By: MATT WATKINS
Environmental sustainability is defined as the actions and processes that seek to elongate the natural resources of the earth, and minimize human impact on our environment. Although policy makers, environmentalists and laypeople alike have all attempted to contrive a solution that meets the demands of the triple bottom line that encompasses people, prosperity and the planet, they have failed in reaching solutions that are feasible, considering all matters at hand.
However, common knowledge and wisdom suggests that the most sensible way to bring about a more sustainable future is creating a system wherein actions and processes that emit harmful agents to our environment are reduced and replaced with more environmentally conscious actions and processes.
To do this, it is imperative that we use a “bottom-up” grassroots approach that aims to influence the actions and beliefs of individuals on the micro level with the hopes that their collective change in behavior will disseminate among the masses. Therefore, the most essential change is not one of physical substance or policy, but is instead rooted in changing the ideology and philosophy of individuals so that they may implement a systems based approach to thinking, and take into consideration the fact that their actions will affect not only themselves, but individuals across the globe for generations to come.
We must start at the community level, as each community has its own specific set of needs based around its primary way of life in order to initiate meaningful change. In regards to our community, specifically IU South Bend, there are many actions and behaviors that are occurring that are harmful to our environment today, and will continue to harm our environment in the future. Students, faculty and administrators must all become aware of the issues at hand, and implement a systems based approach.
IUSB prides itself in its mission and vision statement, which include the importance of civic engagement. Through civic engagement, systems based thinking, and education we will be able to create a more sustainable campus.
There are several actions and behaviors that are taking place on IU South Bend’s campus that are not environmentally or economically sustainable, and can be solved through the use of systems based thinking. The first issue that comes to mind is that The Grill, IU South Bend’s cafeteria, uses an excessive amount of disposable utensils. Not only do disposable utensils fill up landfills, but they also help spur the production of plastic utensils by establishing a demand in the market, while presenting itself as a fixed cost for IU South Bend’s food service department that can be lowered.
In order to reduce IU South Bend’s contribution to local and regional landfills and decrease the market’s demand for plastic utensils, the university should purchase biodegradable utensils that decompose instead of filling up landfills, while shifting business to a more environmentally conscious utensil manufacturing organization. Another possible solution to remedy the waste produced by plastic utensils would be for the IU South Bend food service department to purchase utensils that can be washed. If the university purchased utensils that can be washed, they would not be contributing to landfills at all with unnecessary utensils.
Another action exhibited by IU South Bend that is not sustainable is that lighting around the university is always kept on to some degree, even when nobody is around. In order to combat this, the university could purchase motion sensor lights or lights powered by solar panels, or better yet, motion sensor lights powered by solar panels. Although this would come with a hefty upfront price, it would greatly reduce the university’s electric bill over a set period of time and reduce the university’s output of light pollution.
However, the biggest sustainability issue facing IU-South Bend is that more than 7,000 students commute to campus, at least one time during the week. Assuming that the majority of individuals ride alone to school, and that the majority of the individuals who ride to school drive vehicles powered by toxic fossil fuels, the imprint of IU South Bend on the environment is profound.
At the same time, the biggest complaint of students at IU South Bend is the lack of parking. IU South Bend’s carbon emission rate and student’s unhappiness with the current state of parking could be remedied by incentivizing carpooling to the university. In order to incentive carpooling the university should offer a carpool parking contract that is split between at least two students, up to however many students a given car can fit.
The aforementioned carpool contract should offer carpool parking passes at a reduced price that is able to be split between students. This reduction in price would convince students to ride with their fellow classmates, therefore reducing the negative environmental impact, and the amount of cars in the parking lot which would therefore increase student happiness.
To get these things done, it is crucial to actively engage the campus in the efforts. In order to do this, students and faculty on campus should push for expansion of the Sustainability Studies program, and the implementation of sustainability as a general education requirement, so that all students on campus may be aware of the issues, so that they can objectively look at them and move to make change. If you are interested in learning more about sustainability or actively participating in sustainable efforts on campus in the community, please consider enrolling in sustainability course for the upcoming semester, and check out IU-South Bend’s very own Center for a Sustainable Future at https://www.iusb.edu/csfuture.
This guest column has been edited to fit layout constraints and publication standards.