Archive for November, 2013

Beyond Switching the Light Bulbs

Wise words from The College’s Sustainability Fellow Patrick Foley, ’12

I was recently asked by a friend what advice I would offer to new students on campus interested in sustainability. I’ve been involved in the environmental movement on campus for a while, so I wanted to share some thoughts. Working to improve sustainability on campus at William and Mary over the past four years, both as a student and the College’s Sustainability Fellow, has been one of the best experiences of my life. I have witnessed so many positive changes on campus as a result of enthusiasm from students, faculty, and staff. We increased access to recycling, built LEED certified buildings, and funded environmental research. We even laid the groundwork for a state of the art EcoVillage that will establish William & Mary as a leader of sustainability in higher education. However, I think we have a lot of work left to do.

So here is my advice: We need more environmental stewards. We have become so ingrained with familiar advice that it has almost lost meaning: “Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.” There needs to be more. You should expect more. There is a world of difference between supporting environmental causes and being an environmental steward. An environmental steward is not passive. We need people looking to take meaningful action and who motivate others to raise their expectations. You are responsible for your own behavior, but you should also call upon your leaders (be it the campus administration or your political representatives) to enact effective policies that promote sustainability.

Education and outreach are vital components of improving sustainability on campus. Environmental groups should certainly ask individual students to make changes in their daily lives. I would encourage you to join these groups—I can personally attest to the great relationships I have developed through many of these organizations. You’ll begin to understand the issues, and awareness is undoubtedly important. However, after you attend enough documentary screenings and panel discussions to inform yourself on these issues you begin to ask yourself a question: where is the real change?

I am skeptical about the prospects for really changing things on campus without a renewed spirit of enthusiasm from students and faculty. Yet I am not cynical. When people stand up for the courage of their convictions and voice their concerns real change can take place. I saw this determination when we stopped a coal plant in Surry County. I saw this determination when students elected to assess a ‘green fee’ to create a permanent fund for supporting sustainable projects on campus. Students must demand large scale change. Incremental change simply isn’t enough.

Granted you should recycle. You should attempt to conserve electricity. You should take a shorter shower. We need to hold ourselves accountable, but we must also demand that our leaders make sustainability a priority. Macro-policy is every bit as important as individual action. Without efforts from the top to change behavior we will only have a façade of sustainability—it makes for a good admissions’ catalogue, but ultimately we are not moving forward. Be an environmental steward and never lower your expectations. Voice your opinion and demand leaders listen to your concerns. I think you will be surprised by how much you can accomplish with enough determination.

November 24th, 2013

The First Annual Sustainability Summit

By Maren Hunsberger

When Saturday arrived, warm and cloudy, all I wanted to do was stay in bed. At 8 a.m. however, my alarm insisted on doing its job and getting me out of my inimitably comfortable bed to attend the College’s First Annual Sustainability Summit. As much as I had resisted getting up, I was greeted on arrival by busy friends and hot coffee–and the day only got better from there. After breakfast and coffee were enjoyed by all, Professor Emeritus Dennis Taylor gave a few opening remarks that set the tone for the rest of the Summit. He touched on the progress the College has made in the realm of sustainability, running the gamut from dining services to energy conservation, encompassing almost every department and staff on campus. He emphasized the role of students in beginning these initiatives, even those who devoted just a few hours every week to a green project on campus. Students who have started small have made huge progress, step-by-step–like making the heating/cooling system in Swem more energy efficient. His remarks particularly resonated with the students in the crowd when he concluded, speaking about the changes that still need to be made. “All the easy stuff is already done”, he quipped, urging students to look for solutions to the difficult green initiatives and to not be intimidated by their scale: “The beauty of this school is what drew you to it, and it’s your ideas, volunteerism, and long-term support of green initiatives that will keep it that way”.

After Professor Taylor’s opening remarks, the room was palpably energized, students and faculty buzzing with an energy that defied the early hour. The panel that followed, ‘Sustainability in Practice’, furthered this enthusiasm. Panel members introduced themselves and their participation in green initiatives on campus, most with very impressive accomplishments to bring to light. Faren Alston, with Dining Services, brought up the fact the W&M has been 1st in a recycling competition among Virginia public universities for 3 years in a row (Go Tribe!). She also spoke about the wildly popular Farm to Fork Night, the annual sustainable, local food dinner. The panelists, who included Alston, Bob Avalle (Facilities Management), Patrick Foley (Sustainability Fellow), and Michael Curcio (Dining Intern), discussed the eco-initiatives they had been most excited about seeing put into practice and their dream sustainability projects. Hearing a group of driven people speak about their sustainable work created a moment where attendees of the Summit looked around at the room and seemed to think, ‘We are all working toward the same goal. We are making real progress. And I think we can take this even farther.’

Two other panels followed, one on ‘Sustainability in research and Academics’ and ‘Sustainability in Service’ (this last panel was made up entirely of students!). After absorbing such rich, diverse perspectives and hearing about exciting but perhaps little known sustainability projects, attendees mingled to discover mutual interests and goals. Even as a bystander it was gratifying to watch connections being made, and as a student I can say that I met people who changed my perspective on the nature of sustainability at the College. I made contacts I will certainly be using in the future, especially with possible projects in mind (and did I mention making new friends?).  While I and other planners certainly identified aspects of the Summit that will be improved upon for years to come, the ultimate goal of the Summit was fulfilled. Students and teachers from all backgrounds came together to celebrate William and Mary’s green achievements and used communal brainstorming to plan for new goals. So, to all you sustainably minded people out there on campus–here’s to next year.

 

November 6th, 2013


About:

Welcome to Hark Upon the Green! This blog is a shared space for members of the sustainability community at William & Mary to write about sustainability topics on and beyond. If you would like to contribute to the blog, contact Madeleine Boel, Committee on Sustainability Web Assistant, at mgboel@email.wm.edu.
Make sure to visit Sustainability at W&M for all of W&M's progress on sustainability efforts. Catch up with William & Mary Sustainability on Twitter at WM_GreenisGold
To learn what William & Mary's Environmental Law Society is up to, visit their blog at http://envirols.blogs.wm.edu/.

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