Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Transportation by Human Power

I talk about walking a lot, so I thought I would write a little manifesto/blog post about the benefits of walking--what I call transportation by human power. Buses and cars get power from fossil fuels--I get power from my own two legs (and food, of course).

I thought about writing this when reflecting on how one of my housemates has been ordering from Safeway--not just now since the Safeway is closed--but always; I don't think he has ever walked there. To me, the walk to Safeway is ridiculously short.

I encourage you, whoever is reading this (hopefully more than just Kristin!), to think twice before hopping into a car or a bus when you're in DC. I started walking the city last summer, and I think it has been a very valuable experience.

For all too many of us at Georgetown, DC ends at M & Wisconsin, but it doesn't have to be that way.

Last summer, I started walking, ironically, because of the heat. The idea of walking to Yates in the heat and humidity just to work out and then walk back didn't seem like a great idea, so I thought that, instead, I would just walk to any interviews I had downtown and throughout the city. It is truly amazing how much more you learn about the city from just taking a few steps outside of Georgetown. I think one of the best examples of this is the walk to Columbia Heights. In just 3 miles, you pass by a variety of vibrant and very different neighborhoods: Georgetown, Dupont Circle, Adams Morgan, Mt. Pleasant, Columbia Heights. By the end, you feel as though you are in a different world almost.

I am not going to say that everyone should walk 3 miles (although, in my mind, up to 4 is fully walkable); however, what I recommend is thinking twice before hopping a bus, a car, or a metro rail to go somewhere only about a mile or so away.

Walking has the following unparalleled freedoms:
1) Freedom from fossil fuels and emissions: It is the most eco-friendly form of transportation because all it requires is yourself.

2) Freedom from expense: It's free!

3) Freedom from lack of exercise: This is awkwardly phrased, but walking can be good exercise if you make it! It also has numerous other health benefits.

So, the next time you are bored and it's nice weather, start walking--you'll find something new.

Photo link:

Ethical Eating in DC: True Food and Drink

After recovering from watching Food, Inc., I was invited to lunch at Founding Farmers, a restaurant in GW territory, located at 1924 Pennsylvania Avenue.

It is a Green Certified Restaurant, certified LEED Gold, and serves food from local farms - and grass-fed beef. It's probably a bit pricey for the college student, but their food is amazing. Don't let the farming theme throw you off - they have a pretty extensive menu. To start off, our table shared deviled eggs and fried green tomatoes. I had crab cakes with mashed potatoes and garlic bok choy, and a delicious cranberry-cucumber drink (not lying!). We finished our meal with red velvet cake - which was amazing. They have a lot of other food, as well. My friend had oysters, while my co-worker had a hamburger. Not that I would know, but apparently they also have amazing absinthe mixed drinks...

If you have the chance, I definitely recommend that you visit - and bring your appetite.

Trayless Leo's - We're not the only ones!

Remember when everyone freaked out when Trayless Tuesday turned into Trayless Everyday? We're not the only school. On the front page of today's New York Times, there's an article titled "Without Cafeteria Trays, Colleges Cut Water Use and Calories."

Interesting read. We join 125 of the 300 universities with the highest endowment who have gone trayless. Also interesting, trays encourage people to both consume and waste less.

National Geographic & Environmental Media: Earth Day

Last Wednesday, April 22, was Earth Day, the most widely celebrated secular holiday. (You probably didn't know that, right? I only found that out recently; however, if you think about it, all other secular holidays seem to be nation-specific. We all know that England doesn't celebrate July 4th.)

Well, anyways, for Earth Day, we co-sponsored an event with Lecture Fund, the CFE, the SVP's Office, and the Corp with John Fahey, the CEO of National Geographic. LF and EcoAction had been planning a collaboration for a long time, and this was the perfect opportunity.

First of all, I have to say that I was very pleased that the SVP's Office was actually able to get President DeGioia to attend and give the introductory speech. DeGioia was in seventh grade when the first Earth Day occurred and was an Earth Day leader for his class. I was also very happy to hear DeGioia cite Recyclemania stats and tell us we could do better because WE CAN!

Now, back to the lecture itself..

I'll summarize a few of the most interesting points of the lecture "2009: A New Beginning."

