Learn How to Go Green with ACC’s Green Team

Story by Georgina Barahona

Edited by Pete Ramirez

Have you ever wondered what you could do to protect the natural environment around you? Have you ever tried to calculate and lower your carbon footprint? 

Austin Community College’s Office of Energy & Sustainability can help you address these questions and discover how you can get involved in creating a more sustainable world through green initiatives led by their Green Team.

The large and ever-growing department’s Green Team consists of ACC faculty, staff and students who volunteer to improve environmental sustainability on campus and throughout the surrounding city.

The office and its Green Team work to continuously elevate the knowledge of sustainability to those they have the opportunity to work with, students and community members alike.

The Green Team welcomes all volunteers with open arms, no matter what community they come from. 

Inspired by the work of the Office of Energy & Sustainability, Angelica Ruzanova, a first-year journalism major at ACC, decided to join the Green Team last fall.

“Our ACC Green Team works by offering particular activities, advocacy and action,” Ruzanova said. 

The organization has a calendar of events accessible to anyone who wants to join their movement in ecological restoration, including events offered by The Trail Foundation.

“The Trail Foundation is a beautiful place to start with hands-on projects,” Ruzanova said. “We do planting, weeding, invasive species removal, trash clean-up, mulching, and other ecological restoration activities on the Ann & Roy Butler Hike & Bike Trail.” 

Angelica Ruzanova works with other Green Team members to spread mulch at the Ann & Roy Butler Hike & Bike Trail. Follow the foundation’s Instagram account @thetrailfoundation.

You can find the organization’s events calendar by clicking this link. The Green Team provides a wide variety of events curated to teach individuals how to take that first step towards environmental awareness.

One of the upcoming events that is open to ACC students is the Texas Regional Alliance for Campus Sustainability on Monday, April 4, 2022 from 1 pm to 5 pm. 

The event is a free student virtual summit with the theme being student empowerment and climate action. If you would like to attend the conference, send an email to the Green Team at Green@austincc.edu

If you get involved with ACC’s Green Team, they’ll introduce you to the seemingly endless possibilities to learn new and realistic ways to combat climate change.

From helping to implement sustainable living ideas into a conference like Adulting 101, to acquiring access to off-campus events where other like-minded individuals share ideas about approaching ecological restoration, there are countless opportunities to get involved.

Jasmin Rostamnezhad, Sustainability Manager at ACC’s Office of Energy & Sustainability, works with her teammates and volunteers to find new and creative ways to make fighting climate change accessible and achievable to the everyday person.

“My passion is working with each person & getting them to understand that the little things you do have a big impact,” Rostamnezhad said. “I do that by tabling with students at ACC and creating resources for people to use after their time at ACC.” 

Jasmin Rostamnezhad, Sustainability Manager at ACC’s Office of Energy & Sustainability, speaks to ACCENT reporter, Georgina Barahona, about her office and the Green Team’s recent work.

Ruzanova says the Green Team is a place where you can share your ideas about sustainability and work with the team to turn those ideas into reality.

“Starting small, on an individual level is what makes it special,” Ruzanova said.

“You can go from so many angles with sustainability because it’s a universal movement acknowledged throughout the world, with people from different demographics and different socio economic levels bringing something to the table by sharing their stories,” Ruzanova said. 

“Having organizations such as ACC Green Team, who work so hard to organize these events, is a step towards widespread sustainability in our community in Austin and a realistic example of what action is capable of,” Ruzanova said.

But ACC did not always have sustainability in mind. As the consensus around climate change reached a tipping point during the 2000s, the college moved to change with the times.

The blueprint to enact college-wide sustainability policies was created and adopted by ACC in 2009 with the C-9 Sustainable Practices Policy and the Sustainable Construction and College Operations Guidelines/Procedures. In the same year, ACC joined the Carbon Commitment, which is a public pledge for the school to take steps to make the entire college carbon neutral. 

As these initiatives were put to the forefront of the college’s taskbook, the steps to creating climate neutrality among the college were put into full effect.

But wait, what is climate neutrality? 

In simple terms, it means reducing greenhouse gas emissions like carbon dioxide, which is created by burning fossil fuels, as soon as possible by balancing those emissions so they are equal to or less than the emissions that get removed through the Earth’s natural absorption. Fundamentally, it means we reduce our emissions through climate action.

