NU’s green efforts spread thin

Meredith Laitos

Wednesday Column

Every Daily requests, “Recycle Daily” on the front page. If you’ve ever tried to do so around campus, you know it’s easier said than done. If a visitor were to judge our campus’ interest in sustainability based on visible activism, they would be skeptical. They would see the receptacles filled with used coffee cups and the shuttles idling for hours. They would never guess that Northwestern received an EPA award in 2006 for being the second largest purchaser of alternative energy for all of the nation’s colleges and universities. They may not guess that several groups are aggressively addressing issues of sustainability.

This is not a reflection of these groups’ failures, but rather one of the administration’s inability to proactively promote them, leaving them fragmented and in need of some serious P.R. Consider the plethora of sustainability initiatives across our campus.

Recently, Students for Ecological and Environmental Development (SEED) pushed a proposal through ASG establishing the Associate Student Recycling Cooperative. Over the next couple of years, this will replace current indistinguishable receptacles with better-distributed, more intuitive facilities. The bins will be maintained by student volunteers to promote a sense of ownership.

Students in Engineers for a Sustainable World have dedicated hours to designing new campus shuttle engines that run on part diesel, part waste vegetable oil. The oil is collected from dining halls and ready to use shortly after filtering the Tater Tots. This project is years in the making, but designers are optimistic it could become a reality by next fall.

At Hillel, Environmental Campus Outreach (ECO) spearheaded several unique recycling projects. They set up recycling bins for ink cartridges and batteries in Norris and one for fluorescent light bulbs in Hillel.

At the university level this year, cafes started offering a 15 cent discount to those with reusable mugs and bottles. SafeRide has gone hybrid. Dining halls ditched Styrofoam and added all-natural napkins and various organic foods.

With so many initiatives, you would think NU would be oozing sustainability. In reality, few people know about the mug discounts or the changing policies. It’s not because they don’t care. In fact, sustainability ranked second in a list of student concerns in the 2007 Undergraduate Budget Priorities Committee.

There is a disconnect between university efforts, student initiatives and overall awareness. It’s as if there are many excited parties climbing the same mountain, but taking different routes.

Think of the impact we could make if these efforts were centralized. If the university truly cares about its title as a leader among sustainable institutions, it should form a group to act as a collective voice. Organizations should not have to wrestle to get support. NU should parade improvements, instead of sheepishly making small changes. Every student and staff should know where to recycle, how to reuse and what innovations are in the making.

Kudos to those who are doing their part and even to the university for its fragmented support. Now, it’s time for a collective push up this mountain.

Oh yes, and please recycle your Daily.

Medill junior Meredith Laitos can be reached at [email protected]