Sustainability Week at StFX left me with an unsettling question: does our university care about lowering our ecological footprint, or was this solely a publicity stunt with the aims of cutting costs?
On the StFX website, the sustainability page describes the positive decrease of emissions over the past 8 years (a 21.8% decrease). This is a fantastic beginning to the green message, with suggestion that the university aims to increase awareness in order to connect with the community and students to strive together towards a greener campus.
Much of what the website outlined was entirely positive until one note struck me as a step away from the true reason why we need to eliminate emissions: “StFX has made a significant investment in the Energy Reduction Action Program (ERAP), which is expected to reduce the amount of energy used across campus – and reduce our energy bill in the process.”
What is striking is through the campaign there is little to articulate the global need for every citizen to fight climate change, instead the focus is on saving the university money and focusing on what a greener campus means in the eyes of the media, in order to appeal to incoming students.
Part of sustainability week at StFX included lighting Morrison Hall in a shade of green. This act, which seemed more in part with St. Patrick’s Day than any green initiative, is completely counter-intuitive. What part of using energy to light some buildings on campus in green is environmentally friendly?
Even if the bulbs are LED, it still seems like a negative impact on the environment because of the resources used to create, install, and light the green bulbs. In the advertisement for the green display on social media, there was no attempt to answer this question. It seems StFX took a step backwards on this front, with no attempt to try and explain how exactly making a building green would help decrease our emissions.
Wouldn’t it have been more effective to instead blackout Morrison hall for the night? I understand that having a dark campus is unsafe, but using the cost of the green bulbs, the hours it took someone to install them, and the energy to use them, StFX could have used this money to pay for extra security around Morrison hall on the night where all internal lights are shut off.
The lighting of Morrison Hall is reminiscent of the plethora of posters posted around StFX suggesting that we need to be a more sustainable campus because “it’s expensive not to be.” This argument is baffling: why would students care how much the university is spending on items like paper towel or electricity?
We spend so much money at this institution, so we don’t find it a compelling argument to say that if everyone on campus lowered their screen brightness to 50%, StFX would save $7,000 annually. The only way this would be a compelling statement to make is if it was attached to a statement on how this money would then be re-routed into energy efficient initiatives around campus.
Not all aspects of StFX’s sustainability week were bad. One that was a really positive idea was the free hot chocolate to those who brought reusable mugs to campus. This is stellar because it encourages people to remember their reusable mugs for the day, and rewards this green behaviour with free hot chocolate. Another positive event was the food canning workshop. This is a fantastic way to teach people how to store and use their own skills to eat accessible, sustainable foods.
Ultimately, the initiatives to make StFX a greener campus seemed to miss the mark. To support the idea behind the initiative, I would like to point out the environmentally significant contributions that Enactus StFX has made with X-Denn and the Community Garden. Spoon StFX provided a free dinner event using mason jars (even though the event was cancelled due to a snowstorm) and ongoing journalism regarding food sustainability. Meanwhile, the StFX Environmental Society continuously works to make StFX a greener campus all year round.
Having a sustainability week at StFX is positive and promising, as we can begin to have conversations about our environmental impact. This purpose of this article is not to negatively shut down green initiatives, but instead remind us that we should all be realistic when confronted with situations that may appear green (like Morrison Hall), as opposed to what is actually going to better our world.
It is important to ask these challenging questions about our impact and to push our university to do better by pointing out that we are listening and require systematic ways to be greener from those who hold positions of power within StFX.