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It's Easy Being Green

November 22, 2011

Somaiah Kambiranda
It's Easy Being Green

For a school that places so much emphasis on leadership, student-led environmental initiatives are lacking. While our administration is taking steps to be greener, where does that leave us as a student body? We too have the opportunity to become better stewards of the environment, but we're not taking them. Consider the College Sustainability Report Card published each year by the Sustainable Endowments Institute, a project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. The report awards letter grades to colleges in various aspects of sustainability. For 2011, CMC received a B in the student involvement category. While that is not what it could be, it still is an improvement from even two years ago, when the college received a C. Such information may be fallible, but the fact is we can do better.

Despite our reputation as a school primarily focused on Government and Economics, there are a number of environment-related avenues that students could pursue. Many of these paths are academic, particularly research opportunities at the Roberts Environmental Center. There is also significant and growing interest in the unique Environment, Economics and Politics (EEP) program. Last year alone, the college graduated 24 EEP majors, almost double the previous year’s tally. Still, if environmental sensitivity is seen as a series of lifestyle choices, then a degree alone does not complete the picture.

Student-run activities like SPEAR (Students Promoting Environmental Awareness and Responsibility) and the more recently established Community Garden support green initiatives outside of the classroom. Some students go even further in their environmental missions and pursue internships at organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency or the Natural Resource Defense Council.

Sachi Singh, a senior and NRDC intern, finds that CMC’s emphasis on policymaking and leadership are in fact quite applicable to promoting sustainability. “Governance is a crucial part of the environmental movement,” says Singh, “and CMCers are well-prepared to become leaders in the field.”  Dr. J Emil Morhardt, the Roberts Professor of Environmental Biology, notes that “CMC graduates tend to put themselves within the system to effect change.”

Yet these dedicated people do not form a large enough percentage of the overall student body. We can do better.

By contrast, a certain next-door neighbor (read: Pomona) seems to better integrate environmental concerns into its campus culture. Now, a dedicated environmental position is included as part of the Associated Students of Pomona College (ASPC) board. They got an A in student involvement.

This comparison is not meant to undermine the work of green CMCers. In the words of Libby Friede, one of the co-founders of Community Garden, “The dedicated [students] here are just as dedicated as there.” But we can do better.

As Jessica Mao, the President of ASCMC says, “With the diversity of leadership that exists at CMC, there is space for environmental issues.”  She points out that the ASCMC Executive Board is already “creating conversations about sustainability issues through something as visible and accessible as dorm damages.”

These trends form what Brian Worley, Director of Facilities and Campus Services notes as “more interest” from CMCers on environmental issues over the years. From events such as the annual dorm energy competition to SPEAR’s trash on the lawn day, Worley observes that there has been a “pretty strong” level of continuity in student interest towards sustainability initiatives. Although, when it comes to consumption patterns, he points out that it is “hard to quantify lasting behavior changes.” Even so, he joins several others in appreciating that there is “a lot of potential” for progress. In this regard, the fact that students are introducing red cup and beer can bins at parties is an encouraging start.

At the same time, it is a mistake to equate environmental sensitivity with protest-march style activism. We can all be more environmentally sensitive doing simple, passive things like recycling, only grabbing what we can/will actually eat in Collins and turning off the lights when we leave a room.  It’s the little things that matter too. As Social Affairs Chair, senior Will Brown noted, “the extra effort required for recycling is marginal enough that it doesn’t necessitate any additional belief.”  In other words, whether you are an environmentalist or not, small actions can add up to make a big difference.  We can also be more active by encouraging others to do the same and holding them accountable.

The Environmental Concerns Committee, which meets on the second Friday of every month, can be one of these systems for change and an important vehicle for students to express themselves.

One point of general agreement is that the CMC student body represents possibly among the most diverse political spectra of U.S. undergraduate institutions. A factor consequently reflected in people’s opinions on environmental trends. Look around and you will find plenty of both students who define themselves as environment-conscious and those who do not. What really matters though is just how much of that awareness translates into action during our time here.

Ultimately, environmental sensitivity at CMC boils down to what sophomore Hilary Haskell, co-president of SPEAR, describes as “presence.”  Yes, it is on our minds, but we need to do better.

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