Lyndsey Wajert: Still not making the green grade

In the first piece I ever wrote for The Hatchet, I lamented our University’s poor green ranking in The College Sustainability Report Card. There was something so disappointing about seeing our school receive a C+ mark after hearing so much about GW’s efforts to be a sustainable school, especially from University President Steven Knapp.

Four years later, we are walking onto a campus that is more sustainable and looks much greener. Organizations like Green GW now play a large role in making the student body sustainable, West Hall and South Hall are LEED-certified buildings and the Office of Sustainability is carrying out GW’s 30-year Climate Action Plan.

GW has made strides in its quest to be a greener school, but our score on the Sierra Club September 2011 rankings shows that the University still has work to do. GW claimed the No. 30 spot out of 122 schools on the environmental group’s list of Cool Schools. In 2010, our school held 58th spot.

The Sierra Club granted GW a noteworthy score of 9.5 for its “other” category, which recognizes some of the University’s achievements, such as having students participate in environmental challenges and setting aside land on campus to remain undeveloped. Reaching No. 30 out of 122 isn’t bad, especially for a medium-sized school with multiple campuses in and around D.C.

Student efforts can only go so far and this ranking, like our disappointing score on the sustainability report card years ago, reinforces that fact.

One of the major problems for the University in the Sierra Club rankings was its dependence on fossil fuels to power its campuses. This was an issue the Sierra Club noted when it gave GW a mere 2.5 score in its energy category.

While we should continue to recycle and turn off lights and running water, these actions have little impact on the health of the environment if 49 percent of the energy GW uses comes from coal power.

Report cards like the Sierra Club’s help us see where we need the most work. The University should make its focus the point where it is not performing well: dependence on fossil fuels. Of course, that’s no small task; organizing student sustainability events and recycling challenges is a much simpler undertaking. But if we are striving to decrease our carbon footprint, then the University should prioritize this component of our green agenda.

In order to remedy our dependence on fossil fuels, GW has installed solar panels in some residence halls to lessen the dependence on such harmful energy sources, but we can do more to be resourceful. Working to fund and install more solar panels for buildings, using our research efforts to find supplementary energy sources and falling on the Innovation Task Force’s suggestions for reducing costs are all generally feasible and promising steps to raise our score in energy while reducing our impact on the environment.

But these concerns should not overshadow the progress we have seen over the past four years. GW has constructed new buildings in environmentally-safe ways, has utilized public transportation well and is one of the few places in D.C. where you can find trash and recycling bins next to each other.

While I don’t think GW will ever give up on its sustainability goals, it is important to take note of how far we have come and how far we need to go. After all, it has been three years since GW received a C+ on the College Sustainability Report Card, but we’re still waiting for the next one to show up in our mailbox.

Lyndsey Wajert, a senior majoring in journalism, is the Hatchet’s senior columnist.

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