This October, Northwestern walked away with the 2015 Green Power Leadership Award, making our school the only institution of higher education to receive this honor from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this year. The award goes to institutions, often big companies, that have made a concerted and remarkable effort to be more sustainable. NU was recognized for its “continued and increased investment in green power, support for student-led initiatives, and exploration and adoption of on-site renewables and efficiency efforts,” according to the EPA.
The university is certainly impressive in all that it has accomplished in terms of sustainability efforts. Fifty percent of NU’s annual electricity usage has been renewable since 2014. Seven Northwestern buildings are Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certified, and groups such as Engineers for a Sustainable World create sustainable solutions on campus, namely working to install a solar tree charging station in Norris.
Most students are familiar with some of the university’s initiatives to be more sustainable, specifically sustainNU’s Green Cup, which is taking place right now and is in its second week. Many know about the solar panels on the roof of the Ford Center and the electronics recycling program.
NU can consider itself a successful example when it comes to being a sustainable university campus, especially in relation to our academic peers. That said, there is always room for improvement. Students should be aware of all the different initiatives and programs the university has and recognize that there are still ways for us to be better.
NU should not sell bottled water in C-stores because we have readily available filtered water on campus and therefore should promote reusable bottles only. It’s already possible to receive a free water bottle from the Office of Sustainability, so students don’t even have to worry about this cost.
Additionally, according to the Office of Sustainability, compostable items are collected from the dining halls, the Allen Center and Norris University Center and taken to a local composting center.
If students are interested in composting at an NU event, they can reach out to the Office of Sustainability to coordinate the details and arrange a collection and compost delivery. If we were taking full advantage of that opportunity, we would see a lot less food in trash cans than we do right now.
If sustainability is measured by building design and programming, students aren’t always capable of affecting the environmental design of buildings or even the purchase of more renewable energy. However, we can have an effect on environmental operations in day-to-day life. We can and should be more conscious to turn off lights that aren’t being used and to take shorter showers, but to also work toward specific goals when it comes to food and recycling.
All members of the community should be involved in sustainability efforts, not only those who live in dorms. Greek houses can be much more sustainable than they are now. All fraternity and sorority houses should recycle their used goods and compost their food waste, just like dorms a few feet away. When food rots in landfills, it releases methane into our atmosphere, whereas composted food naturally replenishes soil, making it a chemical-free way to grow crops. When a large event, academic or philanthropic, takes place, there should be a way for the leftover food waste to be composted.
Furthermore, not all plastic that students use is eligible for normal recycling pickup, namely No. 6 plastic which makes up red solo cups and other disposable cups and plates. It is straightforward to recycle No. 2, 4 and 5 plastics, but No. 6 plastic is actually polystyrene or Styrofoam, which is extremely hard to recycle because it releases toxins when heated. Students should consider working with the sustainability office to send these cups to a company such as TerraCycle which will accept No. 6 plastic for free. Even if this program is already being used by a small number of students, it should be standardized.
To win a prestigious award in Washington, D.C. that sets us apart from all other universities is something that is emblematic of who we are as a school and who we want to be. To further this success and to truly consider NU a university that is “green” in a holistic way, it’s important for students to continue to think critically and innovatively about ways in which we aren’t doing all we can.
The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.