Posts filed under 'Uncategorized'

Civic Voice Workshop

by Sarah Snipes

Getting the opportunity to help out and participate in this workshop was such an amazing experience. Not only did I learn how to effectively advocate for the environment, but I also met others who share my same passion for the environment. A highlight of the day was the park ranger who talked with us, and he was such a character. He opened by calling his boss on the phone and having the whole room sing happy birthday to her. I also got the chance to be a “senator” so people could practice their pitches, and everyone did so great! Also, we all got free swag, and who doesn’t love that. I can’t wait for the next one!

 

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Student participants with organizers from the W&M Office of Community Engagement and National Parks Conservation Association

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Park ranger from Colonial National Historical Park

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Presentations by speakers from the National Parks Conservation Association

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Practicing advocacy skills relating to the Chesapeake Bay watershed

April 10th, 2019

Sustainability Hierarchically Structured Thermal Insulator Research

by Ben Lazarus

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This research project involves engineering a sustainable biomaterial with microscopically enhanced thermal and mechanical properties that can be 3D printed. Many of us know that nature creates geometries that give its materials impressive properties. For example, when aluminum is molded into a honeycomb shape it is 20 times stronger and only 1/6 of the weight of standard unshaped aluminum. So, what would happen if we made structures like this on the nanometer scale? Well, luckily, nature has already done that for us too. Many marine organisms, like diatoms have complex microscopic geometries that are too small for human manufacturing techniques. The goal of this project is to incorporate these naturally occurring structures into an environmentally friendly 3D printable material. Applications for such a technique range from environmentally friendly insulation for homes to structural materials created entirely from easily renewable algae.

January 22nd, 2019

Field Work is neither all Work nor all Play

Soren Struckman

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Exhibit A on crouching in a field

A large chunk of the work for my project in June was spent collecting data and doing field work. Often times this meant crouching in a literal field given our particular pant of study, but sometimes this involved more conventionally outdoorsy activities like crossing rivers, hiking dirt trails, and general bushwhacking. Studying and working in the disciplines of biology, environmental science, or other “macro-scale” natural sciences, you hear the term “field work” thrown around a lot… but what does this vague umbrella term actually mean? Now I’m sure this very well may vary considerably depending on what line of work you’re in and what questions you’re actually trying to answer, but I will give you my impressions from a general /plant ecology perspective.

First impressions when people think about field work in biology tend to end up favoring one of two possibilities: A) that it’s all sweaty, dirty work where you get eaten by bugs and covered in poison ivy, or B) that it’s like a bunch of tree-huggers out frolicking in the woods. Neither of these are entirely false (poison ivy and frolicking included), but they aren’t really true either. Going on a semi-extended trip to do field science is a pretty immersive affair that combines outdoor activity, academic rigor, and a genuine sense of camaraderie.

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A PosTex positioning system for collecting spatial data (fondly known as Dexter)

The filed work I have done so far in the course of this project has involved several back-to-back trips at four sites across Virginia. The first was multi-day trips to Presquile National Wildlife Refuge, a protected island in the James River, then week-long trips to Blandy Experimental Farm and Sky Meadows State Park, both near Winchester, and several days of commuting to the local Historic Greenspring run by the NPS. At all the sites, our general purpose and activities were about the same, we were there to collect data (another buzzword for a different post) about just about every aspect of Common Milkweed. We measured these plants in terms of: height, area, diameter, quality, herbivory, reproductive output, position in space, chemical composition, and even genetic information… which all becomes quite a large task when you realize it must be done roughly 800 times. In the process, use two field instruments to collect spectral (chemical) and spatial data. I used a lot of these different measurements in various elements of the statistical population model that is my final project, whether that be incorporating heights to model growth, or using a combination of height and herbivory to predict reproductive output in the form of flowering probability. It was great to be fully involved with the planning and carrying out of several different projects (not just my own) and get to actually do what tends to come out very dry and boring in the Methods section of papers. Other students will be using some of the same data that we all collected (for example, to correlate spatial and genetic information and create a genetic map of the plants), so it really felt like a group effort. Due to the summer heat in VA, we sometimes run on a “siesta schedule,” that brakes up the work to avoid the hottest part of the day. Waking up early to beat the heat, then moving inside to plan and discuss next steps, then going back out in the late afternoon. In my opinion this works out better than a typical nine to five and gave us a continuous stream of activity all day, which carried right through to our communal dinners and evening relaxation and data analysis. I really enjoy these later parts of the day because it allows us to bond and enjoy each other’s company in a way that just doesn’t happen in the lab. Good thing we had such a great team of people this year though, because working and living with the same people could get old very quickly if they don’t mesh well.

