Colleges are considered bastions of progressive and free thought, and it’s almost a matter of course that they’d be expected to be exemplars of environmental conscientiousness as well. Advances that allow schools to produce less waste and leave smaller footprints, from sustainable building practices to offering college courses online to reduce costs, are indeed growing more common across the country. However, despite such developments and the easy assumption that colleges will lead the way in sustainable practices, actual numbers reflect a less than perfect reality.

Judy Walton of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) suggests “We feel that campuses have a special duty, and I think they see it as well [because]…[t]hey’re training the next generation.” Concepts of sustainability on college campuses have moved from the early days of simple recycling to more recent efforts to compost and implement solar and other alternative power systems. However, these efforts did not appear on their own.

In 2008, Congress passed the Higher Education Sustainability Act, which included provisions for a summit on sustainability and a university sustainability grant program. The summit meeting is meant to bring together “higher education sustainability experts, federal agency staff, and business leaders to identify best practices in sustainability and opportunities for collaboration to expand sustainable operations and academic programs.” The grant program supplies “competitive grants to colleges and universities to establish sustainability research programs, such as developing new alternative energy sources. It also allows schools to implement sustainability practices on campus.”

This legislation also resulted in the formation of the AASHE’s Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (STARS). This program rates colleges’ and other institutions’ sustainability in terms of buildings, climate, dining services, energy consumption, grounds, purchasing, transportation, waste, and water use. Currently the program includes 250 American and nearly 25 Canadian higher education institutions. In 2011, of 322 schools assessed, 56 percent received “B” grades overall, while a mere 11 percent made the “A” grade.

However, problems with colleges’ sustainability aren’t necessarily with the schools’ efforts alone, but demonstrate that a concentrated effort must be made by all interested parties. Parents, students, alumni, and administrators all play roles in sustainability on campus. Educating the youth of today is a necessity and means teaching honesty and transparency, along with sustainability practices on campus. As the examples we’ve conjured have shown, there have been tangible applications of environmentally-sustainable efforts of varying degrees. Moving forward, comparing and contrasting between these applications and finding out which processes work and which don’t will be instrumental in scaling the pilot efforts which we have described.

 This is a guest post by Marina Salsbury who planned on becoming a teacher, but found her way instead into online writing after college. She currently writes on a variety of topics, but always seems to veer back to education-related articles.

In recent years, the “green,” or, environmental movement has been gaining in notoriety. Suddenly, an enormous market has emerged for green products, from environmentally friendly cleaning products to low impact vacations in eco-friendly destinations. Yet in spite of great publicity and interest, a so-called “green revolution” has not taken hold. However, as those with psychology degrees already very well know, behavioral psychology can help explain why, in spite of the existence of great amounts information on going green, individuals and corporations fail to adopt environmentally sustainable practices.

Everyday the population of the globe grows, people live longer and individuals enjoy a better standard of living. These three trends result in the greater consumption of material goods than ever before (coupled with a concurrent increase in industrial activity), increasing waste and pollution worldwide. Concern over the increase of pollution led to the beginning of the environmental movement in the United States in the 1960s. However, since the inception of this movement, environmentalism has been hardened political issue. Thus “green” has become a loaded term, causing the debate over the necessity of changing business and personal practices to become a partisan issue.

At the business level, the debate tends to focus on the question of whether environmentalism is good for industry or if it harms profitability. There is a perception that governmental and environmental regulations cut into a company’s profit. Unfortunately, this zero-sum understanding of the relationship between economics and the environment creates a strong resistance toward developing environmentally sustainable business strategies. However, creative solutions that preserve profitability while protecting the environment exist; the challenge is to shift the argument away from the environment vs. economic scenario into a debate over which win-win solutions are best.

A second obstruction to the adoption of environmentally sustainable practices is the hesitancy to make short-term sacrifices in favor of long-term benefits. This is underscored by the fact that an individual’s or business’ practices become established over time and difficult to change. Something as simple as beginning a home or business recycling program, weatherproofing a home to reduce wasted energy or modifying a business supply chain can present psychological challenges that induce procrastination and avoidance. As counterintuitive as the rejection of the long-term benefits in favor of immediate rewards may seem, it is a fundamental human trait that acts as a barrier to sustainable practices.

