From former University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg’s luxury Lexus SUV to the current president’s energy conscious Prius – change at GW is evident. This new “green” outlook is a welcome addition to a University that is sadly behind the times in terms of its largely negative impact on the environment. With the addition of University President Steven Knapp to the University’s administration, GW is bound for some new ideas and new ways of thinking. Knapp has been cited in numerous forums addressing environmental issues both in his personal life (remember the sheep farm?) and in his new role shaping GW’s future. If Knapp is willing to step up to environmental challenges, the student body needs to follow suit. We are at a turning point in GW history in which students, faculty, staff and neighbors can come together and create positive, long-lasting changes.
One doesn’t have to be a “tree hugger” or “hippie” to support this cause – all that is required is a hope to leave your environment in better shape than you found it. If you wish to see a healthy Earth for your grandchildren, start thinking about where you throw your trash today. One system that is already in place on campus and around the country is recycling. Every dorm building on campus should have a recycling bin that is clearly labeled for paper, plastics, glass and aluminum.
GW does recycle. In fact we just won an award for our efforts in the Recycle Mania Competition, an Environmental Protection Agency-sponsored annual competition. GW competed regionally and placed first, averaging 17 pounds of recycling per person. However, at the national level the winners of the competition were able to recycle 60 pounds per person – obviously leaving our numbers in the dust. Don’t believe the rumors flying around campus that we don’t recycle, as it is a federal law and the University must comply. If you see personnel mixing garbage and recycling, speak up. Ask them to stop, question their actions or tell Green GW. Doing a little can be a big help.
All GW students can make a difference in their everyday lives – starting now. Turn off your lights when you leave your room or classroom. Shut down your computer at night or when it’s not in use. Why waste the electricity just to tell everyone on your buddy list that you’re sleeping? Today 90 percent of D.C.’s electricity comes from coal-fired plants that emit tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every year – and GW is a buyer of this dirty power. For every minute you leave the lights or your computer on when not in use, it adds more harmful gases into our atmosphere.
Demand change from the University and ask for our power to come from renewable energies. GW could install solar panels on our building’s roofs or purchase our electricity solely from sustainable sources like wind and solar providers. All of these are feasible and readily available technologies.
And if the University can take away our halogen lamps by citing they are a fire hazard and use too much energy, they themselves should ban incandescent bulb technology for equally harmful reasons. Incandescent bulbs are the most commonly used light bulb but were invented by Thomas Edison more than 150 years ago. In recent years new bulbs, called “compact fluorescents,” have been developed which emit the same amount of light but produce less heat and thus are more efficient and cheaper to power. While they cost more upfront, these lights save money in the long run because they use less energy and last longer. The University could save thousands of dollars by outlawing the ancient technology of incandescents while also becoming more efficient.
Other universities around the country are stepping up to the challenge. Harvard just announced that its new science complex will be 50 percent below the national limit on emissions. Today there are 399 college presidents that have signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment that aims for institutions to become carbon-neutral. If other schools are making these changes, GW should follow their example, especially now that eco-friendly technologies are similar in price to harmful technologies.
The additional benefit of technologies like more efficient lighting and renewable energy is that they keep on giving. For the life of the product they will save GW money and free up financial resources to be used elsewhere.
The writers are the executive director and director of policy of Green GW, respectively.