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  • Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

Exceptions that prove the rule
March 12, 2012 - 4:00pm

My earlier statement that campuses focus more effort on recycling than reduction and reuse combined doesn't mean that no campuses do anything to reduce or reuse. 

Any effort focusing on energy efficiency is an effort to reduce, and lots of campuses are making an effort to increase energy efficiency. But the effort is by a small number of people, and it generally doesn't take a whole lot of time, so by the measure of labor hours expended (at least) it's not huge. Nowhere near the amount of time spent trying to remind folks to recycle.

And reusable shopping bags are an example of ... how best to phrase this ... reuse. But again, it's not a major focus for most campuses. Indeed, most schools seem to have discontinued the practice of giving away reusable bags. Maybe that's because you see relatively few people using them in most stores -- a reusable shopping bag that doesn't cause a whole lot of disposable bags not to be handed out is a negative good.

But there are some schools -- certainly a minority -- which have mounted significant initiatives toward resource reduction. A goodly number (although nowhere near a majority) have eliminated trays in dining halls. The elimination of trays, directly, doesn't accomplish a whole lot; it just eliminates the need to replace trays annually due to inventory shrinkage (especially in schools with snow and hillsides -- go figure!). But eliminating trays can shift the dynamics of the dining hall experience in a way that greatly cuts down on post-consumer food waste.  Which can result in a reduction of food volume purchased, and a reduction of energy utilized in food preparation. Dining tray elimination is probably the most successful, most widely spread campus technique to achieve significantly reduced resource consumption.

And a few brave schools (bless them all!) have taken steps to eliminate campus sales of water in disposable bottles. The small number attests to the perceived difficulty of achieving this, even with all the general acknowledgement that bottled water on most US and Canadian campuses solves no real world problem. When the number of campuses that have eliminated bottled water begins to approach the number which have eliminated dining service trays, I'll celebrate. And if it ever gets to be a majority of schools -- even a majority of schools that have signed the Presidents' Climate Commitment -- I'll be able to retire with a satisfied mind.

(Presuming my TIAA-CREF account doesn't go through the floor again!)


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