The third and final main barrier to going green occurs mainly at the individual level. Despite increased publicity of urgent environmental issues such as climate change, pesticide contamination of food and water and air pollution, individuals seem unwilling to act. This is because the human psyche can only accommodate a limited number of concerns at any given time. Termed the “finite pool of worry,” this theory explains the lukewarm response to environmental concerns at the same time that it provides a solution. Environmentalism on its own, despite its importance, occupies a low position on most individual’s priority lists. Concerns about the economy, the job market, personal health and quality of life tend to dominate a person’s day-to-day worries.

Therefore in order to increase its visibility, the issue of environmentalism must be reframed to fit within a person’s existing concerns. For example, people concerned about the job market, might be interested in the potential employment opportunities created by adopting renewable energy resources. When people can see how environmentally sustainable practices can benefit them personally in the short term, they are much more likely to act.

Clearly, behavioral psychology can help provide insight as to why, in spite of the urgency behind the sustainability movement, corporate and individual actions so often fail to meet expectations. By using behavioral psychology to identify the barriers to the adoption of new mindsets and behaviors, we can simultaneously highlight challenges and suggest strategies to overcome them. Resolving the resistance to environmentalism requires a multi-faceted and creative approach, but it is possible to intelligently foster a sustainable lifestyle from the bottom up.

This guest post was written by Allison Gamble.

When British Petroleum (BP) applied for a permit to build the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico and begin drilling, it claimed to have the technology and know-how to handle any oil spill.

But in the face of an actual spill, BP is much less confident. “This scares everybody: the fact that we can’t make this well stop flowing, the fact that we haven’t succeeded so far,” BP CEO Doug Suttles said. “Many of the things we’re ­trying have been done on the surface before, but have never been tried at 5,000 ft.”

They’ve never been tried at 5,000 feet. Drilling for oil this deeply under the ocean is a relatively new enterprise for our species. Oil has been drilled offshore in shallow water for more than a century. But deepwater drilling is much more expensive than shallow-water drilling. For a long time drilling in deep water wasn’t tried, because it would have cost more to extract a barrel of oil than a barrel of oil was worth on world markets. It took the spikes in oil prices in recent years to make deepwater drilling profitable.

Politicians and oil executives assured us that offshore oil drilling was safe. Those tree huggers who worry about environmental disasters are nuts, they said. Yes, there have been oil rig disasters in the past, but (big wink) we know what we’re doing now. Trust us.

The laws of physics work differently nearly a mile underwater than they do on land, or shallow water, however. By now, it is obvious BP is still trying to invent a procedure that might stop the oil leak, maybe, if we’re lucky. No one appears to have been ready for the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Really, this “trust us” business is getting old. How many times have we been told to “trust” some new thing, and then when the dangers surface we find out the “trusted” ones hadn’t told us the whole truth?

In the mid-20th century we humans went into overdrive digging asbestos out of the earth to use in countless structures and products. There is asbestos in navy ships, in shipyards such as Bath Iron Works, asbestos in our homes and schools, asbestos in old car parts, and asbestos in landfills. And eventually, years after medical science had determined asbestos exposure causes terrible disease, industry executives and politicians reluctantly agreed to shut down asbestos production, or at least most of it. And now the cost of asbestos abatement and mesothelioma treatment is an ongoing problem for individuals, taxpayers, and businesses.

And do we want to talk about Vioxx? Tanning beds? And now there are questions being asked about Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical found in just about every plastic bottle you’ve ever touched. It may be dangerous, it may not. Opinions vary. Just note that the same political and business leaders who deny BPA could be dangerous are the same ones who like to yell “drill, baby, drill.”

 Barbara O’ Brien is the author of this guest post.   She represents maacenter.org, a leading web resource for asbestos exposure and cancer information.

This is a guest post by Sarah Harris

 

 

 

The old tradition of you and your kids washing the family car in the driveway on a Sunday afternoon is slowly turning into an environmental nightmare. While most do not realize what harm this simple household chore can inflict on the environment, rest assured that it’s not worth the small amount of money saved on taking the car to a commercial car wash. Simply put, the water that runs off your dirty car goes directly into storm drains, which then runs into rivers and streams and eventually pollutes the oceans and its millions of aquatic inhabitants. Unlike excess water waste from your home, that goes through treatment before it is discharged into the environment, water from washing the car, which contains elements of gasoline, oil, and exhaust fume residue, all go straight into our delicate environment.

