This article appeared in the February 2012 edition of the Gettysburgian, the student- run newspaper. How does Gettysburg stack up? I am not talking about the Princeton Review ratings or how hard it is to get in, but our sustainability rating. This weekend Gettysburg students attended a conference at Bucknell University with area colleges to brainstorm and discuss sustainability initiatives on campus. The conference allowed Gettysburg students to come up with new ideas for our own college in order to make conscious living easier.
What do other colleges do in an attempt to become sustainable? At Franklin and Marshall College, the energy consumption of residence halls is updated in real time and graphed online so students can see how much energy they use. The halls then compete to see who is using the least amount of energy. College officials hope that this data will help students to realize how much electricity they actually use, a number many of us rarely think about. In the first year of the program, students lowered their electricity usage by 52%! Dickinson College campus and farm both utilize solar panels to reduce their energy consumption. In addition, Dickinson electricity usage comes completely from wind turbines, an alternative clean energy source. Bucknell University boasts a native plant garden around their environmental center. This means that all plants in the garden reflect the original composition of the landscape, therefore making them more sustainable and easy to care for. Finally, a small pond rounds out the area and attracts songbirds and important insects.
Gettysburg ratings aren’t too shabby, but they also don’t complete address the issue of consumption on campus. Currently the campus is ranked 5th among the top 50 liberal arts colleges for sustainability by the Roberts Environmental Center at Claremont Mckenna College. In addition, the Princeton Green Review ranked Gettysburg in the top 311 colleges for sustainability. In this system colleges were not ranked in numerical order, but whether they met the requirements for sustainability.
So what exactly qualified Gettysburg for these lists? Simply put the campus’s acts towards sustainability were totaled up. Important factors in determining these rating included, the Painted Turtle Farm, a student –run garden that supplies produce to Servo and Campus Kitchens as well as theme houses such as Farmhouse, a place for intentional living and Local Lovin’ where the benefit of buying and eating local are practiced. Servo too, also contributes to the college’s score. The dining hall’s pulper condenses waste and kitchen scraps are composted at the Painted Turtle Farm. In addition, a portion of Servo’s produce comes from right here in Adam’s County.
But, the list doesn’t stop there. The college has two recycling interns who manage the “give it up for good” sale and the school’s single stream recycling program. GECO or the Gettysburg Environmental Concerns Organization is a student led group that focuses on environmental issues both on and off campus. The group has met for over twenty years and now meets in Plank basement every Thursday at 8.
From an educational standpoint, the college has one of the largest and best environmental studies departments among small liberal arts colleges. Every year senior environmental studies’ students calculate the college’s carbon footprint, which measures how much energy the college consumes because the college hopes to be carbon neutral in the near future.
It might sound impressive, but students on campus hope to do more. At the conference, students talked about the benefits of hiring a Sustainability Coordinator to oversee the college’s environmental efforts. Although, the college is not opposed to a coordinator, the challenge is finding the money to cover the cost of this new position. Other tasks include making the campus plastic water bottle free. This is particularly difficult to put in place because many students would not like using the convenience of plastic water bottles. The students agree that in order to implement a plan of this size, considerable steps would have to be taken.
Finally, the students talked about the difficulty of rallying students on campus to actually support green initiatives. The problem does not seem to be that students do not care about the environment, but when it comes to actually acting on these values, they chose non-green alternatives. GECO and other organizations want to get the word out that acting consciously isn’t that difficult and that participating in the activities these organizations run can actually be fun. Unfortunately, the group is struggling to understand why or why not students make the environmental decisions that they do. In order to help the club reach its goals of being environmentally sustainable, consider participating in one of the programs above or even just remember to recycle, plastic cups, water bottles and paper. Remember we can all do green work!