From tote bags and e-bikes to ‘trash talk,’ NAU printing supervisor leading efforts to recycle and upcycle

Sara LaRosa

Northern Arizona University Printing Services—and a smart new mom—are upcycling old materials and methods into new products and jobs, and they are winning awards for it.

Inspired by the birth of her daughter to secure an eco-conscious and sustainable future, printing supervisor Sara LaRosa is working with NAU to increase friendly environmental processes for its printing business. The going green is getting noticed.

This week, LaRosa won the NAU’s Environmental Caucus NAU Staff Sustainable Leadership Award for her outstanding efforts to enhance a culture of sustainability.

NAU Printing Services also was honored for Earth Day with a Silver Sustainable Business Recognition Award from the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (SGIA), a national trade association for graphic professionals. The department won in three categories for “contributing to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.”

LaRosa, who manages large-format printing, led the way for accolades on a new electric bike. Last year she was awarded a grant to purchase the e-bike to help replace gas-vehicle campus deliveries. In the first month, staff made more than 33 deliveries while cruising on the e-bike. She also initiated making note pads from scraps, using water-based ink, options for replacing shrink wrap with recycled materials and supplying unused materials to art students.

Sara LaRosa with tote bagAnd now she is hoping NAU can earn some green by going green. LaRosa is working with Threaded Together, a Flagstaff nonprofit that inspires creativity through textiles, to turn campus banners and other unused materials into sturdy totes. Big letters and images, such as an eye or a logo, add an artsy vibe to the multi-sized bags. The team is using two different types of materials for three designs and sizes. Every tote made keeps a few square feet of material out of a landfill. An order for 100 bags from NAU’s Office of Sustainability launched the business in March.

“Having a child of my own now makes me want to take more initiative to do my part for a healthy world,” said LaRosa, who also co-chairs the waste minimization team on NAU’s Environmental Caucus. “Being at NAU, I have a lot of opportunity to do bigger things that I’m not necessarily able to do on my own.”

The tote-bag collaboration will be a revenue stream for Printing Services and is providing jobs for vulnerable populations. During the COVID-19 crisis, Threaded Together services are being used to sew face masks for the community, but Printing Services is providing estimates for future orders. The department is still receiving used materials and has a form with for arranging how to get them at nau.edu/curb.

LaRosa credits her inspiration to her year-old daughter, Lilly, NAU leadership and the NAU Office of Sustainability, where the team’s “trash talk” discussions keep recycling ideas fresh. LaRosa’s next project is helping NAU take the lead in partnering with the City of Flagstaff for increased use of electric vehicles and more industrial composting.

In 2019, the Office of Sustainability awarded Printing Services the 2019 Greenest Office of the Year along with Green Office Certification at the Mount Elden (silver) level. This year, Printing Services has been Green Office Certified at the Humphreys Peak (platinum) level.

“When people come in asking for information about the e-bike, that means I’ve done my job,” said LaRosa, who earned a bachelor of fine arts degree with an emphasis in ceramics from NAU in 2017. “I’m trying to inspire others. I think that’s a big thing at NAU: inspiring others, inspiring students.”

For information about purchasing tote bags, contact printing.services@nau.edu or (928) 523-1941.