Although reports differ, the estimate is that the average home car wash uses 100 gallons of water. A commercial car wash is estimated to use around 45 gallons per car. If you must wash at home, there are a few things you can do to help counteract too much water usage. First, use an adjustable hose nozzle. These cost a mere $10 and allow you to adjust water pressure and most importantly the amount of water by shutting off when it’s not being used. Second, park your car either on a lawn, gravel, or dirt surface. This allows the runoff to soak into the grass keeping it green, or if it’s gravel, to easily percolate into the soil below. This should only be done with environmentally safe detergents and cleaners.

Again, if the absolute need arises to wash the car at home, there are now options to wash without using water at all. Lucky Earth and Eco Touch offer products that require no additional water. They are easy to use, typically by spraying the dirty area and wiping clean with a cloth. While this may not be the best approach with a car covered in mud and dirt, it’s a great solution for mildly grimy cars. And in addition to using no water, these products are all safe for the environment as well as the consumer. And remember, by not washing your car at home, or using better methods of doing so, you can very easily add to a wide variety of simple ways to practice sustainable living. Living our lives never again has to mean trampling the abundant environment we all use and cherish.

 

This is a guest post by Bryn Kingsley

Consumer behavior has undergone quite a remarkable transformation over the past few decades. There’s been a massive spike in the uptake of recycling, and this has occurred at individual, corporate, and governmental levels. For example, in the city where I live we have three bins that are collected by the council each week – a big household waste recycling bin, a big garden waste recycling bin, and a small rubbish bin that is less than half the size of the other two. This sort of service just wasn’t available when I was a kid. In my house we also do our utmost to adhere to strong environmental practices – we recycle as much as possible, our electrical power is sourced from green renewable sources, all of our lights are of the low energy consumption variety, and we offset all our carbon emissions through funding revegetation efforts that sequester carbon.

Even though these are some pretty solid achievements, unfortunately for the majority us this marks the extent of our efforts. We’re still only scratching the surface of what can be done to create a sustainable living environment, and this is largely due to the combined effect of the “I didn’t know” and “It’s too hard” mantras. So in order to combat these impediments I’m going to devote some time to talking about recycling in a way that doesn’t usually feature as part of our collective consciousness – recycled timber flooring.

Timber flooring products leave a large ecological footprint on the planet, partially due to the nature of the product, as also due to the strength of consumer demand. There’s something about entering a room and being greeted by the rich colours of timber flooring under your feet that just feels good. Perhaps it’s because wooden floors somehow manage to fuse two very different styles into the one decor – they combine a sense of lofty elegance with a home-sweet-home vibe. It’s a very well-rounded aesthetic.

When appreciating this type of flooring it’s easy to forget that timber is made from trees; of course it’s something we all know, but it’s often a subconscious recognition. As such, it’s also pretty easy for us to pay little heed to the environmental legacy of the timber floors we encounter. But the fact is that some timber flooring is made from old growth forest, and sometimes even from endangered species. The thought detracts somewhat from the sense of elegant homeliness doesn’t it?

Now I could go getting all hippie on you and start raving on about the importance of protecting the planet, the destruction of the world’s forests, and the rising salinity problems in farming areas, but I figure most people know this stuff (hopefully!), and that it’s more important to talk about economically viable solutions. So as I see it, there are really four sorts of alternatives:

1.) Constructing your floors out of something else
There are plenty of options – carpets, tiles, slate, vinyl, concrete, laminate, and rugs – to name a few. However if we want the look and feel of timber, then these are pretty much non-starters.

2.) Imitation timber:

Imitation timber comes in vinyl and laminate forms, and for some it could be a good option. For others there’s one little point that can’t be ignored: it looks like imitation timber, not like real timber, so if you want to make a statement of style then it doesn’t really fit the bill.

3.) Plantation timber:

This is often a really good option. It has the benefits of real timber, without the environmental problems. There are just two problems with plantation timber that stand in the way of making this a great solution. Firstly, plantation timber can be pretty expensive. Secondly, there’s generally a fairly limited range to choose from – pine trees are a dime a dozen, but some of the more exotic species can be extremely difficult to come by.
4.) Recycled timber flooring

To me this option brings the best of all worlds to the fore. It presents a great environmentally friendly solution, it’s a real timber product so it has an authentic appearance, and it can be sourced at an extremely cost effective price. The clincher though is that recycled timber flooring is often of higher quality than new timber flooring, and here are the reasons why:
a. The timber has been re-milled to present a fresh clean finish that looks brand new;

b. Recycled timber is much less likely to warp out of shape because the wood has already been well seasoned;
c. It’s often much better suited to matching the colour to an existing well-aged floor;
d. It can usually be custom machined to your specific size and dimension requirements.

