Juliette Dallas-Feeney: Time for students to go green

Being a GW student means having one’s finger on the political pulse a little more than many of our college counterparts at other schools around the country. Even if politics is not our passion, we cannot help but be politically aware as we glance at the Washington Monument from our classroom.

Whether we are dressing up as pill bottles for a World AIDS Day rally or facing off on H Street for an abortion rights rally, Colonials are usually on the cutting edge of acting on our political ideals.

Yet where is that same energy and initiative for sustaining the environment on Foggy Bottom from our fellow students?

I am not saying GW as an institution is ignoring the issue. Last semester, GW’s new leader and environmentalist Steven Knapp initiated a sustainability task force comprised of students, faculty and staff. Among the group’s goals are to provide recommendations on how GW can minimize its impact on the environment and develop its role as a leader of sustainability. Members of the task force led this month’s sustainability forum, where long-term goals such as putting green roofs with solar panels on campus buildings were discussed.

It is promising to know that we have a group of committed and like-minded individuals who want to make change, but they cannot do it without the help of the entire student body. “We have a remarkable opportunity,” said Lewis Rumford, senior adviser for business development and co-chair for GW’s sustainability task force.

Though the task force has noble intentions, good intentions don’t always guarantee success. “We don’t have instant answers,” Rumford reminds us. “It’s a culture shift that doesn’t happen overnight.”

Maggie Desmond, communications for Green GW and a member of the task force, said that one of the largest obstacles is simply getting people to realize that their day-to-day behaviors have a cumulative impact on the environment. “The case for ‘going green’ has been made time and time again, but it is making the case compelling enough to convince a large number of people to take action that we have trouble with.”

No one ever said it was easy being green. But while long-term sustainability goals are necessary, there has been little immediate action by the GW student community. Often GW students get caught up thinking they are going to single-handedly cure all that ails the world. Yet going green is not so intimidating when small community-wide goals are made, and achieved.

Last semester at Stanford University, incoming freshmen received one energy-efficient light bulb, an initiative launched by Stanford’s housing program. It not only reduced the electricity needed to light up a dorm room but reduced annual housing utility costs by $650,000. Seems like a no brainer.

Last November, almost 60,000 students from across the country gathered at Maryland to attend Power Shift, the first ever youth climate summit. Attendees spent a day lobbying Congress to take action to produce meaningful national climate legislation. Where was GW? How can GW, as an institution and a community, be more involved in another national endeavor such as this?

Northwestern University is currently kicking off their third-annual “Green Cup,” a six-week long competition of sorts to see which campus dorm can cut the most energy and maintain everyday habits of sustainability. Sounds doable for GW.

There are numerous immediate actions that GW can and should be taking to address the issue of sustainability. We need to continue what we’re doing in terms of the necessary research for the long-term and future generations of Colonials. But at a school where “something happens here,” we must make something happen – now.

The writer, a sophomore in the Columbian College, is a Hatchet columnist.

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