I like to think that I had a pretty balanced idea of what to expect going into the field season, but I was still (mostly) pleasantly surprised. I was definitely expecting to work hard and be busy, but I was skeptical about how it might turn out. I learned a ton, got to know some great people and feel more connected and involved with my work than ever. Overall, “field work” is an extremely rewarding experience and I would encourage anyone interested to explore it for themselves.

December 1st, 2018

The Incorporation of Religion into Sustainability

by: Christopher Ahrens

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A hydrogeological map of the aquifer structure around the city of Mecca.
Picture credit to Muhammad Amin M. Sharaf

Recent efforts to incorporate religious imperatives into the realm of sustainability discourse has often been seen as a recent phenomenon manifesting out of fears of climate change and increasing popular awareness, but this narrative fails to understand the long-running interplay that various belief systems have had with the environment. In the case of Islam, this interplay is both significant and yet obscured by an expansive timeline and the methodological difficulties which come from the need to investigate a topic with few texts and even fewer archaeological indicators. To delve into this issue, as was my goal upon working with the Committee on Sustainability, I decided to formulate a unique means by which to enter into debate on the topic which applied aspects of Structural Anthropology, Textualism, and environmental modelling to form cogent historical claims.
What resulted from this mode of investigation are some interesting conclusions. Broadly, when one comes to the understanding that most supposed areas from which Islam could have originated, it becomes evident that the formation of conservationist sentiments regarding natural resources came not from immediate directives founded in primary sources, but rather from legal extrapolations made sometimes centuries later. In a continued attempt at testing the outer limits of the methodology that informed my claim as to the origin of Islamic environmental thought, I then continued the study by providing a perspective on the continued advancement of the concept through its interaction with texts. It is here that I advance the claim that the three major dimensions by which a modern understanding of environmental-religious praxis (Biocentrism, Anthropocentrism, and Theocentrism) is had is clearly reflected in Islam through the works of Al-Jahiz, Ibn Khaldun, and Ibn Hanbal.
Overall, I aim to pursue the popularization of a new mode of thought that transcends the boundaries of Islam or environmental history. In recent times, I feel that the extremes of Orientalist literary scholarship and historical skepticism have provided little framework for a continued study into pertinent religious topics. I find my project with the Committee on Sustainability to be my first step in contributing to the reduction of this divide, and the provision of another way forward.

Sharaf, Muhammad M. “Hydrogeology and Hydrochemistry of the Aquifer System of Wadi An Numan, Makkah Al Mukarramah, Saudi Arabia.” AQUA Mundi, 2011.

October 29th, 2018

Solar Spring Break 2018

by: Sam Laveson

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After countless hours spent coordinating logistics, educating myself on solar energy and environmental justice, and fundraising, my big opportunity finally came! For a week in May, I flew to Sacramento, California, where I joined some other college students from across the country for “Solar Spring Break”. This is a program run through GRID Alternatives, an organization dedicated to making “renewable energy technology and job training accessible to underserved communities”. In this specific program, students spend a week around one of GRID’s offices going to low-income households and installing solar arrays rooftops.

Traditionally, colleges and universities form teams to participate in Solar Spring Break. However, because I was rather late finding out about this incredible opportunity and didn’t have enough time to organize a William & Mary team, I decided to join their inaugural Intercollegiate Team. There were only five of us, but we were a strong team, with presence from William & Mary, Texas Christian University, University of Nevada Reno, and a technical school in Colorado.

The solar-related portions of our week involved climbing up onto rooftops and starting from scratch to install solar arrays. There were professionals who guided us along through every step – from putting up flashings to connecting wires to prying up shingles to bending conduits. It was a great workout, and I did not need any prior experience to do a great job (which I did not have).