So, in short, recycled timber flooring is great for the environment, it can be sourced at fantastic quality, and it’s often one of the most cost-effective solutions to creating those deep earthy wooden colours in your house. Next time you’re thinking recycling, allow your mind to do a little creative wandering, and think outside the box of newspaper, plastic bottles, and tin cans – you’d be surprised what you can come up with.

Bryn writes for Fremantle Timber Traders and aims to educate people about the green home renovation. This post is on the topic of recycled timber flooring.

This is a guest post written by Elizabeth Krause

Slowly but surely the term, “organic” is becoming more mainstream. The National Organic Standards Board says that if an item is to be labeled organic, it must be produced under the authority of the Organic Food Production Act. It must follow the guidelines that no materials or practices are used that would create an imbalance of ecological and natural systems.

The term organic can be used on a variety of products from the shirt on our back to the food on our plate. Most people like organic food because it means it is free of chemicals or artificial/manufactured ingredients such as MSG, high fructose corn syrup, hormones, artificial food colorings and the like.

In regards to clothing or other manufactured products, organic often goes alongside the term Fair Trade. Fair Trade means that companies are paid a fair price for their products (meaning no price-gouging), and in exchange for this guarantee, are required to pay their employees fair wages and provide safe working conditions. This in turn helps the local communities by improving the health of the workers and their families, and also reduces crime and benefits the local economy overall.

Take a Stand – With Your Wallet
Buying organic products not only helps your own health but also helps encourage business suppliers to pursue the organic market. This can occur when we, the consumers, get involved and buy organic products. We can make our voices heard loud and clear at the cash register.

Why would companies invest millions of dollars into consumer research? Because they know ultimately the power lies with the consumer, and that’s you and me. Over the last few years, the consumer has begun to find his/her own voice. For example, if a company discovers that the consumer market is not buying a particular product – it will want to find out why. If it discovers that the sale of organic cereals is increasing while the sale of generic sugar-ridden ones is declining, it will respond to the trend and act accordingly – if it plans on staying in business.

Many large box stores have seen the wave coming and have acted on this. They have sought out suppliers that grow food according to organic guidelines and are therefore meeting the demands of their customers. This keeps both the company and the customers happy – and healthier.

You Don’t Have to be Rich to Buy Organic Food
If you are not able to buy all organic products, look for organic products that are on sale or discounted. You will find great savings. You can also just buy a few organic food items to start with – whatever your budget allows.

Don’t forget the economic principles of supply and demand. As more people express demand for a product, the more that product will be supplied (assuming there is not a limit on materials available). The greater the supply, the lower the price.

Elizabeth Krause publisher of an Italian food website featuring simple Italian recipes.

A Chemical Reaction is a fabulous documentary film about a dermatologist in Canada who successfully campaigned to ban the use of pesticides in her small town. Against all odds, she spent years documenting the ill effects of pesticide exposure on her patients and lobbying her local town council to ban pesticides. This story is proof that a grassroots effort fueled by one passionate woman can change the course of a nation.

The movie points out that a green lawn represents the American Dream; a beautiful lawn is a powerful status symbol. Following a 4- step chemical program for lawn beautification is a tradition passed down from father to son. But our lawns are also where the environment meets peoples’ lives. Our children and pets spend hours in intimate contact with our grass and dirt, and then they track it into our homes. It needs to be healthy and safe.

Needless to say, the battle that ensued when the ban was enacted reached historic proportions. The cased ended up in the Supreme Court of Canada. The lawn chemical companies could not let it stand. But they lost!  The court wisely decided that chemicals should not be assumed to be safe until proven dangerous, but rather, the government has an obligation to err on the side of caution in order to protect the public good.  Thus, the Precautionary Principle became law in Canada.

This landmark approach is gathering steam in the United States. The US EPA administrator Lisa Jackson has directed her agency to take a more precautionary approach regarding chemical regulations. Just yesterday, the National Cancer Institute Cancer Panel, a mainstream panel made up of George Bush appointees, issued a report saying that the true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated. They recommend that the United States take a precautionary approach rather than the reactionary approach currently employed.

