Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 26, 2020

Hopkins must make campus sustainability a priority

By NANCY WANG | September 7, 2017


COURTESY OF TWITTER The Office of Sustainability is currently leading the charge to reduce waste production.

While I do want to talk about how we can improve environmental programming on campus, I don’t have any issues with the Office of Sustainability, the Homewood Recycling Office or anyone involved in organizing orientation events. These events help make a difference on campus. Having beef itself is also unsustainable because the resources used and methane released are some of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.

I am a strong proponent of the initiatives run by these organizations. For students and faculty wishing to reduce their carbon footprint, they work tirelessly to provide ample resources for doing so. But climate change is continuing to grow into a bigger and more serious issue every day, and the current sustainability programming is insufficient.

Many campus initiatives focus on how students can change their habits to live more sustainable lives. This is great, but the reality is that it’s hard to change our lifestyle habits. It’s easy to become frustrated with the limitations of Meatless Monday, especially if you’re used to eating meat as part of your diet.

And while we’re fortunate to have recycling and composting bins all over campus, a waste audit conducted last semester on trash bins near Hopkins buildings estimated that 67 percent of our total waste stream could be diverted towards these alternative streams of organics recycling. That means approximately two out of every three items you throw in the trash can be recycled or composted.

Simply increasing informational resources isn’t necessarily the solution to modifying human behavior either. From stickers created by the Homewood Recycling Office on the merits and how-tos of composting, to facts and figures that dot the restrooms and trash chutes, we’re surrounded by reminders of how to live sustainably. However, I don’t see that posters and stickers alone make a substantial impact on our daily choices. They definitely do not reduce the effects of rising temperatures and carbon dioxide emissions.

I’m not proposing we trash our current system for tackling environmental impact. But I suggest we recycle it into one that involves more direct intervention and better caters towards student schedules. As Hopkins graduate Tommy Koh pointed out in his article “The campus programming model needs improvement,” many students don’t have time set aside for student life programming, factoring into poor attendance records at these events.

Most likely, unless we’re extremely motivated to adopt a more environmentally friendly lifestyle, there’s little chance we attend any of these events. Orientation, however, presents an opportunity to increase focus on environmental programming and actually have an impact.

A study published last March in the Journal of Environmental Psychology reports that the opportunity for changing behavior is most effective the first three months after relocating, and orientation is already designed to help incoming undergraduates acclimate to college life, so why not integrate sustainable life practices into the program?

Besides the fact that students have the most amount of time to spend on exploring campus resources during orientation, hosting interactive workshops and training sessions to answer questions about on-campus environmental initiatives are quick ways to clear up misconceptions and educate students early on in their college career.

Given the accelerating effects of climate change, making sustainable choices should play just as much a role in our lives as academics, athletics and financial assets, and therefore should make up a comparable portion of the four day orientation. I commend the addition of HOP 101 Sustainability info sessions to the program this year and encourage organizers to continue and expand these events for future years.

However, incoming undergraduates only make up 25 percent of the student body, and how we reach out to the other 75 percent must also be reconsidered. Rather than placing full responsibility on students to seek out sustainability events and resources, the Office of Sustainability and related organizations may find more participants through incorporating events into already present aspects of a student’s daily life. One specific example that comes to mind is the weighing and tallying of students’ food waste (which typically would’ve been disposed of by dining staff) by volunteers in the FFC last April.

This disruption in my typical routine, though small, made me more conscious of the food on my plate, and I appreciated seeing quantitative measurements of the amount of food waste either composted or trucked to the landfill. Though this event may have been associated with Earth Week, having these events regularly instead of strictly one week near the end of school also holds promise for changing student habits.

It’s true that the concept of sustainability has a strong presence at Hopkins — President Daniels himself signed commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 51 percent by 2025. However, we have much more potential in terms of student contribution to these goals. While I’m optimistic that a revamping of current environmental programming will move us in the right direction, it’s ultimately our responsibility as humans to do our part in improving our lifestyle choices to preserve this planet we call home.

Nancy Wang is a sophomore economics and computer science double major from Westford, Mass.

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