Earth Day in 2021

Pandemic or not, we can continue to impact change for a greener tomorrow.

Student life seemed a distant and foreign concept when I began my first semester online as a first-year student at NYUAD. With the reduced physical engagement with my fellow peers, I questioned how I was going to meet other students and find a sense of belonging on campus. That’s when I decided to look into joining an SIG, and discovered Ecoherence.

Aya Adib, NYUAD Class of 2024.

My journey with sustainability had been simple. I reduced my plastic consumption wherever possible, went vegan, and generally did my best to remain conscious of my actions and their impact on the environment. But I knew I wanted to enact change and take more substantial steps towards sustainability and be a part of something larger than my individual actions. Finding Ecoherence was a game changer for me. I was not only amazed by how welcoming and engaging the group was, but most importantly, found how actionable the agendas were — from promoting the use of reusable water bottles to advocating for more vegan and vegetarian options for campus dining. 

The past few months, the group worked hard towards brainstorming ways to ensure the voice of Ecoherence was not dimmed during our virtual semester. We experimented with various online forms of engagement through social media takeovers, virtual trivia nights on sustainability, online DIY events and workshops. Before I knew it, I had taken up the role of social media manager for Ecoherence. 

Student-led action is at the core of our SIG and collaboration is at the centre of our process. Ecoherence SIG works with the campus administration often and regularly to campaign for improving sustainable practices. Together, we have worked to include  pledges such as our goal to ‘go paperless’ during meetings and incorporate more vegetarian meals which our very own Vice Chancellor Mariet Westermann enacted in 2019 and was featured in the UAE local press. We also help organize our campus’s annual Go Green Week, a weeklong program organized across the NYU campuses in Abu Dhabi, New York and Shanghai in an effort to raise awareness around matters of sustainability.

As a student, it is incredibly empowering to see some of our campaigns come to life. With the support of the University, we have successfully reduced the usage of single-use  plastic drinking bottles as a more sustainable drinking option. In previous years, we have also run a campus Swap-Shop initiative started up by a group of students including our current Ecoherence Co-President Shahad Hamwi, Class of 2023, where students were able to swap their pre-loved items of clothing for someone else’s in hopes of reducing fast fashion consumption and encouraging thrift shopping as an alternative practice. Roughly 300 items of clothing were collected at the last event and we hope to be able to run the initiative again when our current circumstances allow us to hold it safely for the community.

Swap-Shop initiative by student interest group Ecoherence to help reduce fast fashion consumption and encouraging thrift shopping. Photo taken pre COVID-19 pandemic.

As we celebrate Earth Day, here are some attainable daily acts that we can all start doing on campus to improve our daily impact on the planet:

  1. Get familiar with the available facilities. Every residential floor as well as common areas around campus are fitted with recycling bins to encourage accessibility.
  2. Using reusable takeaway containers is a common practice in our popular dining spots such as the Campus East Dining hall and the Marketplace. Each time you are done using the reusable container, simply wash it and return it back to the dining hall to receive a coin-sized token. Then hand over the token during your next visit in exchange for a cleaned reusable container.  
  3. Picking a variety of vegan and vegetarian options from our dining halls can help reduce the carbon footprint from the animal agriculture industry. 
  4. Use a reusable tote bag when you do your groceries at the convenience store.  
  5. Wearing a reusable face mask helps reduce your one-time mask waste (just make sure you wash them regularly).

Sustainability is not an all or nothing mentality where you’re either perfect or doing nothing at all. Striving for change is a process of small steps and even making the smallest of changes can have a greater impact than you might think especially if we all make these small changes together.

Aya Adib, NYU Abu Dhabi Class of 2024, is a member of the Ecoherence Student Interest Groups (SIGs) on campus. Ecoherence’s mission is to transform the NYUAD community into agents of sustainability by promoting eco-friendly lifestyles in hopes of raising awareness on our ability as individuals to push for change.