In spite of this progress, the film informs us that the lawn chemical industry lobbyists have already gotten pre-emption laws passed in 41 states in order to ensure that no towns can pass laws stricter than state laws. This prohibits towns from passing a ban like the one in Canada that sparked the national backlash against lawn chemicals. A Chemical Reaction is inspiring and informative, but likley to leave you uneasy when you consider what we are up against in the United States when it comes to chemical regulation.
If you have any thoughts about this issue please share them with us in the comment section of this blog. We love to hear from you!

Last night I participated in a panel discussion at a cute little theatre in Asbury Park following a showing of the documentary film, “Tapped“. I’ve never been up on a stage under lights so bright that you couldn’t see anyone in the dark audience. Otherwise, I would have thanked the person who shouted out “REFUSE” during the program. Refusing bottled water and explaining why, is not a bad way to help turn back the bottled water invasion.

I have refused any number of things on the grounds of not wanting to be wasteful, but I hadn’t thought of it as an actual strategy that could be added to the existing three Rs until last night. I found this graphic where the three “Rs” had been expanded, so why not add another?
Reduce, Refuse, Recycle
My personal favorite is refusing the bottles of water already on the tables at my favorite restaurant. In stores, I sometimes have to refuse disposable bags numerous times during the check-out process, or they’ll put something in one. On Sunday, we were supposed to individually wrap some goodies for a bake sale at church – are you kidding? Today, of all days, they are selling bottled water at the middle school talent show. Time to say no, again.

This “R” has the potential to save both time and money as well as reducing waste. The challenge is in communicating the REFUSE in a persuasive way without getting people annoyed. I may have to work on that!

Earth Day turns 40Earth Day is more than just a day for our kids to plant trees and learn about recycling at school.  In 1970, the first Earth Day was a day of grassroots political protest against rampant uncontrolled pollution of our air and water.  It was perfectly legal to dump hazardous waste into streams and spew dark plumes of toxic smoke into the air.  And this is exactly what companies were doing.

The environment was not yet part of the national political discourse.  US Senator Gaylord Nelson had been working in vain for years to change that.   Finally, his idea for a day of environmental teach-ins galvanized people all across the country who were concerned about the environmental degradation they were seeing locally.   As interest grew, Nelson resisted trying to organize the event from Washington, preferring to let people celebrate Earth Day any way they wanted.  He wanted Earth Day to be a celebration of grassroots action.

Twenty million people from all walks of life self-organized to protest on behalf of our planet on that day.  Amazingly, they did this without the benefit of cell phones, twitter, or facebook.  If you want to get a sense for the historical context and the truly revolutionary nature of the ideas, listen to Nelson’s Earth Day speech in Milwaukee on April 21, 1970.

It worked.  By the end of 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency was established and the Clean Air Act was law.   The Clean Water Act followed in 1972.  The air and water in the United States began to recover.

How are you going to celebrate this milestone on April 22?  How about trying to go without disposable plastic for a day?  Pack Litter-less Lunches and  use your reusable bags and bottles.  If there’s an environmental issue that needs attention, find others who are also concerned and get together to do something about it.  In the spirit of Gaylord Nelson, go ahead and celebrate locally, any way you want.  Let us know how it goes!

I don’t know about you, but I am feeling humbled by the recent spate of natural disasters.   They show that we humans are not masters of the universe.  In the past three months, we’ve seen major earthquakes on three continents, a seriously disruptive volcanic eruption on another, and debilitating floods on yet another.  It feels like Armageddon!    

We understand the concepts behind forces like plate tectonics, volcanoes, and weather, yet we still can’t predict them precisely.   People joke derisively about weathermen being wrong day in and day out and still keeping their jobs.  But, I think most of us appreciate that it’s difficult to make precise predictions about a natural phenomenon. 

Climate change is another global phenomenon that has the potential to seriously impact our lives, our economies, and our eco-systems.   Like a storm or volcanic eruption, we can confidently predict its occurrence and we understand its cause.  The difficulty lies in predicting the timing and magnitude of the impending climate change.

A March 20th article in The Economist summed it up well: “Action on climate change is justified, not because the science is certain, but precisely because it is not.”   Unlike natural disasters, climate change is a catastrophe that will unfold gradually over decades.  This is one global disaster waiting to happen that we humbled humans do have the power to prevent, but only if we can join together in the effort.

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