Is there still room to improve on sustainability?

New climate change policies may be markedly absent from U.S. political debate, but universities like GW have taken strides to go green. However, the question remains: What more can be done to create more environmentally friendly campuses?

GW was recently ranked No. 23 on the Sierra Club’s list of most sustainable schools. Since 2008, when GW was rated one of the least eco-friendly places to get an education, the University has invested millions in adding sustainable building upgrades, introduced a sustainability minor and achieved LEED certification for many of its buildings.

It’s been a fast and impressive turnaround for GW. But don’t be disappointed if it’s harder to make headway going forward .

Environmental friendliness is clearly something University President Steven Knapp cares about. And there’s more to be done. Administrators could, for example, consider reducing waste in J Street by following the lead of other dining halls and introducing ceramic plates, which can be washed and reused, instead of using paper plates which are thrown in the garbage.

GW already has a popular “green move-out” program, where students can donate used linens, books and clothes they no longer need to local charities by way of a bin in residence hall corridors. What if this initiative was not confined to the last few weeks of school, but rather expanded throughout the entire semester?

These are tangible changes that can be realistically achieved. But they’re small ones. The University also outlined an ambitious eco-plan last year, but does not plan to reach most of its goals by 2020.

And after looking at the achievements of other schools on the Sierra Club’s list of “coolest schools,” I’m wondering if there’s a point where GW – a school located in the heart of one of the nation’s most prominent cities – can no longer aggressively compete.

Take Green Mountain College, for example. It’s located in Poultney, Vt., a town with 3,400 residents, according to the most recent census. Green Mountain was rated sixth on the list, in part for its system of heating and electricity that relies on locally grown wood chips in lieu of fuel oil.

Or look at suburban Pennsylvania’s Dickinson College, coming in No. 2 on the list, where students collect grease from local restaurants and convert it into biodiesel.

These are laudable achievements. But schools like these have an inherent advantage because of their status as institutions surrounded by trees and farmland.

So when it comes to environmental issues, Knapp should continue to push a green agenda. But as a school that proudly touts its urban location and its proximity to the White House, GW might not be able to have the best of both worlds.

The writer, a junior majoring in political communication, is The Hatchet’s opinions editor.

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