Ross Griffith: Grassroots green movement

Less plastic, less impact. You have seen them: water bottles that claim to be made of 30 percent less plastic. It’s a red herring. Or wishful thinking. Only about 15 percent of water bottles will be recycled. That means that the water bottle you use today – regardless of how efficiently it was made with plastic – will likely spend hundreds of years in a landfill.

The term “sustainability” requires some explanation. It is more than just a call for reducing consumption and controlling greenhouse gases. It is a comprehensive idea that “refers to development today that allows us to also meet the needs of tomorrow’s generations . it is about water, energy, and material use, and the impact on natural systems (ecosystems) and human systems (i.e. human health and well-being),” wrote Megan Chapple-Brown, the new director of the Office of Sustainability, in an e-mail.

At first glance, GW seems to be making a true effort when it comes to environmental issues and sustainability. Lately, GW students reduced their water and electricity consumption by 12.7 percent as part of the University’s Eco-Challenge. Recyclemania, a 10-week recycling competition between colleges and universities – the reason for that garbage in Kogan Plaza a few weeks ago – is set to conclude in late March. GW has also been a signatory of the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment for about 10 months.

Student groups on campus like Green GW and the Green LLC (which managed to reduce their electricity and water consumption by over 50 percent last semester in Building JJ) have proven that GW students have a strong interest in going green. Not to trivialize what these groups do, but until we all become recyclemaniacs sorting trash in Kogan Plaza, “green” will, sadly, remain essentially a fad.

So what is the state of “green” at GW? Students broadly care about the environment and support recycling efforts, but to date, most environmentally friendly programs have come down from the upper echelons of the University’s administrators.

For environmentally friendly practices to move ahead, it is the students who must lead the way. As an example, back to the bottled water: The University of Washington in St. Louis recently banned the sale of bottled water on campus as part of its sustainability effort, a movement that is popular with the students. College administrators enjoy revenue from selling the bottles, and until students develop an aversion to buying bottled water, it is unlikely that administrations will move to ban selling it on campus.

The nature of the problem of climate change requires everyone to do their part, not just a dedicated cluster of student organizations. Ultimately, it’s about taking personal responsibility for all your actions. It’s about the little things: taking shorter showers, recycling and not buying quite so much bottled water. Unfortunately, the biggest factor in creating that green ethos will be time. We need to have the sagacity to understand that every choice we make takes place in a larger context.

We have to be more aware of our “footprint.” We must lean to give up the easy, unthinking way of doing things and make “green” living a way of life.

The writer, a senior majoring in history, is a Hatchet columnist.

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