The technical and scientific components were complemented by further education on social and environmental justice. Before our program began, we all met through Skype a few times to discuss equality vs. equity; racial and ethnic diversity; and career paths in solar, among other things. During the program, the time that we were not on rooftops was spent learning about campaigning; putting together promotional materials to mail out; and touring ArchNexus, one of the world’s few LEED double platinum certified buildings.

Beyond all of this, there was ample time for us to bond as the inaugural Intercollegiate Team and make some awesome memories. While in Sacramento, we all lived together at a campsite and cooked all our meals collaboratively. We thoroughly enjoyed nightly campfires, cooking projects, a petting zoo, and some natural beauty at our housing site. We also enjoyed having Wednesday afternoon free to explore an art museum, the capitol building, and other attractions in Downtown Sacramento. Furthermore, we all kept miniature notebooks that we used to write notes to each other during daily reflections.

Should I participate in Solar Spring Break again, I would love to organize a William & Mary team to go to GRID’s office in DC and perform some more installations. Or, if not enough people from William & Mary are interested in / available to participate, I have also considered combining forces with other Virginia institutions to form a team. Alternatively, if I find myself too busy or unavailable to organize a team, then I will hopefully join an already existing team. Whatever ends up happening, I would love to be part of another Solar Spring Break to relive these experiences and have new ones.

October 17th, 2018

Your Actions Have an Impact: The International Conference on Sustainable Development

– By: Joshua Panganiban

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In the highlands of Fiji, away from all the tourism, the village of Bukuya is powered by a micro-hydropower generator (SDG 7). This small project may have been funded by an international organization, but its majority of stakeholders are the residents of the village and 40% of them are women (SDG 4).

 

These are the stories from the developing world. These are the results of NGO’s, non-profits, consulting agencies, and governments all adhering to the sustainable development goals (SDGs) as released by the United Nations. The goal to end poverty, to improve well-being, for gender equality, etc all of these goals were made for a more sustainable world. This is the ambition of the United Nations, of 193 countries that pledged billions and billions of dollars to achieve their vision of a sustainable world by 2030.

Hosted in Columbia University, in the heart of New York City, the International Conference on Sustainable Development brings students, innovators, professionals, businesses, activists, world leaders together to assemble and share their ideas about making the world a more sustainable place.

I’ve had the amazing opportunity hearing educators share about making their university campus’ a living sustainable laboratory in Madrid, where environmental and cultural education follows them every step of the way. I learned the story about Julio, who linked a direct issue of sick children in one household. He showed us how to connect the community to university to the government. I saw how important international investment is to these small remote villages, but as well as the ethics involved with maintaining the area’s culture rather than being too influenced by foreigners. I heard Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand, give her keynote address about the importance of maintaining our aquatic industries and ecosystems as good stewards of the Earth. All these are just small examples of the great works and projects that are helping millions of people in the developing world. There were too much knowledge and experiences, but not enough time, to take the entire conference in.

Nevertheless, my best experience isn’t meeting all these amazing professionals doing impactful work, nor is it listening to renowned world leaders giving speeches. The most important takeaway is meeting fellow undergraduate as passionate into sustainable development as I am. Whenever I find a student as young as me and I ask them their story about why they want to help people in countries where the bare essentials of water and electricity are a constant struggle in their daily lives, my heart grows. I find the greatest euphoria in meeting all these accomplished and passionate young people. As I put down their numbers and emails in my ledger, I smile knowing that eventually, it would be me — it would be him — it would be her, but more importantly be us that would be out there making the world a more sustainable place.

October 1st, 2018

Educating Sustainable Behaviors: The W&M Eco-Rep Program

~ By Maria Kanevsky

As an EcoAmbassador, for the past year I have been researching and trying to start an initiative for students to promote sustainability awareness in an “Eco-Representative Program”, otherwise known as the Eco-Rep Program. EcoAmbassadors each have a different project to focus on for the semester or the whole year, whether it be Crim Dell Restoration or leading Earth Week initiatives, and receive course credit for their project. All EcoAmbassadors meet once a month for class to report back on their projects, talk over sustainability as a whole, and discuss various readings related to sustainability.

