Climate Leadership in LA: Jessica Sara Cohen on Reducing Waste at Tailgates

Posted by on Thursday, March 23rd, 2017

Jessica Sara Cohen is the Waste and Recycling Administrator at USC. Before she began work at USC, she was a student leader on the university’s Sustainability Steering Committee.

Tell us about your project to reduce waste.

I manage a student-run program that focuses on educating tailgaters about recycling and compost at tailgates on USC football game days. This program started about seven years ago. On average, USC diverts 52% of our waste annually with a goal of 75% by 2020. Our Tailgate Waste Diversion Program reaches an estimated 40,000-65,000 fans via roughly 80 student-peer educators per tailgate.

What inspired you on your career path? And what or who inspires you now?

I’ve been extremely passionate about the environment since high school, when my friend convinced me to go to an environmental club meeting with her. I always loved the outdoors, but once I met the faculty advisor, Lorna Morris — and felt her passion and enthusiasm — I knew it was contagious and that it would become a long-lasting passion for me as well.

What are the barriers you face in work — and what could make your job easier?

The greatest barrier I face in my work is fostering cultural change. It’s easy to place infrastructure, but much more difficult to ensure that it’s properly used. One thing that would make my job easier is having a cultural expectation on campus around sustainability issues; students don’t seem to realize that their demands really do make a difference on campus, even if changes don’t come about as quickly as they’d like.

A genie grants you two wishes that will help fight climate change. What do you ask for? The third wish is for anything you want (sky’s the limit!).

My first wish would be that science is communicated more effectively and accepted by society at large. My second wish is that the idea of a triple bottom line becomes the standard business practice. Lastly, with my final wish, I wish that no matter where I am or what I am doing, I’ll never have to wait in a line again.

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