CMU is not a campus that is actively conscious about its environmental impact. While many students come from communities where sustainable infrastructure is the norm, Pittsburgh has historically been a city in a polluted environment. And despite CMU being known for its innovation and prestige, it still lacks an effort toward making campus more sustainable nor incorporating sustainability into the practicum (there isn't even an Environmental Sciences major).
Our group has noticed though, that there are small efforts in pockets of campus that preach sustainability. For our research we chose one of these isolated cases to center our research around: Tazza d'Oro in Gates Cafe in the Gates Hillman Center on campus. We chose this case study because they already practice composting, but this sustainable infrastructure is contained to the cafe area and has not inspired the same practices in other parts of campus or even in other parts of the building where they are located.
Before diving into our case study, we took a look at Tazza D'Oro's connections to the bigger picture of sustainability (Territory Map) as well as all of the stake holders involved (Stakeholder Map).
These mapping exercises provided us with a visualization of the problem space that we conducted our research in. It also opened us up to more questions that we couldn't have discovered with our preexisting assumptions.
After understanding the larger context of where our research exists, we developed some questions to guide our research.
The project had three phases: explorative, generative, and evaluative.
The first phase consisted of interviews on site with customers and other individuals in the area as well as facilities managers off-site. The main focus of this stage was to understand the stakeholders involved and the context in which behaviors were happening.
The second phase consisted of an interactive game that tested the composting knowledge of participants that we encountered in the cafe.
In the third and final stage we implemented new signage into the area since we found in the last phase of research that the majority of people that come to the area do not understand the differences between nor the consequences of composting, recycling, and the trash.
In the future, we envision the space taking on a sustainable aesthetic to promote green practices and make stakeholders more conscious of the opportunities for green practices at Tazza D'Oro.
Explorative: understanding the current situation
Current (and only) composting signage in the area is hidden and contained to one small area. We also observed that whenever we visited in the late afternoon, the trash containers were overflowing with garbage.
33 qualitative interviews were conducted by our team. We had the opportunity to interview the manager of the cafe. He made one comment that stood out to us:
"Even as a manager, I'm not sure some times what goes into the compost bin."
Working in a place that tries to practice sustainability does not automatically mean that the employees understand what that means for the business nor do they adopt those practices into their own lives.
When speaking to Barbara Kviz, the first Environmental Coordinator at CMU, she pointed out several infrastructure issues that prevent CMU from being a green campus:
- Composting is a mystery to most people
- The most convenient trash can is almost always used
- Poor placement of bins and signage
- Failure in post-compost aka consumers don't compost correctly
- Money is wasted on compostable disposable goods because ultimately they are not composted
How can we teach people about composting and make it more accessible? And is that enough?
Generative Phase: composting game
A sorting game was used to test the composting knowledge of people in the Gates Cafe Area. We wanted to gauge how many people could categorize all the items from Tazza d'Oro correctly. Most people were not largely successful.
Testing New Signage
A big issue that emerged was that most people didn't know what composting is and how to sort their waste. We made an attempt to create visual signage to help users sort their waste with confidence.
The signage made a limited impact because it was posted above the compost bin, which is located in a dark, hidden corner of the cafe.
Evaluative: Vision for the future
After conducting our research, we believe that through awareness raising of composting and Tazza d'Oro's green initiative, we can help facilitate greener behaviors of the customers of Tazza d'Oro and those that visit the area.
First, more composting bins and clear signage would be added. We also proposed that Tazza d'Oro strictly buy only compostable products, down to every straw and sugar packet. Aside from outside waste brought into the environment, this would remove any confusion about what to compost.
Tazza d'Oro Current Upgrade
The cafe took some of our research findings and changed the compost bin and its location to make it more visually and physically accessible.