1) CONSUMERISM: Fahey mentioned an anecdote he often uses to talk about this issue. Do you have an electric drill in your house? Most Americans do; however, unless you are a mechanic or a fantastic handy man, you won't be using it for more than a few minutes during your life. Such a good is something that could be shared among people--there is no reason for each person to buy one. We need to think before we buy and make wise choices.

2) PEOPLE & THE ENVIRONMENT: Fahey mentioned the story of this one outdoorsman (I forget his name. If you went and remember it, please post!) who traversed across Africa to experience all the landscapes himself. When you think about corporate exploitation of the environment, you often think of the destruction done to people and the environment, but the pgymies in one village were actually happy to give their land over because it gave them money for luxuries, especially alcohol. This relationship between the Third World and the environment is one that will become increasingly important.

3) POPULATION: I believe the population prediction for 2050 was 9 million, or perhaps more. This is hard to even fathom. Most of the population growth will be occurring in the Third World (esp. Africa) whereas Europe's population will probably shrink. (Germany's and Italy's, if I am not mistaken, have already begun to at slow rates.)

4) MEDIA: National Geographic has launched and plans to launch many interactive options on their website to be able to enable people to gain a better understanding of the environment. Check it out here! They plan to take up different issues each year, and I believe Fahey said that water will be the first one to be addressed. Future wars, according to Fahey and many others, will be fought over access to food and fresh water.

Isn't it interesting to see how an organization for explorers turned into an environmental and educational powerhouse? In a way, it's a similar trajectory to the story of national parks, but that's for another day and another post.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Do you know where your food comes from? (Do you want to?)

Last Tuesday (on free-scoop day at Ben and Jerry's!), a few members of EcoAction trekked through the pouring rain to the National Geographic Society for an advance screening of Food, Inc. Sustainable eating is one of my main interests (mostly because I like eating), but this movie really examines where your food comes from and the implications of what you eat, as well as the effects.

Much like The Omnivore's Dilemma, this documentary focuses on where your food comes from. In this documentary, there are appearances by Michael Pollan (my personal favorite and author of The Omnivore's Dilemma), as well as other experts like Eric Schlosser (author of Fast Food Nation), Gary Hirshberg (founder of Stonyfield Farms), and Joel Salatin (owner of Polyface Farms, located not too far away from D.C., who was also a pivotal character in The Omnivore's Dilemma).

I think it's super interesting how important (and how overlooked) food is in our energy crisis - and how it's also a social, political, and economic issue.

As far as the environment goes, the major issue that this movie brings up is the cost (both in terms of dollar$ and carbon emissions) of transportation. We ship our food from all over the world because we, as human beings, have ceased to be seasonal eaters. We're used to eating, for example, bananas all year around.

But I found that this documentary also, interestingly, had a focus on politics. I found one woman in the documentary, Barbara Kowalcyk, to be particularly endearing. Her two-year old son had died from eating a hamburger contaminated with e.coli. It's the type of story most people would write off as merely tragic, but if you go back and question how the meat got contaminated with e.coli in the first place, it goes beyond tragic to appalling.

Basically, because we live in a country which has such a high demand for beef, we need to raise a lot of cows. We essentially trade quality for quantity, and end up raising cows in super-tight quarters. As a result, cows walk around and live in their own waste, and disease is rampant. But, as any biology student could probably tell you, e.coli sucks, but people can generally recover from.

Not quite. Because cows live in such tight quarters, and because cows are fed on corn-based meals*, they are given huge amounts of antibiotics. Again, as any biology student could tell you, the overuse of antibiotics leads to super bugs, such as super-dangerous strains of e.coli.

For more information about the Meat and Poultry Pathogen Reduction and Enforcement Act (a.k.a. Kevin's Law, H.R. 3160 in the 109th Congress), a law Barbara Kowalcyk is trying to pass for stricter food safety regulation, click

This was just one interesting aspect of Food, Inc. I highly recommend that you watch it... though the vast majority of the food was disturbing, but really important to see. After all, you are what you eat.

*Corn based meals for cows, because of government regulations, need to have certain amounts of protein and fat - often gotten from other cows, i.e. cannibalism. Also, cows are, by nature, grass eaters, which is why they have rumens. Because cows are fed corn rather than grass, the acidity in their stomachs increases and they are also put on multiple medications to prevent them from feeling sick. Just look up CAFO (Concentrated Animal Farm Operation) for more information.

