Environmentalism is no longer a spectator sport,” says environmental activist Lou Gold, and we students of the 2010s emphatically agree with this statement. We are the generation of environmental custodians, the generation that must actively confront the environmental devastation willed to us by our predecessors.
As the program coordinator of GREEN, the environmental action organization at the University of Richmond, I firmly believe that our future hinges upon the recognition of the impacts of our actions. At GREEN, we believe that global society is interconnected and that the change we create here creates change everywhere. It is far too easy and far too arrogant to condemn the destruction of the rainforests in South America while our equally valuable ancient forests are falling at a much faster rate. Now is the time that we take a look at the impacts of our own actions close to home.
With this philosophy in mind, GREEN has worked for three years to make our campus more environmentally sound. When GREEN was founded in 1989, the school was sending all of its waste to a nearby landfill. Following meetings with the administration and much research, we submitted a proposal asking the school to make its policies more compatible with a sustainable and healthy planet. The university quickly accepted and added to the proposal. Within nine months, the university had instituted a solid waste recycling program, composting and a reusable mug campaign. All told, our campus reduced its haul to the landfill by 20 percent. Surely, we were doing our share.
But after speaking with representatives from the National Wildlife Federation’s Cool It! project, we realized that campus environmentalism means much more than waste-stream reduction.
Last spring, GREEN asked campus representatives from Cool It! to train us and students from seven other Virginia colleges for conducting campus audits. We named the gathering IMPACTS. The schools ranged from small community colleges to small, private suburban schools – like University of Richmond – to large urban universities. We soon realized that the audit is really a set of tools to be used by the college and can be tailored to individual schools.
We at GREEN feel that our waste reduction programs are well in place and that issues such as medical waste disposal are not applicable to our institution. We now must focus on the amount of pesticides used on our vast landscape, our energy policies, closing the recycling loop by purchasing recycled products, support of the local economy, and the availability of vegetarian alternatives at the dining hall.
We are fortunate to work with a sympathetic administration. In fact, four administrators facilitated workshops at IMPACTS. However, this relationship is not simply the product of good luck. From the very beginning, we have treated those in the school’s administration with respect and spent our first few meetings with them as listeners instead of immediately presenting a list of demands. We cannot overstate the importance of a positive relationship with the administration; it makes the audit easier and much more enjoyable.
We begin our audit this year with great excitement and encourage all campuses, no matter how large or small, to take a closer look at impacts schools have on the environment. We are proud of our efforts to force our campus to be accountable and look forward to leaving a legacy for the university community to use as a basis for environmental action in the years to come.