For the first semester I mostly gathered my research. I talked to many faculty and students from other schools that already have their own version of the Eco-Rep program. I had some difficulties getting into contact with some schools, but most schools were excited to talk on the phone with me about their program. Each school was slightly different from the other in structure, but the main idea was still the same; to have Eco-Reps create sustainable programs and events to help educate their campus. There was one particular school where their program was breaking down, and taking those suggestions as things to *avoid* were especially helpful. Some schools have the funds to create the entire program within their sustainability department, and other schools have their Eco-Rep program integrated within other organizations, such as Residence Life or Greek Life, for additional support. I learned a great deal through all of the informational interviews, and there was a lot of information that I had to sift through.

Many options that other schools have were not going to be applicable to William & Mary, so in my project I tried to figure out what would actually work for our school specifically. The best idea that I could envision was an integration with Hall Council, where the dorm designated Eco-Rep would meet with Hall Council and help them to create events focused on sustainable dorm habits. After deciding on this idea, the next step was to try and involve those on campus. To encourage organizations to join in this program I wrote a manual detailing what an Eco-Rep is, the history of Eco-Reps, the goals of the program, and how the structure of the program would work. This was successful in the end, and now the Jefferson-Barrett Hall Council will be the first dorm to start the Eco-Rep program. Their Hall Council will be implementing a new executive position of “Eco-Rep” starting next school year, and will be following the ideas put forth in the Eco-Rep Program manual. I’m excited to help ensure that this first Eco-Rep role will run smoothly, and to hopefully see this role spread to the rest of freshmen dorms across William & Mary.

May 10th, 2017

Smart and Sustainable Campuses Conference – Student Summit

~ By Jennifer Dunn, Talia Schmitt, and Gracia Luoma-Overstreet

Members of the William & Mary Eco-Schools Leadership Initiative (ESLI) attended the Smart and Sustainable Campuses Conference-Student Summit held in College Park, Maryland and co-hosted by the American University Office of Sustainability and the University of Maryland Office of Sustainability. ESLI members had the opportunity to present our work on sustainability at W&M and in Williamsburg, learn from others’ presentations about their sustainability projects at their respective campuses, and gain valuable insight about best practices in sustainability.

The opening plenary speaker of the conference was Mr. Preston Mitchum, an impressive young lawyer and adjunct professor at Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies who works to advance the reproductive and sexual rights of women and girls. He is extremely focused on social justice issues, and reminded the conference that sustainability extends beyond just environmental issues and must also encompass social justice issues in order to create a society that will be happy and healthy. While the ESLI members agreed that they desired more discussion about environmental justice within social justice, all felt that it was inspiring to hear Mr. Mitchum’s call to action on social justice issues in order to make the world a better place.

ESLI members presented our work on sustainability through environmental education to attendees of our workshop, explaining the importance of environmental education and how our work benefits both our volunteers and the students we teach. We demonstrated one of lessons about adaptations by teaching and playing a game called Adapt Like a Cat with workshop attendees and they thoroughly enjoyed the game and our teaching style. We also had an open discussion about environmental education experiences and shared ideas about possible lesson plans for the future.

The workshops later in the day that ESLI members attended were very insightful about other universities’ sustainability initiatives, prompting thoughts about how we could help make W&M more sustainable using other presenters’ methods. One presenter from Southern Connecticut State University shared how she and her team were able to negotiate with the Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts on their campus to allow students to bring their own reusable mug to reduce waste from disposable drinking cups, something that W&M students wish we could do but have been told that we cannot. This campus’ efforts proved to ESLI members that this goal could be accomplished and provided insight on possible ways in which to do it. A student intern at University of Maryland’s Sustainability Office presented how UMD educated all freshman students about sustainability in a fun and informative way during their freshman year classes, prompting thoughts on how we could help support the Office of Sustainability and SEAC’s efforts to be included in freshman orientation seminars to educate students about how to live sustainably on campus and be aware of their impact on the earth. A teacher at Virginia Tech held a workshop about the philosophical aspects of sustainability and best practices for communicating sustainability in a way that is informative and convincing. This presentation was striking because it reminded attendees to think from the point of view of others, rather than from the environmentalist point of view, something that I believe all advocates for sustainability are sometimes guilty of.