Rostamnezhad realizes that her work is cut out for her but she is driven by the hope of building a better world for all of Earth’s inhabitants. 

“Ultimately what inspired me to get into this field is the impact that our climate issues and environmental problems have on certain communities as well as low income communities and disadvantaged communities that are unfairly targeted by our behaviors everyday,” Jasmin Rostamnezhad said. “I think that should inspire everyone to want to change the way that they live.” 

Understanding Cruelty Free Labels

Can you Trust just Any Bunny?

Written and photo by Alexa Smith

Going cruelty free in cosmetics is a great way to begin living a more sustainable lifestyle. However,  while it seems like an easy step to take, understanding different cruelty free labels can be difficult. Since the FDA does not regulate what constitutes as cruelty free, companies are free to make claims that may or may not be substantiated. Even independent accreditation such as PETA and Leaping Bunny have their own issues that make the “best” accreditation a hotly debated topic in the cruelty free community. If you’re looking to get truly committed to cruelty free it takes a little more work than simply looking for any old picture of a bunny. Here are a few different things to look out for when shopping cruelty free. 

“Cruelty Free” / “Not Tested on Animals”
As mentioned before, as there is no legal definition in the US of “cruelty free” or “not tested on animals” these phrases are not verified by the FDA. Since there is no regulation on these phrases, companies are free to use them however they please. They may not currently test the final product on animals but still buy from manufacturers that test on animals. They could also be using these claims while still testing on animals – there’s no way to be sure other than investigating the company itself. 

While these words themselves are not regulated by the FDA – that doesn’t mean the products with these phrases are not cruelty free or even unaccredited. Organizations such as PETA and The Leaping Bunny often charge more to license their logo and use it on products. So companies may be registered with the organization as cruelty free but not display the logo. This is where doing your own research comes in handy. 

I took a look at some of my products and found that a hair product I use from LUS (side note: great for curly hair!) has a simple claim of “No Animal Testing” which I wasn’t very convinced by. However, when I looked into their website I found that they are actually certified cruelty free by Leaping Bunny. So, if you have a current product you love with no bunny on it – don’t throw it out just yet! Do some research into the brand and company to find out more info on it. 

The Leaping Bunny Program
The Leaping Bunny label is one of the biggest names when looking for cruelty free products. It is often mentioned as one of the most reputable certifications because it is the only one that conducts audits of the companies it accredits. Their website states, “All Leaping Bunny companies must be open to independent audits” so it is not clear if they audit every company on their list. However, they are the only organization that requires companies to agree to a written statement and an audit. Leaping Bunny also requires that companies confirm with suppliers that they are not tested on animals. However, they do still accredit brands that are owned by companies that test on animals. When a brand is owned by a company that tests on animals, Leaping Bunny notes this in their Compassionate Shopping Guide

PETA’s Beauty without Bunnies
PETA’s cruelty free accreditation is considered lesser by cruelty free bloggers such as Cruelty Free Kitty and Ethical Elephant. In the linked article for Cruelty Free Kitty, the author Suzana Rose, found that one of the brands on PETA’s cruelty free list was not able to confirm if their suppliers were also cruelty free. So, unlike The Leaping Bunny Program, PETA does not confirm if brands are using cruelty free suppliers. You’ll notice PETA’s list is longer because of this. PETA also does not conduct any audits of these companies. All companies must do to be accredited by PETA is sign a statement of assurance and fill out a questionnaire. PETA argues that this method works since the statement is legally binding and they believe the threat of a public relations disaster encourages companies to tell the truth about their testing practices.

Choose Cruelty Free
Choose Cruelty Free (CCF) is a much smaller organization than PETA and Leaping Bunny. If you look on their About Section of their website you’ll find they only have two paid staff members and consist mostly of volunteers. This being said – they do not have the resources to audit their accredited brands as Leaping Bunny does. In this way they are similar to PETA since they only require a brand to sign a legally binding contract. However, what makes CCF different from PETA and Leaping Bunny is that they are the only organization that does not certify brands own by parent companies who test on animals. They also require brands to provide written verification from the brand’s suppliers that they do not test on animals.

So…what’s the best option? 

At the end of the day, the best option is to conduct your own research on brands and decide for yourself which accreditations you feel comfortable with. There is no right or wrong answer as all of these have their own pros and cons. The most important thing is to stay informed and understand what exactly each certification means.