By Molly Majewicz
The LVAIC Campus Sustainability Conference on February 20th featured a number of specialized sessions where various aspects of sustainability were explored in depth. They ranged from power conservancy to sustainable agriculture, to school-to-farm efforts, and community relations via farmers’ markets. The majority of the presentations showed the huge leaps colleges were taking to build sustainable cultures on campus. All of the sessions, whether they had planned it or not, played perfectly into the keynote speaker’s central theme: changing the ethos of sustainability, on college campuses, in local communities, and eventually the global community. For more information on the keynote speech, click here.
In one session, Muhlenberg students conducted a survey about the general opinion of sustainability and climate change on their campus. The hypothesis they presented questioned the relationship between the demographics of the sample and their opinions about climate change. Would this relationship influence the support of environmental public policy? They were 95% positive that there is a relationship between someone’s demographic identity and their perceptions of environmental issues. Their conclusion indicated that it was political affiliation, out of all the demographics they focused on (gender, religion, region, and education) that most strongly correlated personal opinions to support of public policy. While it is no surprise that students with a democratic affiliation were more in support of public policy and republican students weren’t, one question that the students were asked provided a new, and interesting piece of insight.
The survey that the Muhlenberg students distributed included the question, “Was climate change natural or human induced?” In an unexpected turn of events, 53% of students agreed that climate change was both natural and human induced; 93.81% agreed that it is definitely real. The surveyors hadn’t expected such an answer from their seemingly dichotomous question. What does this say about the upcoming generation? While the results of this study were in no way congruent to the nation’s view as a whole, the students presenting speculated that their results could be indicative of current college students. Even though Muhlenberg’s student population is quite homogenous, is it possible that the ethos of college students in relation to sustainability is diverging from that of the previous generations?
Another session, “Greening Lafayette: A Campus-Wide Initiative for Sustainability Through a Connected Communities Model” talked about their eco-reps and sustainability efforts to change campus attitudes. Their mission aligned perfectly with the keynote speech. In their presentation, the two seniors stated that the main goal of “Greening Lafayette” and their eco-reps was to develop environmental citizens, promote cohesion of campus sustainability efforts, and share their vision and values with the entire campus. They started growing their initiative by enhancing their communication efforts, for example creating a logo and website, advertising on campus, and providing information to students through relatable channels, like RA’s and professors.
Additionally, to really draw focus to sustainability, Lafayette uses Earth Week to hold events that inform and inspire students to adjust their attitudes about climate change and sustainability. They sponsor three events, LaFill: Interactive Waste Display, the “Saving Planet Earth” lecture, and “LaFarm” to Table: Food Loop. LaFill helps students understand their connection to environmental systems through Lafayette’s waste generation, landfills, and waste reduction practices. LaFarm’s food loop activities increase students’ understanding of their role as environmental citizens in a community through the connection between the farm and their dining services. The “Saving the Planet” lecture informs students about their global connection and the conservation efforts being implemented across the world, instructing about the human role in ecosystems and community sustainability.
The “Greening Lafayette” program is so detailed and there are so many aspects that are integrated into campus life. The efforts being taken to change the campus ethos are incredibly significant. One of the most unique programs that was implemented at Lafayette is the EcoRep program. It was designed and launched in 2013; student representatives work with their peers to promote sustainable living habits in residence halls and they facilitate environment-related discussions and programming, as well. The EcoReps are the cornerstone of the “Greening Lafayette” program; they are essential to the sustainable culture Lafayette is trying to build on campus.
Lafayette isn’t the only school to have EcoReps. Lehigh University also held a presentation on their EcoRep program and how much it has evolved since its initiation in 2010 as a student initiated group, when their activities and presence on campus were relatively small. Later, a sustainability class was created and the program became part of that class, led by a faculty advisor who doubled as the professor of the course. Today, the EcoReps are structured, widely-supported club on campus that have various large-scale campus events and participate in educational outreach with campaigns and residence hall events. Continually throughout all of these years, the club strived to promote behavior change on campus in relation to sustainability efforts.
The schools that participated in the conference portrayed a true interest in increasing their efforts to change the campus ethos about climate change, sustainability, and the environment. They’ve already taken great steps towards working together on a more sustainable future as individual institutions, but also as institutions within a local community. This conference was so important to have among the Lehigh Valley’s consortium of colleges. Changing the ethos of the nation, as keynote speaker Dr. Weber highlighted during her welcoming speech, starts with changing the ethos of college students, as we are the future of the nation. Changing what young minds hold as important will certainly lead to changes in public policy, national systems, and leave succeeding generations with hope for the future.