Kaori Keyser, born to be an Eco Leader

Kaori Keyser
As an Eco Leader, Kaori Keyser supports events such as the plate waste audit, which helps raise awareness about food waste.

Kaori Keyser tackled her first sustainability project when she was in grade school in Jefferson Parish in the New Orleans metropolitan area. She joined a local 4H club and was named the group’s president in fifth grade. Since she lived in an urban environment, the program focused on youth development, instead of horses, cows and goats.

Keyser, a freshman majoring in environmental engineering at Colorado State University, said that her elementary school didn’t have a recycling program, but students and staff collected pop tops on soda cans. One of the school’s teachers would bring the pop tops to a recycling facility. “We had a big water jug full of those,” she said.

In middle school, she took part in Arbor Day festivities at Zephyr Field, home of the New Orleans Baby Cakes, a minor-league baseball team. “We would give out small cypress trees, help people plant them in pots, and distribute those to anyone who wanted them,” she said. She also helped tend her school’s small organic garden.

At Keyser’s urging, the Go Green club at her high school integrated with local 4H, and students launched a recycling program. They made recycling containers out of donated five-gallon buckets from grocery store bakeries. “We painted recycling symbols on the buckets, made posters to put up all around the school and we got our recycling program started,” Keyser said.

After she had applied to CSU, Keyser said she found even more reasons to be excited about the university. “I really liked how CSU was on the forefront of sustainability,” she said.

When she was arrived on campus, applying to be an Eco Leader was a natural progression of the work she’d done since grade school. Eco Leaders are peer educators in residence halls and Aggie Village apartments, who raise awareness about sustainability issues and encourage environmentally-responsible behaviors by students throughout the year. The Eco Leaders are required to engage in this activity at least five hours each week.

As an Eco Leader, she supports events such as the plate waste audit, which helps Housing & Dining Services raise awareness about food waste.

“One thing we’ve done to reduce food waste is getting rid of trays for students to carry their food,” Keyser said. “If you don’t have a big tray to put your food on, you don’t get as much food. That cut the food waste by half.”

This is one of those “little things” that students can do, she added. Keyser, who serves on the President’s Sustainability Committee, also educates students about the benefits of recycling and increasing sustainable behaviors like walking or riding the bus, and turning off the lights when leaving a room.

Tonie Miyamoto, director of communications and sustainability for Housing & Dining Services and co-chair for the President’s Sustainability Committee, said Keyser is a great ambassador for CSU. “Kaori is one of those students who jumps right in to sustainability and is willing to do the hard work, whether it’s engaging peers, sorting waste, or representing the Eco Leaders at the President’s Sustainability Committee.”

When she’s not wearing her Eco Leader hat, Keyser works on the social media team in the Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering. She also enjoys going to yoga classes at the Rec Center with her friends, and trying new restaurants.

Jessica Cox, director of communication for the Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering, said with Keyser’s help, the college’s social media presence has become much more robust. “Kaori is open to trying out new strategies and exploring how to continually improve how we connect with the CSU engineering community,” said Cox.

Keyser said it’s a little weird to think about how long she’s been working on sustainability. “It started off with just the little pop tops, and that planted a seed in my mind,” she said. “I just continued with it as I got older. It grew into something a lot different.”