Rollins Named a Fair Trade College

Rollins is the first Fair Trade College in the state.

Rollins offers a number of fair trade items for sale from shirts and bracelets to tea. (Photo by Scott Cook) Rollins offers a number of fair trade items for sale from shirts and bracelets to tea. (Photo by Scott Cook)

Ann Francis has been, in one way or another, working on sustainability issues at Rollins since 2000, back when all that meant was urging people to recycle. Today, as program coordinator of environmental studies and the Sustainability Program, she’s among those leading the charge to make Rollins a Fair Trade College—the first college with such a designation in the state. (The College’s sustainability program is student run, but she manages and advises the students.)

“The main thing I can say is people don’t have a complete understanding of what fair trade is,” Francis says.

The first thing to understand is what being a Fair Trade College will force students to do: nothing. “Most people look at those of us involved with the environment and sustainability as just tree huggers,” Francis says. “We want to change people’s minds. We want them to be more aware.”

Here’s what it does mean: In essence, the school will encourage its vendors to provide (and its departments to buy) some fair trade products; pass a resolution in support of fair trade, and commit to purchasing environmentally sustainable products that don’t come from sweatshops or child labor; and educate students about the sustainability issues involved in global commerce. Part practical, part symbolic, the designation announces to the world that Rollins’ faculty, staff, and students care about where their stuff comes from and who makes it.

The genesis for this movement came last April, when the city of Winter Park officially became a Fair Trade Town. This was accomplished, in part, through a resolution proclaiming the city’s “support for sustainable and equitable commerce and economic development.” Francis thought the idea worth replicating.

Scott Tess was well ahead of her. Tess, now a graduate student in Rollins’ Master of Planning and Civic Urbanism Program, had been working on fair-trade issues for about five years. In fact, he’d help lead the effort in Winter Park and was serving on a city advisory board. The criteria for Fair Trade Towns and Fair Trade Colleges were more or less the same. “Rollins was a great place for this type of campaign,” says Tess, who now lives in Chicago. “Rollins’ theme is global citizenship, and I think fair trade works perfectly to serve that mission.”

In recent months, the Sustainability Program—both Francis and the students—as well as a fair trade subcommittee created in fall 2012, has been contacting the school’s vendors and departments, asking the vendors to sell more fair trade products and the departments to buy them. This has led to, for instance, more fair trade Green Mountain coffee around campus, and you can now buy fair trade Rollins-emblazoned T-shirts at the bookstore (look for the clothing rack with the sign that says “Changed Lives”). 

The last item on the list of requirements for the designation was to get a fair trade resolution signed. In recent months, Francis and the subcommittee have been lining up support from student, staff, and faculty groups: “We wanted to be able to show the president and vice presidents that the campus was behind this,” she says.

On March 19, Vice President Jeff Eisenbarth signed off on the Rollins fair trade resolution. That resolution has since been sent to Fair Trade Colleges & Universities, and the College will celebrate its fair trade designation on Thursday, April 18, during the annual Earth Day festivities. 

For Francis—whom Tess says has “been the energy behind all this”—the quest to raise awareness won’t end there. She wants to focus not just on fair trade, but on consuming local products and encouraging students and faculty to do little things—buy post-consumer paper, turn off the lights when you leave a room—that will make Rollins just that much greener.

“We want to make important environmental and sustainable changes on campus through implementing small changes,” she says. “Everything is baby steps.”