Saturday, May 4, 2013

Earth Week: Caring deeply about environmental change

When I was in third grade my school introduced a comprehensive recycling system. Our teachers showed us the new addition to the corner of the classroom--bright plastic blue bins--and explained we'd be the newest partners in waste management for Oscar the Grouch. I remember thinking these new arrow-clad containers took up useful play space and gave us another responsibility to worry about. We knew not what they were for, or why their introduction was necessary, but that day we did our best to separate our recyclables and follow all the right steps. To this third grader, if someone took the time to create them, they must be important, right?

Last week was the 43rd annual Earth Week at Gordon. It was a week that serves to both remind and enlighten students about their responsibility as stewards of creation--how every student not only needs to engage in sustainable practices, but also needs to understand why it is important to do so.
As a senior, this is my fourth year observing this important time of year. I've come to respect much about this week, facilitated by Advocates For A Sustainable Future (ASF), a student-led group that seeks to involve students directly in environmental efforts on and around campus. Mostly it encourages a gentle but meaningful urge to rekindle a passion for our environment--at Gordon, a community ethos we call "Restore Creation." Whether it is listening to a lecture by a distinguished environmental advocate like Ben Lowe, author of Green Revolution: Coming Together to Care for Creation, or getting one's hands dirty planting seeds in our campus garden, students are encouraged to develop a fuller understanding of environmental concerns and their responsibility to make changes, even if they are small ones.

Gordon College has been an institution dedicated to these changes since 1988, when the College initiated programs for recycling and waste management reduction. Every year since, a notable change has been made toward this goal of sustainability, such as the complete removal of disposable plastic (save for cutlery) in the dining hall in 1994 and the introduction of recycling bins for metal, batteries, light bulbs, ink cartridges, cell phones and tires. In 2012, The Princeton Review recognized Gordon as one of the "greenest" schools in the nation and we recently learned the environmental honor has been given again for this calendar year. But no matter how many programs are introduced and how much recognition the school receives, it is the people who encourage us to improve each year a little more. If students don't understand the need, they won't engage in these practices and the efforts will be futile. An educational awareness time like Earth Week brings everyone on campus up to speed with the knowledge we need to be a community of good stewards. ASF does not simply tell people what they should be doing, they invite them in to understand why they should care about it--and through this, encourage small, manageable changes. As God's creation we are meant to ensure the land thrives as we thrive, and not to debase it as we prioritize industry expansion. Grow with, not through.

The introduction of the Lane Student Center water filtration system cut back on the high levels of plastic waste, and the high-power hand dryers in the bathrooms cut back on paper waste. These small introductions, voted for and implemented by students, shows that this is a campus that knows which sustainable practices it should engage in, and how to create a system that makes a difference. As I'm a senior, I participated in the annual vote for a class gift. Our choices included a compost system in the student center; signage updates; and the installation of lights around a walking path along the water. The senior class voted for the comprehensive compost system in Lane. Although the senior class committee lacked the funding necessary to put the system in place, that it received the most votes reassured me that the students here care deeply about making contributions to environmental change.

Mark Stowell, director of facilities and grounds, wants to capitalize on this generation's awareness and receptiveness to environmentally-friendly practices. "Gordon students are not only open to sustainable practices, they often push for some of our most significant campus-wide changes." One of the real challenges, according to Stowell, is in the day-to-day responsibility to minimize waste through use of campus recycling containers. Currently, Gordon's campus has a 36 percent recycle-to-waste ratio. "I think Gordon can get to the 50 percent mark in a few years if we increase campus-wide dedication to daily recycling and waste reduction practices."

I think that Stowell is right. I have witnessed an impressive and respectable change in student practices during my four years here, especially compared to my time studying abroad at another university. Every kitchen I walk into at Gordon seems to have a compost bin, and every hip or backpack seems to have a Nalgene bottle attached to it. Nate Mori ’13, co-director of ASF, also recognizes Gordon students' passion. "Students who have participated in discussions have shared many insightful thoughts and opinions. It is clear they care to know more about how they can help mitigate threats to our environment. We're very thankful that Gordon students are interested in becoming more sustainable."

When I notice these small but important adoptions, I see a community of people that understands not just the value of their practice but their responsibility to set an example for others. ASF leads this charge for environmental stewardship on campus. Their passion to inform and guide this change is infectious. As this generation of students continues to grow our passion for sustainability and realize that we each have an individual responsibility to creation, I've no doubt other institutions will soon follow in Gordon's carbon-free footsteps.

Blogger: Mac Gostow ’13. Mac is a communication arts major from California and a student writer in the Office of College Communications at Gordon College. With a double minor in business administration and sociology, Mac has interned for CBS News in New York City, is a founder of ScotRadio, performs with the Sweaty Tooth Madmen improv troupe, and served as a show host for KURadyo in Istanbul, Turkey.

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