GUSA and the PCC

Last Wednesday, Matt Buccelli and I were invited to the GUSA meeting to discuss a bill proposed by Senator Andrew Butler.

The bill was proposing GUSA support of the President's Climate Commitment, a pledge that university presidents make for their schools to go carbon-neutral. The school gets to decide their own time line for carbon neutrality according to their budget.

Though GUSA had it's own share of problems to deal with that night (i.e. the budget), we were really pleased to see this bill passed and hope that it will help with our campaign to have President DeGioia make a real commitment to sustainability.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Georgetown University's First Annual Clothing Swap

This Thursday, April 23rd, EcoAction and Fashion for Education (the planning committee, Sangam Soi, Ellie Galbut, myself [Kristin Ng], and Masha Punchak are pictured) hosted Georgetown University's First Annual Clothing Swap. In my best estimate, we had about 50 attendees. I know I left with a bunch of shirts and a really cute dress... There were tons of clothes and some really good steals! We were also able to donate the remaining clothes to charity.

How does a clothing swap have anything to do with sustainability? Think that sustainability isn't compatible with clothes and cupcakes? Want to see more pictures from the event?

Pictured is Jessie Robbins, holding up a very appropriate t-shirt. A clothing swap, which is an event where people bring in all their old clothes and then convene to, essentially, trade (though in this case, donation was not necessary to pick up clothes) incorporates three of the big R's: Reduce (instead of shopping... pick up some free clothes), Reuse (obvious), and Recycle (obvious again).

Sangam with cupcakes donated generously from Georgetown Cupcake.

Tons of clothes!

Happy swappers!

We collected all week outside of Hoya Snaxa and Vital Vittles as well as in Red Square. Thanks to everyone who came out/volunteered to make this event a great success!

GUSGI (Georgetown University Sustainable Garden Initiative)

We all know how Georgetown loves their acronyms... but now there's another one to add to the list. Our very own Mara helped start an organic garden on campus. Yes, right on campus! It's located right behind Kehoe and will soon be growing zucchini and other assorted vegetables. Right now, we've been composting food (i.e. coffee grinds) from the Corp to help make compost!

P.S. this picture is of our fearless leader and gardening guru, Ben Sacher. Interested in learning more? Email Maddie Howard for more information and to get on the listserv.

Green Square

Earlier this month, on April 3rd, Project Hilltop worked with a myriad of groups (including ResLife, Green Corp, the Lecture Fund, GUSGI, InterHall, Campus Ministry, Outdoor Education, and, naturally, EcoAction) to organize Green Square!

Unfortunately, it was moved to the Leavey Center due to rain, but overall a super successful event! One of the big hits was ResLife's collection of plastic bags (you know you save them, too) to trade in for a free, reusable tote. More pictures after the jump!

Alice from EcoAction, who was advertising for Earth Week

InterHall, who collected plastic bags to trade in for those green totes

Campus Ministry, who served doughnuts

Mara from GUSGI and Jon from EcoAction, goofing off

My dear friend Adam, from Green Corp, who was selling Corp totes

Georgetown in The Voice: What it Takes to Paint the Town Green (an article by Anna Cheimets)

Every morning at around nine o'clock, the recycling man sorts through the rows of large blue bins in the Henle courtyard. By the time he leaves, the bins are organized and the waste is ready to be carted away and recycled. Across the street, in the Leavey center, the bright gold trash bins are filling up with plastic bottles and metal cans. This recyclable waste will end up in a landfill.

Georgetown appears to be making strides towards making its campus and policies more sustainable, but which image is more representative of its efforts?

Sustainability has been a buzzword on campus for the last two or three years since the university began the process of "greening" its image. Nowadays, one would be hard-pressed to find a student or administrator who has not at least heard the term, but just a few years ago, this certainly was not the case. Awareness is spreading, not just among Georgetown students, but among the university and student leaders who are spearheading the green initiatives. A problem persists though: How does one compel a group of over-scheduled students with vastly different academic and social interests to start thinking, doing and being green? This is the question that the vanguard of the sustainability charge at Georgetown struggles with. Fortunately, by adapting and reaching out to a broader range of students and groups on campus, Georgetown's green leaders have been able to address this problem with much more success.

