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Making progress but still a ways go for campus sustainability

By The Brandeis Hoot

Section: Editorials

September 29, 2017

While Brandeis is taking some steps to become greener, there is still a long way to go.

At the most recent State of Sustainability, campus leaders made clear that even though Brandeis is doing more to reduce its environmental impact, it is still lagging behind in sustainability. Speakers argued that, at a university so strongly oriented around social justice, Brandeis students and administrators alike should be more conscious of their environmental footprints. We support this message and want to encourage Brandeis to take further steps to be a greener campus.

For instance, new solar panels will soon be installed on the top of several buildings, including the SCC. This is a step in the right direction that will have positive impact on our energy usage. Solar energy, however, requires a large amount of space, but is only 15 percent efficient and could only account for one or two percent of Brandeis’ electricity needs, according to the 2016 Climate Action Plan. We are excited about the new solar panels, but we agree with the Sustainability Committee that Brandeis should explore additional projects. In the effort of improving sustainability, we can’t only focus on the visible aspects of an environmentally friendly campus, like solar panels, which may give the impression that the campus is greener than it really is. Instead, we should make institutional changes to reduce the amount of energy we use in the first place.

Members of the Sustainability Committee said they had called for Brandeis to start turning off lights that remain on in academic buildings all throughout the day and night. Walking through campus at night, it is not uncommon to see one empty building after another with brightly lit windows.

Speakers also said use of plastic bottles on campus remains high, and the university could decrease plastic waste by more strongly advocating the use of reusable water bottles, banning the sale of bottled water or giving students, faculty and staff members a reusable bottle they can use. Modifying the sprinkler system, which often runs even when it is raining, would also reduce energy consumption.

Putting solar panels on the roofs of buildings is a great step—but one that will not impact the daily lives of Brandeis students. Being sustainable isn’t always easy, so while the university likes to maintain its grounds by watering the grass nightly, and buying a plastic water bottle is easy when you need a quick drink, Brandeis shouldn’t be afraid to take steps that will challenge this community to contribute directly to sustainability efforts on campus.

A commitment to social justice goes hand in hand with environmental justice especially as environmental issues like climate change disproportionately affect people of color and low-income communities. The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, is a prime example: In Flint, where over 62 percent of residents are people of color and low-income families, they are already facing the health consequences of their contaminated water supply.

America’s environmental impact is felt much more strongly in poorer nations who face the consequences of our unsustainable energy consumption and carbon footprint. While it is great that old furniture from the Castle was donated to Honduran communities, we should also be thinking about how our actions affect countries like Honduras. Higher global temperatures increase the risk of certain diseases and the threat of hurricanes, which devastate poorer nations much more than they would the US.

Brandeis is working hard to address sustainability issues, and we appreciate the work of people like Mary Fischer and the Sustainability Committee who are eager to address the environmental impact on campus, and the university should prioritize their ideas.

The university needs to take a much more critical approach to its sustainability efforts and policies. Changes need to be made on an institutional level, to address issues like water and energy use, but also be integrated further into student life, perhaps starting with programming during new student orientation. As the university continues to grow, it is only more important to address the rampant misuse of resources and focus on aligning the university’s social justice mission with a greater responsibility for its environmental impact.

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