By Thomas Regan
The lights are left on in the house of Rider University’s sustainability pioneer — a common environmental neglect that would be brought up during her “green confession” — but then the switch clicks, the room goes dark and out runs her 4-year-old son.
“Look, Mommy, I’m saving energy, I’m saving energy!” he says in excitement.
Melissa Greenberg, Rider University’s sustainability manager, is trying to spread the same notion of environmental consideration on campus that she has taught her older son.
Balancing her passion for the Earth with raising her children is not always easy.
“Working full time and having two young kids — my oldest is 4, so he’s not even in kindergarten yet — is a challenge,” she said. “I just consider it as having two full-time jobs. Some of the things I used to like to do for myself, I can’t really do anymore.”
Junior environmental science major Kathy Blachut, who serves as an eco-rep, describes a typical day for Greenberg as constantly working on new projects and trying to discover new ways to better the university from a sustainability standpoint.
Currently, Greenberg is working extensively on setting up Bill Nye the Science Guy’s visit to Rider, which will take place on April 23.
Though Greenberg has a lot to accomplish at work, she always finds a way to handle her duties on campus, while also taking care of her responsibilities at home.
“Melissa handles being a full-time mom and a full-time sustainability manager like a pro,” Blachut said. “She has two little boys, and swimming practice, birthday parties and playing outdoors all are part of her schedule. Just the other day she managed to come to Admitted Student Day on a weekend to represent the Office of Sustainability, but before that, had already managed to play outdoors with her children. Without a doubt, this job is something she plans on doing for years to come, but her kids clearly are the apples of her eye.”
Even though she surrenders most of her leisure time to serve the environment and her children, the preservationist path was not always what she had envisioned for herself.
A graduate of Widener University with a degree in hospitality management, she originally looked to work for a travel agency. Her career has redirected her several times before she found a home in sustainability.
Greenberg worked at Philadelphia University and then Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science, where she headed the food service operation, which she described as “like Cranberry’s.” The job proved to be a dead end, and she explored several other opportunities before finding her way to the George School in Newtown, Pennsylvania, a well-regarded boarding school. The school’s efforts to go green fostered her passion for saving the environment and eventually led her to Rider.
“I don’t have specialized training or a degree in sustainability — that’s a relatively new thing, and that didn’t exist,” she said. “Here, you can minor in sustainability. Some colleges have a bachelor’s in sustainability and there’s also a master’s. So, it’s come a long way, and I’ve just been riding the wave for it.”
Since leading Rider’s efforts to combat the damage that has been inflicted on the environment, Greenberg has established several green initiatives. Solar panels have been installed along I-95 and a biodigester — a machine that turns food waste into grey water— has been adopted to dispose of the waste created by Daly’s. However, the technological advances, which have helped increase the school’s sustainability, are not her proudest accomplishments.
“The level of awareness that has been raised since I got here in 2008, there’s just a big difference,” Greenberg said. “When I first got here, no one cared. No one wanted to talk to me; no one wanted me to speak in their classes. Even the students that worked for me had a hard time communicating with peers and trying to get them to be a little more sustainable in their life. Now, the response is so different. People invite the eco-reps to join in and help green their events. There’s now a Student Government Association position called the environmental chair.”
Despite the increased understanding of the dangers of pollution, Greenberg knows dorm life may allow some students, who do not see the electric bill, to become more lax in their environmental consideration. However, she believes that the long-term impact of instilling mindfulness in college students will follow them throughout their lives.
“Hopefully, students will leave here, even if they’re not so green while they’re here, with knowledge and awareness and will make better choices moving forward,” she said. “There are a lot of things people do because I think they just don’t know any better, like the impact of throwing a water bottle in the trash can. It might seem like nothing, but then you come to one of our films that talks about the fact that everything that has ever been created that’s plastic still exists today. So having it go to a landfill, yes, it’s out of sight, out of mind — but it’s never going away. I just think people really [need to] understand, so it’s my job and my staff’s job to get people to make better choices.”
Printed in the 4/15/15 edition.