A Little Background

In 2007, Mike Durante (MSB '10), Jesse Scharff (COL '09) and Nels Vulin (COL '09) started Campus Climate Challenge (CCC) at Georgetown with the aim of making campus energy use and purchasing policies more sustainable. The group initially had trouble getting a foothold at Georgetown until Alex Johnston (SFS '08), then a senior, started a petition to have the university purchase renewable energy. The added cost would come from a slight increase in tuition. The group collected between 2,000 and 3,000 signatures, and succeeded in gaining the attention of the administration.

While the proposal never actually came to fruition, the students gained a valuable voice to effect change in the university's energy and environmental policies through the formation of the Sustainability Advisory Committee (SAC). A number of administrators, including Karen Frank, Vice President of Facilities and Housing, and Xavier Rivera, Director of Utilities and Energy Programs, sit on the committee along with student representatives from groups such as Eco-Action and Outdoor Education.

University Efforts

The main achievements of the SAC include substantial gains in recycling at Georgetown, LEED certification for the new McDonough School of Business building, Silver LEED certification for the planned science building, and installation of occupancy censors for the lights in buildings on campus.

Some of the most substantial gains have been in recycling. Over the course of two years, the university has increased its average recycling rate from about 12% in 2007 to about 37% in 2009.

In the same vein, Georgetown Dining Services is going green by going "trayless" in the Dining Hall to reduce water and energy usage. Since last year, Leo's has been composting left-over food to be turned into fertilizer for Georgetown's grounds. Additionally, according to Kendra Boyer, the marketing coordinator for Dining Services, solid waste from the Dining Hall goes to the Waste from Energy Plant to power nearby homes and business.

But student willingness to conserve plays a large role in the success of the university's initiatives. Last year, the SAC oversaw the installation of monitors in residence halls that displayed graphs of dorm energy usage. Subsequently, it launched a campus-wide competition between residence halls to use the least energy. Unfortunately, the competition never really caught on among students. Committee members cited the fact that a number of SAC members went abroad at the start of the competition, and also that there was a general lack of confidence and interest in the idea to begin with.

"The dorm competition fell by the wayside," said Durante, who was a member of the SAC last year and an active member of Eco-Action. "I don't think it got any kind of awareness or participation on campus. I don't know if people really had that excitement, at least not among students."

However, Durante said that even though he thinks that the monitors have not been "used to their full potential, it's useful that we are tracking our energy usage."

Student Involvement in Sustainability

There is general agreement among student and faculty sustainability leaders that awareness of green issues has increased among Georgetown students over the last several years. News about "going green," global climate change and environmentalism has pervaded the media, bringing the green image into the mainstream. In a sense, it is now fashionable to be green.

Russ Watts, director of Georgetown Outdoor Education, said that "more freshman know what you are talking about" when someone mentions sustainability.

Durante agreed. "People understand sustainability a lot more now than when we were freshman," he said. "There is definitely more awareness on campus."

Even so, Durante said he notices that this awareness does not always lead to action.
"People seem more apathetic than really interested," he said.

Professor Timothy Beach, who was previously the Director of Georgetown's Center for the Environment, and also Professor of Geography and Geosciences and Cinco Hermanos Chair in Environment and International Affairs, noted that with regard to getting students involved in sustainability initiatives on campus, "you are in competition at Georgetown with so many other things," he said. "Georgetown is not known for drawing environmentally active students."

He added that part of the reason for this is that there is "so much momentum from a history of a place and it is hard to overcome that momentum."

Figuring out what it takes to get Georgetown's general population to be more green is no easy task.

"I don't know what it would take for people to reduce their energy consumptions," said Durante.
Watts said that as a member of the SAC, he looks for student input to gauge the success of sustainability initiatives. "Students need to tell the committee how much things have worked," he said.

However, a number of green groups and organizations on campus are becoming much more effective at reaching out to groups and students who lack the green label.


Last summer, Eco-Action merged with CCC and is now taking on the sustainability policy focus that used to be primarily associated with CCC. Durante said that the change has been a success. He pointed to the well attended and highly publicized Power Shift conference, which took place at the end of February this year, as a good indicator of Eco-Action's impact on campus. About 50 Georgetown students attended the conference.

