Our Experience

This has definitely been an interesting experience for all three of us! We started off wanting to do composting on campus and wound up with our own little initiative around Geneseo. We typically met twice a week, but remained in constant communication outside of our meeting times. Our hope was to have some sort of impact on the Geneseo community, and indirectly, the college itself. Our keyword for this project was “awareness.” We didn’t have any real expectations for the businesses we planned on visiting and we knew that some of the businesses would not be able to participate to the full extent we envisioned. However, if we simply could make the businesses, and the community members, more aware of some of the environmental issues that some of these business practices cause, it would be a win for us.

Something that we considered while going through our project was the Post Materialism Theory. Essentially, we realized that our position in academia, and life in general, allowed for us to talk about these issues more in depth and pursue some sort of change amongst our Geneseo community. If we were not as lucky as we are to be in this position, setting out to make a significant environmental change in our community probably wouldn’t be a thought in our minds. Since we all have the basic necessities of life, we are able to take a step back and assess the situation of the community around us.

Overall, we were very pleased with the amount of businesses that were so receptive to us. We weren’t outright turned away by any business on Main Street, although there were a couple who could not participate. Just about every business was very excited and receptive to hear our suggestions and we hope that they can follow through on some of them. Additionally, we hope that the Office of Sustainability will be able to use some of our information and continue to improve on the work that we started. We understand that we have no leverage over these businesses, no way to force them to participate, and no way to hold them accountable. As seniors, we (and they) understand that we are leaving come May 12th, 2018. However, given the interactions we have had with each of these businesses, we are confident that we have achieved our goal of raising awareness around our community about some serious environmental issues. Who knows, maybe we’ll come back for alumni weekend and see some of our ideas being implemented!

Cricket’s Coffee Company

Cricket’s Coffee Company was very responsive and interested in pursuing sustainable business goals. Currently, they already use plenty of eco-friendly materials. They sell metal reusable straws that are very popular, give away their used coffee grounds for composting, and make both pre-and-post-consumer recycling available like their lids and sleeves. There is, of course, always room for improvement. Cricket’s still uses styrofoam carryout boxes, common to most other Main Street businesses.

Sweet Arts Bakery

Sweet Arts Bakery was responsive and interested in learning what they can do to make their business more eco-friendly. They already use some, but not many, pre-and-post-consumer recyclable materials. For example, they use linguine noodles for stir sticks as well as eco-friendly take-out containers and cutlery. They were interested in our project, but concerned that such materials are not always cost-effective. We were happy to give them a few friendly suggestions for small things they can do to help make Geneseo more sustainable.

Aunt Cookies Sub Shop

We are fully aware at how environmentally unsustainable Aunt Cookie’s is, but the manager wasn’t so informed. After asking her to take our survey, she showed a lot of interest in how she can make Cookie’s more sustainable. Currently, they don’t use any sustainable products, in fact they use some of the worst products like Styrofoam. Although pretty uninformed about the topic of sustainability, the manager was extremely receptive on what can be done. We made a list of what Aunt Cookie’s could do to be more sustainable, and we were able to look into more behind the scenes options as well:

  • Evidently enough, the first suggesting is to use more sustainable products. Ditch the Styrofoam and bulky plastic containers for salad.
  • Get rid of straws. Cookie’s isn’t awful with this but they do keep straws on the counter for customers to take. If they were simply hidden from plain sight, customers would be much less likely to use them.
  •  We suggested a compost bin, they prepare a lot of vegetables and other products that are able to be composted but currently just thrown out.
  • We asked that they put more emphasis on recycling. A lot of people do leave their empty drink containers on the counter for us to recycle and they even put a recycling bin in the dining area, but people throw garbage in it. Something more needs to be done to encourage recycling.
  •  It’s really important to use less plastic bags when giving customers their food. Understandably if the customer has a lot to carry, a bag is acceptable. But if they only get two things, a bag is not necessary. You can also ask if a customer wants a bag, a lot of the time they will say no.
  • Back to recycling, the plastic bags that the bread comes in are basically clean, recyclable bags but they are just thrown out. It is so incredibly easy to just put them aside and take them to somewhere that accepts plastic bags, like Wegmans.
  • Lastly, we are aware that Cookie’s just throws out the cardboard all their materials come in (which is a lot) and that’s such a simple fix to find somewhere that accepts cardboard for recycling.

The manager at Cookie’s was responsive to these ideas. She had never really thought of the simple things that could be done such a saving the plastic bags from the bread instead of putting them directly in the garbage. She seemed to really learn a lot from these ideas so we hope at least some of them will be implemented in the near future.

Finger Lakes Cookie Co.

Finger Lakes was extremely responsive to our sustainable ideas. The owner responded with “very interested” when it came to their interest in more environmentally sustainable business practices. Unfortunately, she does not currently use or has used in the past any sustainable products. That’s alright, though, since she seemed to be very open and receptive to our project.
We conjured up a list of things that the owner can do to make her business more environmentally stable:

  • First and foremost, simply consider investing in more sustainable products. The cookie bags she uses are plastic but there are numerous other options for carry out containers.
  • We asked her to consider baking with some vegan ingredients. After our extensive research on how the vegan diet benefits the environment, she could incorporate some of those ingredients.
  • If she were to buy as many ingredients as she can from local farms and businesses, that is much more sustainable than getting ingredients from bigger industrialized markets.
  • We encouraged her to recycle everything that is recyclable.
  •  Lastly, she should be turning off her ovens as soon as she’s done baking. They use a lot of energy and if the energy isn’t being used to bake, it’s extremely wasteful.

