The National Wildlife Federation — a wildlife advocacy group — released a report Wednesday detailing 35 ways college students can affect sustainability and green energy initiatives on their campuses, as well as such efforts of students across the nation.
The report states students can affect green initiatives on their campus by including more venues for student engagement; learning and teaching about green efforts; growing campus leadership networks; connecting with staff, faculty and administrators; and acknowledging and celebrating success of environmental efforts.
The report states, “Much has been gleaned from the experiences of students and others on campuses nationwide who have helped lead the way for sustainability. They have been pioneers in what will truly be a decades-long experiment to see if we can get this climate and clean energy revolution right.”
During a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Julian Keniry from the National Wildlife Federation said the “value of sustainability defines and unites the current generation,” and the federation’s report “demolishes” the stereotype of students apathetic to sustainability.
Jason Sanders, a graduate student from Texas State University who also spoke to reporters, said the best way for students to encourage green initiatives on campus is to create an environmental service committee on campus funded through tuition to organize student support and action.
Christina Erickson, a graduate student from the University of Vermont, said, “Fun is a major factor.” She said people often think of the environment as a negative, gloomy subject, and making campus projects enthusiastic and engaging will help encourage students to participate in them.
The report includes 160 schools from 46 states, including several University of Maine System campuses. It details campus projects from compositing to vehicles that run on cooking fat.
“We see a very large interest with our peers, our student body [for compositing],” said Sanders, who organized a composting project at Texas State.
Adam Yarnell, a student from Brown University, said sustainability has become a big issue for students.
“We feel like we have a social responsibility not to leave the next generation’s environment in a worse way than it is,” Yarnell said.
Erickson said it is important that people connect sustainability efforts to a variety of student interests if they hope to increase support for environmentally friendly initiatives.
“This is the language that they’re going to have to know about,” Erickson said.
Ayodele Akinpelu, a student from Wayne State University, told reporters it’s important for students to get in touch with their local community organizations and businesses and get hands-on with the “nitty-gritty” aspects of green initiatives.
“The main thing we need is … support from the administration,” Yarnell said.
Sanders said he doesn’t see the green movement as a passing fad.
“I don’t see this as being a movement in the ’60s,” said Sanders, who added the green movement will not die and come back.
Akinpelu said the green movement will last as long as the human impact continues to alter the environment.
“It’s definitely not a fad,” Akinpelu said. “It’s going to be a realization.”
Yarnell told university students it’s important to put in the initial effort into sustainability projects, because “once these initiatives get started, they just start snowballing.”
The UMaine Green Campus Initiative held a recycling event Oct. 24, designed to garner 350 bags of bottles. UMaine recycled nearly 4.2 million pounds of trash in 2008 — 4,052,378 pounds of it came from campus. Akinpelu said Wayne State’s newest engineering building is LEED-certified, meaning it meets energy efficiency standards higher than most buildings — standards defined by the U.S. Green Buildings Council. The Student Recreation and Fitness Center at UMaine, finished in 2007, is also LEED-certified.
Akinpelu said the main barriers for environmental initiatives are university administrations, funding and student support — or lack thereof.
“People care about it, but there’s not enough people to come out and do the work,” Akinpelu said.
Keniry said she has been impressed by the diverse amount of support from students across the nation.
Erickson said people need to adopt a more dynamic, systematic way of thinking about green efforts because it is critical to helping sustainable projects get more interconnected and succeed.
Scott Carlson, from the Chronicle of Higher Education, moderated the phone conference. He said the United States ranks behind 21 other nations in preparing high school students for environmental programs in college.
“Only a minority of colleges and universities are teaching about natural ecosystems,” said Keniry, who added even fewer are teaching about the human impact on such ecosystems.
“If we don’t get sustainability right,” Keniry said, “we won’t get a lot of other issues right.”