Small Changes, Big Impacts: An Introduction to the Byram Hills Sustainability Initiative

Drastic, global changes will be necessary to combat environmental destruction. However, change happens from the bottom up too, starting right here at BHHS. Read on to learn how the Byram Hills Sustainability Initiative is working to create positive change.

By Nora Lowe

You’ve seen them hanging flyers sporting recycling symbols, heard their frequent announcements about the importance of avoiding single use plastics, and received emails gently reminding you to use a reusable water bottle. But who is orchestrating these high level efforts, and why?

The Byram Hills Sustainability Initiative (BHSI), formerly known as the Green Team, is a club comprised of students devoted to making our high school more environmentally conscious. Instagram posts about the gravity of the climate crisis and headlines emblazoned with statistics like “Scientists estimate dozens of species of plants and animals currently go extinct each day —nearly 1,000 times the natural rate” (Earthday.org), may convince you about the serious nature of environmental destruction. But, they may also overwhelm you and prompt feelings of helplessness.

In reality, sweeping legislative changes will be required if we hope to curtail these troubling issues. But, it is also the small, everyday changes that accumulate and have a large impact as well. Afterall, willingly participating in mass behavioral shifts could have just as powerful an effect. So although you’ve undoubtedly heard the mantra countless times before, it’s worth repeating: small actions are valuable, and you’re not powerless. As the Sierra Club aptly puts it, “Yes, Actually, Individual Responsibility Is Essential to Solving the Climate Crisis.” It is important to strike the right balance between high-level and low-level change. Ms. Bogren, who has served as the BHSI advisor for three years, concurs, saying “it’s important to remember that massive success doesn’t require massive action on the part of the individual. The difference a tiny shift in behavior can make over time is astonishing. Simple actions like refusing a plastic bag at a store, or refusing a straw, or switching to a reusable water bottle, when performed over the course of a lifetime, the impact is staggering.”

That, in part, is why the Green Team became the BHSI. They wanted to shed the idea that sustainability is exclusively about recycling, and that environmentalists and conservationists are exclusively tree huggers. Environmental action can come in an infinite number of shapes and sizes. You most certainly don’t need to own a Hydroflask or a Peta phone case to help the environment.

Underneath Mr. Bryan Horn, the previous club advisor, the group was able to ban straws at the Byram Bean, add sorting tables to the cafeteria, and install the water bottle filling stations located around the school. These stations have helped save over 35,657 bottles to date, which is truly an amazing accomplishment. In recent years under Ms. Bogren, the club has grown in scale. She explains some of their recent exciting efforts: “Since taking over for Mr. Horn, we have had members partner with the town to participate in town-wide cleanups; we have worked in collaboration with the district-wide Sustainability Committee, and organization comprised of several environmentally conscious parents, to host several joint initiatives; we have broadened our reach through partnerships with other clubs, including Youth Against Cancer and the Marketing and Media; on September 20th, 2019, members of the club attended the Climate Strike at Foley Square where Greta Thunberg would later speak; and prior to the shutdown last March, we had plans to attend the Youth Climate Action Leadership summit.”

To bring BHSI into the mainstream conversation of the school and to cement this rebranding, the club has worked closely with Mr. Melso and the entirety of the Marketing and Media club to create a logo capturing and communicating their objectives. 

The new BHSI logo.

The infinity sign reflects the core element of sustainability and the reciprocity involved with protecting nature. Additionally, it reflects how positive environmental action is diverse, and there is not one formulaic way to go about it.

The group is united in their common purpose, but there is ample opportunity to channel individual interests into the efforts too. The club is organized so that members form groups, select a project of interest, develop an action plan, and execute it. 

Club treasurer and junior Jane Zeltner, for instance, is working on an initiative along with junior Sammy Glusky that simultaneously promotes recycling and charitable donation: “The goal of the pop tabs initiative is to encourage students and faculty to recycle for a good cause! The pop tabs are collected here, and then the RMH [Ronald McDonald House] recycles them to raise money for families affected by pediatric cancer.” Her initiative is a demonstrative example of the success of an out-of-the-box idea. 

Junior Priscilla Zhang is working on an initiative about proper PPE disposal, specifically cutting the straps on masks to avoid harming wildlife. She explains that “by cutting the strings of the disposable face masks and by making sure it finds its proper place in the trash can, we can reduce the likelihood of face masks blowing into the ocean and waterways, which can strangle marine life.”

Projects don’t need to have tangible components either. Emily Hollander (11’) is working with Jane Zeltner and Sammy Glusky on an education initiative that aims to “educate students about the environment in a fun and engaging way.”

Interested in joining? Junior Deborah Varghese reflects, “We need more people in this school who are aware of their planet, and who want to do good. Everyone should join this club, because there are many initiatives we need to take to sustain the world we live in.” Freshman Eliza Zeltner agrees: “Others should join this club because climate change poses a huge threat to our future generations.”

Ms. Bogren synthesizes our message, explaining that “you don’t have to be a self-proclaimed environmentalist to be a member of this club. We are recruiting members interested in setting up and managing our social media; who enjoy writing emails, announcements, Focus blurbs, and articles; graphic designers and artists, and those looking to put their marketing skills to the test, just to name a few. If you have a passion or skill that you would like to hone through participation in our club, we welcome you with open arms!”

Contact cbogren@byramhills.org for more information about joining.

Note: this article was written by a member of the BHSI.