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Univ. and students must do more to make campus more sustainable

By Sabrina Pond

Section: Opinions

February 5, 2016

From the first moment I stepped on Brandeis’ campus, I had the feeling that it was the place I wanted to study; the part that sold me the most, however, was the heart shaped pond wedged between the three chapels, each of which will never cast a shadow on the other. Brandeis seemed to be a university deeply concerned with the pursuit of social justice—even the slogan, “truth, even unto its innermost parts,” further supported that claim. It wasn’t until later that I realized that this was, in many cases, more of a feel good mantra than a reality.

Although I understand that this campus is home to many students who feel very strongly about various issues, I also think that as a human being every person on campus should be, to some extent, concerned with environmental issues. If that’s too much to ask, I would hope that they’d at the very least take small steps to live more sustainably, which would include doing things like recycling and turning off the light. As it turns out, I’m wrong on both accounts.

No matter what time of day I go into the bathroom in East, the lights are always left on, regardless of whether or not there are people in there. I’ve seen so many residence hall rooms where chargers are left plugged in while they aren’t in use. On top of that, students are prone to leave the heat on when they aren’t in the room, and no one seems to know how to properly recycle on campus even though it’s a zero-sort process. If that wasn’t enough, the amount of food waste on campus is beyond disgusting. Sodexo just started a composting program this past week and have already accumulated over 1,500 pounds per dining hall of food scraps that people needlessly threw away.

Let’s take a step back for a moment. Although these complaints may seem harsh, they actually aren’t. In light of the stats, Brandeis is significantly behind when compared to other universities. For one, according to Mary Fischer, the sustainability manager on campus, Brandeis committed to reducing its carbon footprint by 15 percent by 2015 over 2008 levels, but our footprint has actually increased since then. This one percent increase in carbon dioxide emissions would have been even more severe if the electric grid’s carbon intensity had not decreased. In the case that the electrical grid had continued to function with the same level of carbon intensity, Brandeis would have seen an eight percent increase in carbon dioxide emissions in the year 2015.

If these statistics weren’t already discouraging enough, Brandeis uses approximately 25 percent more energy per square foot than our peer institutions, even those in the same climate zone with similar building types, sizes and age. Between 2008 and 2015 Brandeis used an average of 45,000,000 kWH of electricity per year and spends approximately 6.3 million dollars just to meet the campus’ electrical needs. How is it that Brandeis, a school that has such a reputation for advocacy and justice for all, appears to care so little about the environment? Why is it that the student body lacks any and all interest in individual change to benefit the environment?

The only way that I can unpack this overarching theme is that Brandeis students feel that because of the high price of tuition, they need to do everything in their power to get their money’s worth. This can be viewed as their way of spiting the university for asking so much to get a college tuition, which, at around $60,000, is an astronomical expense. Even so, that doesn’t disregard the plain and simple fact that constantly leaving dorm room light switches on and taking 30-minute long showers is recklessly wasteful.

Something that students should keep in mind, though this extends to Brandeis staff and faculty as well, is that small efforts go a long way. Taking action into one’s own hands is the greatest liberty that we, as Americans and Brandeisians, have the privilege to choose. Unfortunately for many others, and the majority of the globe in fact, this choice doesn’t exist.

Aside from the guilt trip I just pulled, the bottom line still rings true: It isn’t that difficult to put in just a little more effort to conserve. Though many people are unaware of this fact, leaving electronic devices plugged in uses electricity, so leaving both phone and laptop chargers plugged into the outlet uses electricity regardless of whether or not a device is connected to the charger. That means that those people who never unplug their chargers are continuously using, and wasting, energy.

According to Mary Fischer, the most powerful way to make an impact is as simple as turning off appliances when they’re no longer needed—it may not seem like it would make a huge difference, but the extra effort to turn off the switch in the common room when no one’s there is actually the quickest and easiest way that Brandeis can lower its carbon footprint. To add to that, Brandeis students’ recycling habits can most certainly improve; Brandeis has a 20 percent recycling rate at the present moment, which is especially troublesome considering how easy it is to recycle. Since Brandeis functions under a policy that allows people to place all recyclable materials in one bin, sorting isn’t an issue.

Brandeis students can definitely do more to lead more sustainable lifestyles, and as the last generation that can do something about climate change, it’s more important now than ever to try to make even a small difference.

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