By Lauren Mar ’25
Growing up, Lauren Ng helped her mother and grandparents with the family garden. Her penchant for gardening followed her to working at the student garden at Soka University of America, and now to the lush botany of Scripps as the College’s new sustainability coordinator.
Hailing from Modesto, California, Ng was not exposed to environmental science in her high school classes. At Soka University, however, Ng worked at the student garden and quickly discovered her passion for promoting sustainability. “I taught classes on how to make kimchi and how to compost,” Ng recalls. “What I liked most about the student garden was working with other students and connecting concepts I learned in classes—from sustainable agriculture to local food to integrative pest management.”
With her passion for sustainability affirmed, Ng joined the campus sustainability program. She launched an independent study in which she performed a benchmark assessment of the campus if submitted for STARS (The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, & Rating System) certification. Over the course of two years, Ng transformed her campus from one with no reporting status to a silver-certified university. Throughout that project, Ng gained valuable insight into how to advance sustainability at an institutional level.
“I saw the challenges universities face with programs like that,” Ng says. “There are lots of questions, and people don’t know how to even begin approaching sustainability goals. With a good program structure, though, it makes it easier to look at how to improve.”
Ng says her experience with this sustainability program was rewarding because she could feel the changes on campus. It also led her to Scripps in what she describes as a “homecoming.”
“I was drawn particularly by Scripps’ edible landscape and the olive harvest, as I was excited by the opportunity to work on them,” she says. “Not only does Scripps have a campus that is worth preserving, but the students also contribute so much.”
Community involvement is a key component of Ng’s personal definition of sustainability. She says, “To me, sustainability is an intersectional and interdisciplinary approach to solving social and environmental issues. I think sustainable solutions are those that are regenerative, equitable, inclusive, and forward-thinking.”
Ng adds that the goal of sustainability is to ensure a habitable planet for future generations, noting that because many of our current systems were built upon extractive and exploitative practices, they are not sustainable. Looking towards future integration of sustainability is the key to securing this habitable future.
At Scripps, she has multiple objectives to promote sustainability on campus. One of her main goals is to create more internships for students. Not only is their involvement necessary to making sustainability initiatives a reality, she says, but also students benefit greatly from gaining applicable experience in the field. Ng has teamed up with Professor of Politics Nancy Neiman to provide sustainability projects for course credit.
“I’m excited to give students the experience I had,” says Ng. “A big question students have is, ‘how do I make change in this world?’ I want to bring them along for the ride, show them the empathy required to understand challenges, and work through them together in a realistic way.”
Ng has also been putting together a greenhouse gas emissions inventory to support the Second Nature Carbon Commitment Scripps signed in February 2020, which commits the College to reporting its annual greenhouse gas emissions. Ng’s efforts will inform the College of how to create carbon reduction goals using a benchmark for how Scripps can improve.
One ongoing challenge that Ng has faced in the promotion of sustainability is funding for the sustainability program. “Institutional change is the most important impact I can have,” she says. “If any of us are gone, that work isn’t for nothing because the institution will have adopted [this work] as a priority.”
To help fuel these critical institutional changes, donors can contribute to the Sustainability Innovation Fund. This gift fund allows donors to help fund sustainability programs and events such as the upcoming Sustainability Fair, conferences, Scripps’ Student Garden, and to compensate the College’s paid interns and student workers.
Ng points out that sustainability is already woven into the values of the College’s centennial plan, which emphasizes support of sustainability programs to shape the way the College serves students and to provide a better academic and residential experience for them. Increasing prioritization of sustainability at Scripps not only benefits students, Ng says, but the broader community and the world.
“I hope that one day, sustainability is so embedded into everything we do that we no longer find a need for the word!”
To support sustainability efforts at Scripps, select the “other” option in the dropdown list on Scripps’ Giving site and write in “Sustainability and Innovation Fund.”