The second plenary speaker was Ms. Brenda Pulley, Senior Vice President for Recycling at Keep America Beautiful. She shared her career path and the attitudes and methods that Keep America Beautiful have been using in order to successfully convince the American public that recycling is important and essential to maintaining a healthy ecosystem and a sound economy. Ms. Pulley was very encouraging to all attendees to continue to work on sustainability issues, providing a success story amid all the negative current events related to the state of the environment.

In conclusion, this conference was an excellent opportunity to discuss sustainability with peers coming from different perspectives and facing different challenges on their own campuses because of the open environment of the conference. ESLI members were able to discuss and share contact information with many of the conference attendees, and we hope to be able to broaden our network and W&M network of resources, examples, and ideas in order to make W&M a more sustainable campus for future members of the Tribe.

ESLI members having fun at SSCC 2017 From left to right: Gracia Luoma-Overstreet, Talia Schmitt, Jennifer Dunn

ESLI members having fun at SSCC 2017
From left to right: Gracia Luoma-Overstreet, Talia Schmitt, Jennifer Dunn

May 10th, 2017

Got Some Lead, but We Ain’t Dead: Community and Innovation in Flint, Michigan

~ By Jennifer Ross

Recently I had the opportunity to attend the American Studies Association annual conference in Denver, Colorado. This year’s theme was “Home/Not Home: Centering American Studies Where We Are”….so there was no way I could not write about what was going on in my hometown of Flint, Michigan.

Skyline of Flint, Michigan. Personal photograph.

Skyline of Flint, Michigan. Personal photograph.

In my paper, “We Still Call it Home: Complicating the Flint Water Crisis,” I focused on providing a different narrative of the Flint Water Crisis, one that was much more full, complex, and multi-faceted than the accounts provided by the media. I twined together our history of crises (deindustrialization, state and municipal recessions, pollution, arson) with our responses to them. Because of these crises, Flint has fashioned itself into a hub of innovation:

  • Individuals have been urban gardening since I was a child. Now urban gardens cover entire city blocks.
  • The Flint Farmers Market offers free vendor booths to youth gardening programs and both allows fresh fruits and vegetables to be bought with food stamps and doubles the amount of produce that can be bought per dollar.
  • At the height of the arson spree, neighbors fought fires with garden hoses to supplement the skeletal fire crews the city could afford.
  • Community organizations and the University of Michigan—Flint rehab houses for individual, community, and educational uses. One such example includes the university’s Urban Alternatives House, which is Platinum LEED certified and explores environmentally sustainable construction and operation strategies.
  • Phytoremediation, a process utilizing trees to draw toxins out of contaminated soil, is underway in Chevy in the Hole, one of the most polluted ex-industrial sites in the city.

Specifically regarding the Flint Water Crisis, it was Flint residents, charities, and churches who first began organizing the massive water collectio and distribution efforts that allowed people to pick up cases of bottled water. Often a semi trailer full of water would pull up to one of these organizations, a call for volunteers would go out over the radio, and people would flock to help unload and stack the water. It was also Flint residents who distributed water door to door when the National Guard deemed several neighborhoods too dangerous to enter. Additionally, people throughout the city have responded with creative ways of dealing with the enormous numbers of empty water bottles, particularly through art and protest. One local artist traces children’s silhouettes, fills the outline with water bottles, and lights the plastic with LEDs to highlight the importance of water to the human body. The University of Michigan—Flint Early Childhood Development Center turned empty bottles into hanging chandeliers painted by the two- and three-year olds. The chandeliers have been hanging in the Flint Farmer’s Market and were auctioned off for almost $3,000. Finally, UM-Flint dance instructors choreographed a stunning display of what the water crisis has meant for adults with mental illness and developmental disabilities.

Water bottle chandeliers. Personal photograph.

Water bottle chandeliers. Personal photograph.

UM-Flint Spring Dance Finale. Courtesy Mlive.

UM-Flint Spring Dance Finale. Courtesy Mlive.

