve met with Chris Yeadon, the director of Dining Services and for the meantime, I’ve asked him to tell their employees to use either the milk cups or steam cups as an intermediary, but he’s working on a program where there’s a membership program, where you get a card; or if you buy a Miami mug, you get a discount on coffee.
We’re also working on something that one of my senators calls BYOB, it’s called Bring Your Own Bag. So it’s reusable bags at shopping centers, where we have a “Bag of the Month” or maybe every two months where a student org design it and then we sell it at places like MacCracken Market.
We’ve also been working on reducing paper towel use, but that’s really hard to deal with. And adding water refill stations; hopefully we can reduce plastic bottle use.
Fun Fact: To run for Seamus’s position, you don’t have to be a member of ASG. You just have to fill out a petition to be on the ballot and present it to ASG during election time. So if students are interested and you want to have major policy impact and work with administrators on these issues, consider running for next year!
*Since this interview was conducted, the Student Senate met and discussed SR021537 – A Resolution to Decrease Plastic Bag Use on Campus on November 10, 2015. The issue has been tabled to explore further more effective measures. These minutes can be viewed at the ASG website.