Going greenGroups focus on creating a sustainable Memorial
By Jeff Green
From cutting down on the amount of paper used on our campuses to backing bikes instead of cars, a growing number of groups are hard at work ensuring sustainability initiatives are on the minds of what has become an increasingly environmentally-minded university community.
Several organizations – from St. John’s to Corner Brook – are advocating for greener and cleaner campuses, all with the goal of educating people about the benefits of creating a sustainable environment.
Guiding much of that work is the university’s Sustainability Office, which was created in 2007. Toby Rowe, Memorial’s first-ever sustainability co-ordinator, works closely with the Advisory Committee on Sustainability which includes faculty, staff and student members from the St. John’s campus, the Marine Institute and Sir Wilfred Grenfell College. The group also includes municipal and provincial government representatives.
“We partner with other staff and students to research, develop and implement sustainability initiatives at MUN,” said Ms. Rowe.
Some of that work includes a paper cut campaign which encourages administrative and academic departments to reduce the amount of paper they use, as well as the promotion of recycled content paper.
The office also supports beverage, printer cartridge and cell phone recycling and encourages employees to use less energy in their offices. It was also heavily involved in a new campaign launched this month by Memorial’s acting president, Dr. Eddy Campbell, aimed at getting more staff and faculty to opt out of receiving pay stubs (see related story on page 6).
Ms. Rowe is also doing research into water issues on Memorial’s campuses, as well as carbon offsets and working with other universities on a carbon calculator.
“We need to become more responsible for our actions,” she noted.
That sentiment is echoed by other groups including the newly-created Earth and Human Systems Sustainability Initiative. It was established last fall after several environmentally-minded faculty members wondered how their teaching, research, outreach and public education can get others to embrace sustainability issues.
To accomplish part of their goal, the group created the Dialogue on Sustainability, bringing climate change experts to the university for public lectures.
Dr. Josh Lepawsky, assistant professor in the Department of Geography and member of the initiative’s steering committee, said although Memorial is making strides on the sustainability front, more work needs to be done.
“From a faculty perspective, many of us teach and research in and on areas that connect to sustainability, but there is not enough co-ordination of such activities across faculty and departmental lines,” he noted.
Additionally, he would like it to become mandatory for students to take courses focused on sustainability issues, igniting an interest in the subject.
An increased academic focus on the environment and green issues would be welcome news for university groups such as Grenfell’s Environmental Action Committee, a ratified club under the Grenfell College Student Union, and Project Green, a voluntary group consisting of students, staff and faculty which has long promoted environmental awareness.
With more than 100 members with representatives from student groups, unions and administrative units, Project Green has had a highly-visible presence at Memorial, organizing popular events such as the Dump ’N’ Run program (a giant community yard sale whereby students can drop off or purchase goods, reducing waste in landfills).
The group is also behind the promotion of RideShare, a carpooling program that encourages people to share rides to university to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as BikeShare, which advocates for the use of pedal bikes instead of vehicles.
Members also endorse their Lug-a-Mug initiative, which supports re-using mugs instead of disposable cups.
It all adds up to a busy – but rewarding – time for group.
“What these programs do is make people aware of their environment and also of their actions,” said committee member Marie-Claire Findlay-Brook, an Arts student. “They give people an opportunity to change their behaviour, the first step that leads to living more sustainably.
“There is no individual hero who will save the environment, it is a collective effort,” she added.
And that keen sense of co-operation helps define the work of Memorial’s environmental groups, each sharing a joint vision of a much more sustainable future.
Indeed that work has become increasingly important as students, staff and faculty further embrace green ideas, expecting institutions of higher learning to become more socially responsible.