Attending this conference was a tremendous experience. For as much as Flint has been in the news, and for as egregious an affront to democracy and human rights the Water Crisis is, very few people are actually talking about it outside of the city, the state, and some activist circles. Thousands of scholars attended this conference, but mine was the only paper on the Flint Water Crisis.

It left me puzzled.

And it left me frustrated.

The Flint Water Crisis touches on issues which, at some point, communities across the United States and the country as a body must confront. Racist environmental justice policies continue to be implemented and carried out. The Rust Belt continues to decay and the soil and water contamination left by exiting corporations remains a hazard to the health and well-being of the residents both nearby and downstream. Neoliberal and austerity politics continue to ascend and become more normalized. And civil and human rights issues, including basic rights and necessities such as shelter, food, and access to clean drinking water continue to come under siege as local, state, and federal budgets are stripped of funding for infrastructural improvements and upkeep, environmental protection, and social safety nets. Perhaps most worrisome of all is the lack of productive and meaningful social criticism—quite simply, the absence of outrage—over the Flint Water Crisis.

What does this tell us about who deserves fundamental human rights, let alone civil rights? And how can we decry the human rights violations of regimes abroad when we are enacting violence against an entire population ourselves?

What does this tell us about our priorities as a country? And how can we, as a country, comport ourselves as the bringers of freedom, democracy, and wealth, when we invalidate local, elected governments through the implementation of “Emergency Managers,” and leave men, women, and children to suffer from the poisonous effects of lead?

And what does this tell us about the future? And how are we–how are you–going to respond?

About the Author 

Jennifer Ross received dual bachelor degrees in Honors English and History, as well as her Masters in English, at the University of Michigan-Flint. She is currently a second-year PhD student in the American Studies Program at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. Jennifer’s research interests include the structure and function of state power, neoliberalism, disaster literature, and American empire. Her upcoming dissertation will investigate how the fiction of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina served to first build and then critique the nationalist narratives of the counter-terror state.

May 10th, 2017

Sustainable Holiday Initiative

~By Sam Laveson, Class of 2020

The holiday season is always one of my favorite parts of the year. As a child who grew up under a Jewish and a Christian parent, I’ve had the great pleasure of being able to celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah, amidst bundles of foods, gifts, games, traditions, and love. Unfortunately, while it is the most wonderful time of the year, it is also the most wasteful time of the year. According to according to http://bgm.stanford.edu/pssi_faq_holiday_waste

~Americans throw away 25% more trash during the Thanksgiving to New Year’s holiday period than any other time of the year. The extra waste amounts to 25 million tons of garbage, or about 1 million extra tons per week!
~If every family reused just two feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet.
~If every American family wrapped just 3 presents in re-used materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.
~The 2.65 billion Christmas cards sold each year in the U.S. could fill a football field 10 stories high. If we each sent one card less, we’d save 50,000 cubic yards of paper.

Upon discovering these unfortunate facts, I became determined to do something, namely the Sustainable Holiday Initiative. Pressed for time, all that I managed to do this year was hand out some fliers with some tips, as well as heavily encourage people to creatively wrap gifts (with newspapers, magazine pages, old T-shirts, old artwork pieces, etc.) and post pictures of them on social media with the hashtag #wmshi. I’ve also been spreading some of my personal favorite tips and suggestions:

~EAT LEFTOVERS! America wastes roughly 40% of its food per year, and a disproportionately large amount is wasted over large holiday feasts.
~MAKE YOUR OWN GIFTS! Why go out and spend a lot of money when you can make your own gifts for other people? You know your recipients better than the stores do!
~BRING YOUR OWN BAGS! Instead of picking up pernicious plastic bags from your holiday purchases, bring your own bags.
SKIP THE RIBBON! Gifts can still look beautiful without it.
~SEND E-CARDS! Just think of all the envelopes and stationery that would be saved.

Although participation has not been that high this year, this was more or less of a trial run to see how the idea would be received. Since most people seem to like it, I intend to expand it next year. Perhaps it would be good to have a competition through the Virginia Student Environmental Coalition to see which college could post the most creatively wrapped gifts. Or maybe expand it to the community in Williamsburg outside of the college. But whatever may end up happening, it’s always a gift to see people thinking conscientiously about their natural environment and resource consumption.

December 31st, 2016

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