"I definitely think we have a strong group right now," said Durante. "We have a pretty clear goal, and a means of doing it through the SAC."

Jonathan Cohn (COL '10), the president of Eco-Action, said that the university, specifically the Office of the Senior Vice-President, has been interested in and receptive to Eco-Action's initiatives. The office co-sponsored the speech by John Fahey, CEO of National Geographic, on April 22, as part of Earth Week.

"Even if the projects don't get the financial allotment we'd like to see, at least the ideas are fomenting in their minds, which is important as well," said Cohn.

Cohn said that Eco-Action approached the planning of Georgetown's Earth Week 2009 in a more effective way than last year.

Eco-Action collaborated with the European Club, Coca-Cola, The Corp, the Georgetown Dems and other social justice organizations to reach out to a broader swath of the student population.

Project Hilltop

Cohn acknowledged that because "everyone at Georgetown is busy" a good way to get students involved in greening the campus is to encourage students to incorporate sustainable practices into their daily lives.

Project Hilltop, which is funded by Residence Life, has been focusing on this goal for the last two years. Jess Belue Buckley, the McCarthy Hall Director, is the advisor to the group, which includes an RA from each residence hall along with two representatives from Interhall.

The committee primarily focuses its efforts on education. As part of its "A Little Something Green" campaign, each month Project Hilltop comes up with a new small way for students to contribute to sustainability in their residence halls. The group posted stickers, labels and magnets in both private and common spaces to encourage students to turn off the lights, conserve water and recycle. As a result, "People actually turn off the light when they pass rooms when no one is there," she said.

Buckley said that the next project is to make recycling easier by supplying each apartment with its own blue bin.

She said that if people see others committed to sustainability, they will be more likely to get on board themselves.

The Corp: A Model for Visibility

As one of the most visible student group on campus, The Corp is in a unique position with respect to the campus green movement. Unlike the other green groups, The Corp has the resources of a multi-million dollar corporation. It also employs a large, organized group of students who are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of going green.
Adam Alfie (MSB '11), the head of The Corp Green Team, said that the green movement is "critically important to our campus and our generation."

"There were three people coming to Corp Green Meetings when I started in Corp Green last year, and already this semester our meeting attendance is consistently five times that," he said.
As a result, The Corp has taken a number of steps to green its business. They offer biodegradable plastic bags and environmentally conscious coffee. They also use eco-friendly appliances in their stores and give discounts to students who reuse their cups.

Even though eco-friendly products and services are more expensive to purchase, The Corp believes it is a part of its "students serving students" mentality to offer them. By advertising its use of green items, The Corp hopes to establish itself as a role model for students and other organizations.

In addition, The Corp is very effective at getting the word out on its green initiatives.
For example, when The Corp switched from fair-trade coffee to rainforest-certified coffee, the marketing department initiated a marketing blitz that included signs and decorations in every Corp store, heavy flyering and a free sampling of coffee on the lawn.
"The Corp just gets stuff done," said Alfie.

Energy and Environment Research

Faculty research in energy and the environment also serves as an indicator of Georgetown's commitment to sustainability. Professor Ed Van Keuren, Associate Professor and Chair of the Physics Department, said that while there are a number of professors in the sciences doing research in these areas, there is no centralized organization for them. However, he indicated that there is talk about creating such an organization in the near future.

Van Keuren, along with Russ Ross, a fifth year graduate student working in his lab, are researching materials that will make solar cells more efficient. So far, Van Keuren and his lab have been able to achieve energy efficiencies that are 25% to 30% better than the those of normal solar cells. In February, they published a paper on their research in Nature Materials, a well-respected science journal.

On the environmental side of things, Professor Edd Barrows, a Professor in the Biology Department and Director of the Georgetown Center for the Environment, studies biodiversity and conservation with a focus on plants and insects. One of his research projects is studying rare plants in the Potomac River Gorge, a "biodiversity hot spot" that runs from the Chain Bridge to Great Falls. He also conducts research at the Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve, working to add to the large database of biodiversity in the area.

Both Van Keuren and Beach said that the university encourages research in areas related to sustainability, but Van Keuren added that there are not always the resources to do everything. He said he is hopeful that this will change once the new science center opens.

