Editorial: Keen and green or in between?

With Recyclemania looming on the horizon – and Case Western Reserve University’s embarrassing past performances still fresh in our memory – now is a good time to discuss sustainability. CWRU claims to be at the forefront of “green” initiatives, but do the students, staff, and faculty really do their part?

One major concern is that CWRU is simply “greenwashing” – that our sustainability budget has gone more toward marketing than attempts at real change. Is CWRU only interested in appearances? For instance, the university touts its LEED-certified residence halls in the Village, but most students don’t even know what LEED stands for. CWRU has invested in a number of innovative green technologies, such as the solar trash compactors on the quad and the porous sidewalks outside of Tomlinson. These are certainly nifty, and they give visitors the impression of a forward-thinking research institution. But students have questioned the tangible impact of these efforts, and have wondered if the overall goal is appearances rather than real sustainability.

On the other hand, these nifty technologies are arguably well-suited to our campus. We are known for our cutting-edge research and ambitious, outside-the-box attitude – what better way to illustrate this than by installing the latest green technologies. For instance, the wind turbine in front of Veale generates relatively little power (only a fraction of what Veale uses), but then again, it was never intended as a one-turbine wind farm. Rather, it is part of a larger research project. But it also provided jobs for Ohio manufacturing companies and generates energy for CWRU as an added bonus. Furthermore, the wind turbine and other green efforts around campus do much to promote the “green” mindset toward which our society is shifting. Their effectiveness notwithstanding, there is something to be said for encouraging green thinking.

Unfortunately, this campus has some habits that discourage this attitude. For instance, many students complain about the wanton printing that goes on in Fribley, Nord, and KSL. And the televisions in PBL and many residence halls are on literally all the time, even in the wee hours when no one is around. Students took notice when the Einstein’s in Nord stopped giving away unsold bagels at the end of the day – now, any leftover food is dumped into the trash, before the eyes of hungry students who were told “We’re closed.” Why this policy took effect remains a mystery.

Recycling seems to be the biggest issue – at least, the one with the greatest room for improvement. But how? Students need more motivation/encouragement to recycle, and more opportunities. The Student Sustainability Council puts out boxes to recycle water filters and batteries, and Recyclemania does a great job informing students about recycling efforts and encouraging them to take part – but the sad truth remains: many people simply don’t care.

CWRU could vastly influence this attitude by revamping its course offerings. Weatherhead boasts about its sustainability education both on its homepage and in emails sent to current students, but until this semester, there were no undergraduate classes in sustainability. Now, the only available course is a once-weekly, one-credit hour class. This is shameful for a university that claims to be so “green.” If CWRU were to offer more courses on, and maybe even a major in, this subject, it could greatly enlighten the student body and foster the kind of green attitude that we need.

Still, we have to keep in mind that this attitude is a problem everywhere in our society. It is probably the greatest obstacle the “green” movement will face. CWRU should be commended for its efforts to combat this attitude in its students, faculty, and staff, and we hope that it will continue to do so far into the future.