We were hopeful about how the owner would respond to our suggestions since she seemed so interested and she did not disappoint. She loved the flyer and was glad to put it out and she was actually extremely thankful for the list we made her. It was really nice having a business be so responsive to this and since she’s the owner and it’s such a small business, I really think it could become one of the more sustainable businesses in town.

Village Tavern

While the Tavern is not a business on Main Street and follows a different business model than our other participating businesses, we thought it would be worthwhile to include them in our study.  While we had hoped they would be more enthusiastic about participating, we understand their hesitation. It was good to see the Tavern already has some good environmental practices in place. They use cardboard to-go containers, washable silverware instead of plastic, and even their soup containers are recyclable. Being a proper restaurant as opposed to an order and go eatery, there are even more economical and logistic challenges somewhere like the Tavern will face. Nonetheless, there are still some improvements that could be made.

  • Straws are a big problem for restaurants, and the Tavern is no exception. There really is no need for them, especially since the tavern uses reusable glasses for customers. Eliminating straws would help their environmental footprint dramatically.
  • Switching to traditional plates rather than plastic baskets would be a good decision. Plates are reusable until they break, while the baskets currently in use need to be constantly thrown away and replaced, which is not sustainable. A simple switch here would go a long way.
  • Additionally, switching to plates would make the paper placed in the baskets even more unnecessary. The material used as a liner for the baskets is not sustainable, but that wouldn’t be an issue with regular plates.

Overall, the Tavern using good practices already, but they could do things even better if they made a few, simple changes. However, it’s hard to be too critical of everyone at the Village Tavern overall!

Mama Mia’s

Mama Mia’s was incredibly enthusiastic about the prospect of becoming more sustainable. Not only were they enthused, but they were also very aware that their current practices are rather unsustainable. The only material they were aware of that is “sustainable” is they recyclable cardboard they use. However, this sin can be forgiven seeing as they are so responsive to any feedback we have for them.

  • Similar to our suggestion for Aunt Cookies, simply use more sustainable products. Fortunately for Mia’s, the only place they can go is up! The cups they use are recyclable, as well as the pizza boxes. However, items like the styrofoam containers, plastic lids, and plastic straws are not environmentally friendly.
  • A bigger emphasis must be put on recycling. While there is a recycling bin in the main dining room, the trash situation in Mia’s is not ideal, especially once it becomes late at night. A greater distinction can be made between what is trash and what can be recycled. Even something as easy as putting the trash can on the other side of the dining room can make a huge difference.
  • Straws are unnecessary for customers dining in, as well as the plastic tops. Making a switch to reusable cups or glasses can go a long way for customers staying in the dining room rather than taking out.
  • Switching from styrofoam to a more reusable material like cardboard is a must, as styrofoam is possibly the worst material for the environment.

It’s important to note that there are some changes that will simply not be economically beneficial to a business. As disappointing as this is, it’s understandable if there are some tough decisions a business must make in order to continue making money. That being said, the suggestions for Mia’s are fairly doable, and with the manager’s enthusiasm, we hope to see some of these changes soon!

About the Blog

The purpose of this blog is to not only track the progress of the Main Street Initiative, but also to help educate the general public about environmental issues in their area. Our participating local businesses will also be able to see how sustainable we think they are based on their responses to our surveys.

Our Goals

Our intent for our Community Engagement project is to raise awareness around Main Street, both by businesses and consumers, about some important environmental issues that arise in any business model and what these businesses and consumers can do to help improve their environmental footprint. Specifically, we are hoping that businesses will reduce the non-biodegradable materials and plastic materials that they use in favor of more environmentally friendly materials. The hope is that consumers will become more aware of the harmful effects of plastic and non-biodegradable materials on the environment and realize that there are small changes they can make that will have a big impact. We partnered with the Office of Sustainability and worked as ambassadors to the Geneseo Campus and the greater Geneseo Community to help spread awareness. We will be gathering data on the responsiveness to our initiative and if people begin to cut back on their plastic use, then the Office of Sustainability can use our findings for future endeavors, especially with respect to the greater Geneseo community outside of the Geneseo campus.

We created an information card describing our project, explaining what we’re asking the business to do: simply asking them to participate in our survey and if we’re allowed to leave our fliers to raise awareness for the consumer. The flyer also explained what the consumers can do: simply asking them to participate in our survey, and asking them to be more conscious in what products they’re using when they eat out. Finally, facts were included about how plastic is negatively impacting the environment. The idea here is that these undeniable facts will help motivate people to participate.

Additionally, we created a survey for our purposes to collect data about our businesses. How sustainable are they already? Are they interested in making the necessary changes if they aren’t? How receptive was the business to any information we could provide to them? Our hope is that each business will take any information we give them and apply it to their business practices and increase their sustainability.