Staff Editorial: Leading the path to sustainability

University President Steven Knapp has made environmental issues a priority. And as a result of his efforts, the University was ranked No. 27 in Sierra Magazine’s “Coolest Schools,” sustainability list in 2012, a sharp improvement from 2009, when GW was ranked No. 81.

In the long run, GW is hoping to to cut carbon emissions 40 percent by 2040.

But GW has hit some roadblocks in its stride for environmental stability.

The eco-challenge, a campus-wide competition that measures how much water and electricity residence halls consume throughout the year, has failed to reduce consumption of either.

Nineteen of the 30 halls that took part in this year’s competition actually used more energy than the year before.

In the past semester, 13 residence halls increased their water usage. City Hall increased its water use by 100 percent and Philip Amsterdam Hall’s increased by more than 150 percent.

A residence hall only needs one person to commit to entering the building in the challenge. But many students do not even know what the eco-challenge is.

Sending students a few emails about the eco-challenge is not enough to encourage participation. And even if they do know about the challenge, it’s clear that they don’t care.

GW needs to better incentivize the eco-challenge to attract active participants. Due to the sheer size of the University and the overall lack of spirit on campus, pitting residence halls against one another produces dismal results.

One way to make the competition more effective is to make it smaller. Instead of a campus-wide challenge, each individual residence hall could have an internal competition. Halls could then set a goal each semester for water and energy usage.

Other schools have similar eco-challenges, but they are organized differently to draw more participation. For example, in addition to their school-wide competition, Indiana University at Bloomington established a floor-by-floor challenge in which the students who live in the most sustainable room win a prize. This is a system GW should look to adopt.

Students who live on campus pay flat rates for their housing. This means they don’t receive an electric bill every month, and they don’t pay more when they use excessive amounts of water and electricity. As a result, students are unaware of how much they are consuming – and the University should work harder to educate them in this regard.

House proctors could also get involved by encouraging students to conserve and could also post regular updates on energy and water consumption in building lobbies to make students aware of their status and progress.

Of course, responsibility does not exclusively lie with the administration. As students, it should be our priority to focus on using only as much water and electricity as needed. Excessive energy and water use is harmful to the environment, and we must take it upon ourselves to be more conscious about the adverse effects of our actions, eco-challenge or not.

In President Barack Obama’s second inaugural address Monday, he outlined the importance of going green.

“The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult,” he said. “But America cannot resist this transition. We must lead it.”

Obama is right: Going green is not an easy task, and students are clearly resisting GW’s effort. But the onus is on both administrators and students.

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