November 27, 2006

C.U. Store Pushes Sustainability

Print More

We hear and make them all the time — the infamous complaints against the Cornell Store: the textbooks can be bought online for considerably less than store price; the clothes and supplies are too expensive. We walk out of the store after textbook rush with any cash we may have had in our wallets gone, credit cards overdrawn and — to add to our frustration — we are dragging home about 70 pounds of books.

But what the average Cornellian does not know is the “life” of the Cornell Store, outside of the business aspect. Throughout recent years, the store has taken the initiative to assist and work with various student groups, dealing with everything from the state of the environment to workers’ rights.

The store’s newest project is assisting students to advocate the Designated Suppliers Program (DSP). This will ensure that all factories producing clothes with the Cornell logo operate under fair working conditions: lawful labor environment and salary as well as the right to assemble for representation.

“We are trying to help make a difference in these factories,” said Thomas Romantic, director of Cornell Business Services. “There are certain factories that were declared as [unfair] that we won’t do business with.”

Recently, the Workers Rights Coalition (WRC) along with DSP has identified nine factories which show an interest in meeting the criteria of a just working environment. The Cornell Store is on its way to doing business solely with these factories and would like to see other universities join in on the campaign.

“We’d like to get some leverage to actually change the behavior of these brands,” explained Romantic.

The store has also worked with Cornell’s Society for Natural Resources Conservation to increase the use of recycled goods. In the past, the standard for organizations has been to use 30 percent recycled paper.

However, “[the store] has been trying to educate the campus about 100 percent usage and not just that — but the use of post consumer waste paper.”

The store not only predominantly sells this type of paper, but also uses it in its offices and supports the general reduction in the use of paper.

Recently, members of the Green Purchasing Task Force, a volunteer group on campus comprised of staff looking to represent their departments in making beneficial changes, decided to take on a solar panel project. Solar panels were donated by an alum to the solar panel decathlon team. The team will install approximately 36 panels in Day Hall and eight in the store. With the help of the store, the team will set up a website, where anyone may log on and monitor the daily usage of energy within these two buildings.

“We are trying to … use our buying power to change the way things are in the world,” said Dean Koyanagi ’90, Cornell Sustainability Coordinator.

So how do students go about utilizing the store?

“Many times it manifests itself as a complaint, and we say ‘it’s a valid complaint, let’s sit down and talk about it,” described Romantic.

That’s how it worked for Esther Blodau-Konick ’06. Troubled by the store’s waste of approximately 350,000 plastic bags a year, she approached management about potentially purchasing bags from various vendors that recycle — or at the very least not requiring that students always receive a plastic bag upon a purchase.

Although the store did not always prove easy to work with, and many of Blodau-Konick’s ideas did not materialize, she achieved her underlying goal.

“They were very open to suggestions and did take time to meet with us,” she said.

Today, the store uses only recycled plastic bags and asks students if they would like a bag.

“The store is very interested in seeing what they could do to use the store to educate and not just sell goods,” Koyanagi said.

Romantic explained that the store is very well situated for this cause, being in the center of campus wide activity.

“We view it as our mission on campus to support these various things,” he said.

So, next time you’re fussing about your overly priced Cornell sweater, you can rest assured that it was made by someone in a healthy working environment.

And next time you grudgingly stuff your textbooks into the plastic bags, you will know that at least you can use the excuse of “helping the environment” with your frantic parents.

So, even though we may occasionally feel that the Cornell store bill should be included as an extra section on the expected cost of the University, we can relax — slightly, knowing that by making our purchases we are in a small way assisting various causes as well.