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Sustainability Abroad #3: Universidad VERITAS

Rob Greenfield stands on stage in auditorium with screen behind him of a picture of him covered in garbage
March 11, 2020

Universidad VERITAS prides itself on sustainability and celebrated with multiple activities during Sustainability Day on March 3

“In a turmoil global context, we feel the responsibility, as a higher education institution, to provide content that creates awareness and action calls for our students.” ~Dr. Barahona Castro

Universidad VERITAS is one of more than forty universities in San José, Costa Rica. The private university specializes in architecture, art and design with a robust international program. Approximately 2,000 students, both local and international, attend the school every year. 

Sustainability is an important goal for VERITAS. The university views sustainability as “a process of mental and action change in how we live today so that we can improve and guarantee the quality of life for future generations.” The open-air campus features solar panels, a campus orchard that’s irrigated with a rainwater tank and over 70 courses in sustainability, sociology, environmental sciences, politics, peace studies and wellness. In 2017, the Education Center became 100% carbon neutral and the university decreased its carbon footprint (kg CO2 equivalent per year per person) from 198 to 113 from 2015-16! 

On March 3, the campus celebrated Sustainability Day with a sustainable market, a documentary showing and a talk by Rob Greenfield, who visited the UMD campus last fall. 

The Sustainability Market featured booths from local businesses and activists. Some of the products displayed were beeswax wraps to replace tin foil and saran wrap, zero waste menstrual products, seed-starting kits for gardens and locally-made chocolate. One activist displayed his bike and trailer. In 2017, he biked from Chile to with trailer connected to it

The day also involved a showing of the documentary, Sharkwater: Extinction, which exposes the harmful and illegal world of shark finning. An international student from Kansas State University, Kylie Perez, says that the documentary “really opened my eyes to the corruption in the government and how big the issue of shark finning is.”

To end the day, VERITAS hosted environmental activist Rob Greenfield to speak about his journey with sustainability. Today, the activist owns only 44 possessions, has foraged for all of his food for the past year, donates all of his speaking profits to indigenous, women-led NGOs and has created various programs to support sustainable efforts. However, his journey to sustainability has been a long one.

Greenfield graduated college with the idea of the “American Dream” entrenched in his mind: owning a big house, multiple cars and making more than six figures. After realizing the importance and necessity of sustainability, change seemed large and daunting. So, Greenfield broke it down and made a personal goal to complete one small, positive change each week. He swapped plastic bags for reusable ones, he started biking more and shopping at local businesses. Within two years, he had made over 100 positive changes to his lifestyle and found himself happier than before. To him, that “built the foundation for bigger changes.” 

Greenfield emphasized that “most things are a matter of perspective.” He used an example of water use around the world. In the United States, the average person uses about 88 gallons of water daily. However, the average German only uses about 32 gallons of water a day. For Greenfield, sustainability is simply the action of “needing less.” 

One project that Greenfield described was creating gardens in Florida for single moms. These gardens helped make healthier foods accessible for those families. “My goal isn’t to change the world,” he says, but to instead “maybe change the world for one person.”

Dr. Alejandra Barahona Castro, CIPSS Director at Universidad VERITAS, hopes that the students who participated in Sustainability Day “get the idea of promoting similar initiatives at their home campuses.” However, Dr. Barahona Castro acknowledges that Sustainability Day is “merely a grain of sand that contributes to our vast objectives of generating awareness” and that sustainability encouragement must continue past one day. Universidad VERITAS also promotes networking opportunities with NGOs and community experts for students to learn year-round. 

Even though Sustainability Day was one small event, it inspired sustainable change for all who attended. Dr. Barahona Castro has hope in the future, stating: “The new Generation Z is wonderfully skeptic and ready to foster changes in the world. As educators, we see this as an opportunity!”