A change in greenery

The University must do more to fund and encourage student efforts at promoting sustainability.

By Maroon Editorial Board

Whether it’s “being” green, “thinking” green, or “going” green, the global environmental movement has become a constant presence in our lives. This presence will be amplified this week as the U of C celebrates Earth Week. The week will showcase a wide array of events culminating with Friday’s EarthFest, featuring local and organic foods, multiple raffles, and herb planting. However, despite this green blossoming on campus, the University continues to leave students interested in sustainable initiatives that are short of both greenbacks and support.

A look at the Resources section of the University’s Sustainability Web site is hardly encouraging. Links to the CAPS and Chicago Studies sites turn up a list of campus sustainability resources that are by and large only loosely related to environmentalism. A student looking for funding or support for a sustainable initiative would have virtually no recourse on campus. The University would do well to redress this imbalance in the manner of its peer institutions. Yale, for example, boasts a sustainability microloan fund that offers applicants a loan of up to $25,000, as well as constructive feedback from the adjudicating panel for all promising ideas. Providing institutional funding and guidance would go a long way toward demonstrating that the University is serious in its intent to create a more sustainable community.

As long as such options are not available, however, there are some unique and intriguing opportunities on campus worthy of students’ notice and effort. The Environment, Agriculture, and Food Working Group, headed by U of C economics lecturer Sabina Shaikh and largely sustained by U of C students, is one such opportunity: Students of diverse interests contribute to this scholarly working group to answer questions that span multiple environmental concerns. Moreover, a number of student organizations are already engaged in sustainable efforts in the community. Students at the University Community Service Center put hundreds of hours into green-related service. Various RSOs engage in garden-building and water bottle-collecting projects, and a recent winner of the CCI Innovation and Entrepreneur contest—Entom Foods—aims to mass-produce insect eatables to cut the environmental cost of meat consumption. It’s fair to say, however, that such initiatives are generally the work of a select few already involved in environmental advocacy.

Along the lines of remedying this, another option is for students to take classes that deal with environmental issues. The Sustainability Office, now only four years old, lists over 100 courses in the U of C catalog that cover such material, and many lie outside of the Environmental Studies department. Taking a class would provide a foundation for students to make educated initial forays into environmental engagement.

These suggestions aren’t given because we need the green movement; in many ways, it needs us. Many U of C students are uniquely capable of contributing through academic research and social activism. Ilsa Flanagan, director of the U of C’s Office of Sustainability, notes, “It’s clear that our students have deep interests in sustainability, and this is a powerful way for them to engage in the issue while enriching their education.” So, whether or not it happens during Earth Week, the University should find a way to foster these interests and empower Maroons to be as green as they can.

The Editorial Board consists of the Editors-in-Chief and the Viewpoints Editors.