By May Bartlett, senior in Philosophy
Sustainability comes in many shapes and sizes. It seems as though every time I hear the word, it’s being applied to a new context. Although typically tied to environmental protection, sustainability is much more inclusive, bringing together economics and equity in combination with the environment. Sustainability is a mindset. It ties people and the natural world together into a functioning ecosystem, an ecosystem that will support future generations of all species.
For the past year, I have been working toward making the U campus more sustainable for our future generation by literally making a healthy, sustainable space for infants. In January, the ASUU Student Child Care Program opened a new infant room in the Alfred Emery Building, and with a grant from the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund (SCIF), I helped ensure that the products used in the space were safe and chemical-free.
When I heard that the infant daycare was in pursuit of sustainable products, I was immediately drawn to the project. I grew up with parents who were very concerned about toxins. We were never allowed to eat out of Styrofoam; plastics were non-existent in our house. I never thought much of it, but the practice stuck. It wasn’t until my early adulthood that I became aware of the toxins in furniture and clothes.
It’s a scary concept. While we can’t control how products are made, we can control which products we buy. Every baby should start life in a healthy and sustainable environment. In the new infant room, SCIF funds were used to ensure that babies in the daycare were safe from harmful chemicals and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) associated with manufactured goods.
There are harmful chemicals in nearly all manufactured products. The most harmful are found in plastics and fire retardants that are used in furniture and clothing. These chemicals are linked to cancer and other negative health effects, such as damage to reproductive systems, and deficiency of motor skills, hearing, learning, memory, and behavior if children are exposed at critical points in development. Infants are at this stage of critical development, which is why the new infant daycare is a perfect place to implement chemical-free products.
Grant funds paid for organic mattress pads and blankets, as well as harm-free toys, furniture, and binkies. The mattress pads and blankets are free of fire retardants, whereas the majority of the toys are wooden without harmful lacquers. The toys that are plastic are phthalate and BPA-free—the two most harmful chemicals found in plastic. The pacifiers are made from pure organic rubber, avoiding plastic all together. It is especially important for these specific products to be chemical-free because infants are in close contact with all of them, often putting them in their mouths.
Implementing sustainability starts with education. As parents are exposed to sustainable practices in the new daycare, they will learn how to make better choices for their own homes. While these chemicals are most harmful to young children, they pose a threat to all of us. My hope is that the infant daycare can stand as a model for future sustainable renovations on campus and throughout the community.
May Bartlett was awarded a SCIF grant in spring of 2014. SCIF is the University of Utah’s green grant program. Students, faculty, and staff from all disciplines and departments are invited to propose projects that enhance the sustainability of our campus and community.