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Café Vobiscum’s Zero-plastic Transformation – Interview with the Dean

01 Dec, 2021 KDIS News Center 1,936

Last October, KDI School launched its “PURE (Precycling-Upcycling-Recycling-Education for Earth)” campaign in an effort to promote environmental protection. As part of this, Café Vobiscum transformed itself into a zero-plastic café in November, 2021. This required the café to transition from using plastic and paper beverage containers and begin serving them in mugs or people’s personal tumblers.

For some, this measure may seem to have a low impact or may even be viewed as “inconvenient,” but actually “giving up convenience” is part of the message. We talked to KDIS’s own Dean You Jong-Il about this specific measure and listened to his thoughts about it.

While talking to him in his office, which features a cozy atmosphere and a wide range of diverse plants, we asked him about the difficulties Café Vobiscum faced by taking such a big step ahead with its eco-friendly evolution. He explained that it has not been easy at all.

“Whenever you try to change your habits, it’s always difficult. I certainly know it! It’s even difficult for me! The reason it’s difficult is because we are used to doing things in the most convenient way possible. When you are asked to change that, of course there will be people who complain. That’s unavoidable, but I hope in the end, people will understand that we need to make some sacrifices. I am not asking people for a lot of sacrifice, just some.”

Due to the fact that the KDIS community was accustomed to having a plastic option at the café, the school launched a campaign to constantly remind everyone of the upcoming transition away from plastics. During the first days of this measure’s implementation, the data indicates that many people had already prepared for this new system.

“I was very happy to know that in the initial days of this initiative, a lot of students and staff brought their own mugs. I’m sure there are some people who don’t like this, and there are going to be others who may complain about it, but the majority of our community is cooperating, so I’m very satisfied.”

Dean You hopes that at some point, everyone in the community will be satisfied with the school’s actions and with their own actions as individuals contributing to take care of the earth.

“We are doing this because it is good for you, the students, it’s good for the community, and it’s necessary for our future. I really try to emphasize these types of actions and some others, such as proper recycling, because it’s a good educational opportunity for our students from all over the world. I would just like to think that here at KDIS we have a strong sense of community, that we pursue high ideals, and that people are more willing to go the extra mile to do better things.”

Even though it has been difficult for some staff and students to get on board with the new system of Café Vobiscum, the Dean reminded us of the other side: the ones that supply the service.

“You know, the people who experienced the most inconvenience because of this new initiative were the ones working at the cafe, the manager especially. You just think, “Oh, I have to bring my mug,” but implementing this policy was a lot of extra work for the café’s manager and staff. However, she was very cooperative, maybe not because she likes this new measure, but because she understands the importance of changing our behavior.”

Something important to highlight is that Café Vobiscum’s shift to zero plastic was not the first initiative, some others came before under Dean You.

“Recently, we had this initiative with the Café Vobiscum, but we began introducing personal mugs before, and we also removed the plastic covers for umbrellas, because that was just such a huge waste of plastic! Now we use a machine where you can insert your umbrella to remove some of the water; people can also just leave them outside the building and pick them up when they leave. As for water, the plastic bottles for water were replaced by paper containers.”

We know that there are some KDIS community members who are still wondering why KDIS implemented these measure at Café Vobiscum, and we know that there are those who are having difficulties with adapting to the new measures; hence, we asked our Dean to offer them some motivational words.

“The biggest motivation, I would say, is doing the right thing. That’s the biggest motivation. Even if we know something is the right thing to do, perhaps if it’s truly inconvenient and will be too much trouble, then people may try to excuse themselves from doing it at all. But I would say that as for the kinds of things we are doing at KDI School, they are not too difficult. It will just take a little time to get used to it.”

Dean You is known for being very committed to environmental causes, even though sometimes they mean he must change his behavior, and by the end of the interview we kindly asked him to share an event in his life that made him appreciate and value what “the right thing to do” can mean for us.

“When I began to drive, a long time ago in the U.S., a lot of people wouldn’t wear their seat belts. Even though it was there to protect their own lives, they just thought, ‘Oh, we don’t need to do it, it’s so inconvenient,’ or ‘I don’t like this feeling of getting stretched.’ Sometimes, I myself didn’t feel like putting it on, but I had a scary moment once. While driving, another driver made an illegal left turn and hit my car head on. I only had some scratches, but my car was completely destroyed; however, I was protected because I had my seat belt on. The scary thing is that this was just after I had played tennis, and since I was sweating and my home was very close, I hadn’t felt like putting my seat belt on. But then I thought, ‘It’s better to just put it on. I need to get used to it.’ I put it on and then a minute later, I had the accident. After that, I thought, ‘What if I hadn’t put my seat belt on? What would have happened?’ From then on, I realized I should always wear a seat belt, even if it’s just for a very short 1-minute drive. Later, I realized once it becomes a habit, it’s not inconvenient at all. It just becomes automatic.”

Listening to everything Dean You shared with us, it reminds us that every time we think about a change as inconvenient or useless, perhaps we just need to kindly remember the PURE slogan: “Our small actions may seem insignificant, but our decision to take on changes and inconveniences will become a powerful force for change in our world.”

About Café Vobiscum new system: All beverages are now served in mugs inside the cafe, and to-go customers must bring their own cups (or tumblers) in advance. If you don’t have one, Cafe Vobiscum is serving beverages in multi-use cups with a 500 KRW deposit, which will be refunded in cash when you return the mug.