UCSF Sustainability Stories

By Deborah Fleischer, Green Impact

UCSF Green Champion Highlight: Sean McClelland

Earlier this year, Sean McClelland, UCSF Lead Learning Tech Specialist, was recognized for his leadership in sustainability by receiving a UCSF Sustainability Award in the Staff Category. Sean is a true UCSF Green Champion who is walking his talk and inspiring others to live green.

At UCSF, Sean spearheaded the formation of a Sustainability/Green Team in the Library Tech Commons.  He holds meetings and provides communications to staff to help the department function in a more sustainable, waste-free, conscientious way.  This includes rearranging the kitchen area with clear recycle, compost, and landfill bins, and engaging his peers to use them correctly through contests and demos. For holiday parties and other departmental events, he organized the stocking of the kitchen with durable plates and flatware. As an educator, he continually engages his team and peers on issues of environmental sustainability, and together with the Green Team, strives for continuous improvement to reduce or eliminate waste.  He arranged staff tours of Recology to experience firsthand waste sorting activities and the importance of reducing waste. 

Sean is deeply committed to raising awareness of recycling, composting, and reuse, and is always looking for ways to support UCSF’s sustainability goals.

1.  Why do you think sustainability is important for UCSF?
The easy answer is that UCOP and UCSF leadership have pledged to become carbon neutral by 2025 and zero waste by 2020, and many sustainability practices will save us money in the long-run, but I think it goes deeper than that. Our institution is a world leader in health sciences, and the second-largest employer in one of most progressive, innovative and technologically-advanced cities in the world. With all of these resources at our fingertips, how can we not take action? I believe it’s our duty to act, and we should lead by example.

2. What inspired you to start the green team?
I think it was a combination of things. It’s always been in my nature to conserve. Even as a kid, I was very careful with my toys and belongings. I’m also a huge animal lover, so sustainable living has always been a natural fit for me. Moving from Detroit to San Francisco in 2011 really opened my eyes, too. You can accomplish anything that you want in this city and at UCSF if you are passionate and willing to work hard. Ironically, I have friends and family in the midwest who don’t believe in climate change, and this is always in the back of my mind. I also went to Burning Man in 2015, which is a challenging test in conservation, and the experience changed my perspective on a lot of things. The final push for me happened when the Trump administration took office in 2017 and immediately waged war on the environment. They took the EPA website down in the first week! In my mind, the Library Green Team is the least that I can do. I’m also extremely grateful for the support I’ve gotten from Library leadership and the other team members.

3. What accomplishment are you most proud of around promoting LivingGreen at UCSF?
We’re a group of volunteers with very busy work lives, so even the smallest accomplishment is big win in my book. This summer we hosted our first Sustainable Movie Hour, and the did it again in the fall with the Office of Sustainability. I believe this can evolve into a semi-regular event that introduces UCSF students, faculty and staff to the world of sustainability. Education is the first step toward making positive changes. We show a documentary movie, and then host a panel of experts to discuss related topics after the film. It’s both fun and informative. So far we’ve shown Merchants of Doubt and Happening: A Clean Energy Revolution. Stay tuned to the Library and Office of Sustainability’s newsletters for info on the next one, which we hope will take place in early 2019.

4. How do you personally live and work sustainably?
Sustainability is on my mind 24/7. I’m constantly turning off lights in empty rooms in the Library, reusing discarded paper for note taking, re-sorting items in waste bins, and I’ve moved to a metal tea ball instead of tea bags to reduce waste. I also have two trash cans in my bathroom at home, so I can separate landfill from compost. I don’t even throw away twist ties, because I always find a use for them later! My wife teases me, but she also supports me, and I couldn’t do it without her help. I won’t bore with you a list, but suffice it to say, I’ll try just about anything if it saves energy or reduces waste. Some people call it obsessive, but honestly, the things that I do are simple and easy. I just started with small changes to my behavior, and when they become habit, I added something new to the mix.

Oh, and our Tech Commons crew in the Parnassus Library was LivingGreen “platinum” certified this year. Way to go team!

5. Is there something we might be surprised to learn about you?
I’ve only owned three cell phones in my life. It’s a nerdy thing to brag about, but I try to wear it like a badge of honor. I donated my previous phone to a really great cause (rfcx.org), and bought my latest phone used (swappa.com). E-waste is a huge problem, and the throwaway culture that companies like Apple promote with their iPhone marketing strategies really disturb me. I’ll upgrade my phone eventually (would love to have a better camera in my phone!), but I’m going to hold out for as long as I can.

6. What is one action related to sustainability you would encourage the UCSF community to take?
The first thing that comes to mind is super-simple. Watch this video about drying your hands and reducing paper towel waste. Then, take that approach to behavioral change and apply it to other areas of your life. Start thinking in terms of what you want, versus what you actually need. You may find that your perspective needs to shift away from convenience, and towards doing the right thing. Do you really need to use the automatic door or the elevator? How difficult is it to bring a metal straw to a restaurant? If we all just slow down, and consider the environmental impact of our actions, we can change the world, one step at a time.