Looking to the Future

Watts said that compared to four years ago, the university is doing "1000%" better at being green.

However, there is always more to be done to increase sustainability on campus. So far, the university and the student body have made large strides, considering that the concerted green effort began only a few years ago.

Visibility and image appear to play almost as much of a role in becoming more sustainable as the actual initiatives themselves.

On the one hand, a university's green profile is becoming a more important factor in prospective students' decision making processes.

On the other hand, a university is tasked with making its sustainability efforts known to its own student body so that they will join the effort.

"The university needs to be more active in presenting to students what it is doing and that it actually cares about sustainability," said Cohn. "It is easy to ignore something that is completely abstracted if there is not physical or numerical representation of it in your daily life."

Cheimets is News Editor and a Physics junior. Jenna Kelly, Editor in Chief and a Government junior, contributed reporting.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Wizards Go Green Night!

On April 2nd, the Washington Wizards and the Verizon Center hosted their "Go Green" night. Students had the opportunity to purchase tickets for $10 and to watch the Wizards play the Cleveland Cavaliers. Throughout the night, the JumboTron flashed facts about sustainability and the Verizon Center gave away tote bags (though not to me...)

Overall, a really fun night! $10 dollars to see an NBA game? Not a bad deal at all.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Going Green a Collaborative Effort on Campus

Mother Nature may have showered Red Square with raindrops in early April, but that didn’t stop members of the Georgetown community from featuring their efforts to preserve the environment during this month’s Green Day.

The April 3 event, sponsored by Project Hilltop, moved inside the Leavey Center and kicked off the days leading up to Earth Day, April 22, by bringing together people from student groups such as EcoAction, Georgetown Sustainable Garden, the Corp, the Lecture Fund, InterHall, Project Hilltop and Residence Life and faculty and staff from Campus Ministry, University Facilities, Yates Field House, the campus bookstore, the biology department and the Center for the Environment. Off-campus businesses and groups such as the Catholic Coalition for Climate Change, Solitude and Honest Tea Company also got involved.

“The idea is to bring them all together so we can see the kind of impact we can have on an individual and institutional level,” said event organizer Jess Buckley, residence hall director for McCarthy Hall and Project Hilltop member.

The Office of Residence Life created Project Hilltop during the 2005-2006 academic year in response to a spate of campus vandalism. The group comprised of resident assistants, hall directors and students has since expanded its focus to promote awareness of and care for the Hilltop community.

Campus dining’s O’Donovan Hall used the event to showcase its sustainable efforts, which include composting its organic waste to fertilize Georgetown grounds. In addition to keeping the campus lush and green, the hall uses the inorganic waste to provide energy to 200,000 homes in Virginia.

Though the composting began near the end of the fall semester, the auxiliary services senior vice president, Margie Bryant, said the program has already become a valuable addition.

“We’re excited about the success of the composting program this early in the process,” said Bryant. “Once we better understand the process and how to streamline it, we’d like to open the program up to collect organic and inorganic waste from the campus’ Jesuit community and other parts of campus dining.”

Jonathan Cohn (C’10), co-president of EcoAction, calls the effort “very responsible and cooperative.” Cohn said collaboration within the university community is key for enhancing sustainability on campus.

“I think that there has been a lot of progress over the years in terms of collaboration between students, faculty and staff,” said Cohn, whose group set up a table at Green Day. “I have always seen the issue of campus sustainability as connected to school pride. … As a university committed to the ideals of service, the ethic of working for the sake of the planet, and not for ourselves alone, lies behind such (sustainable) initiatives and seems to be fully in line with the Georgetown ethos.”

A representative from Yates Field House who participated in Green Day offered information about its bike and shower program. For those looking to reduce carbon emissions released by driving, the program allows people to bike to work and take showers in the facility for a minimal fee.

“This started about six years ago with one faculty member,” said Judith Harvey, director of membership at Yates. “We have more people using it now, and they can choose from three different packages -- just use of the shower, one with towel service and one with towel and locker service.”

In addition to the efforts being made by university offices and departments, students also had their share of projects to display. The GU Sustainable Garden project, led primarily by three students -- Madeline Howard (C’12), Ben Sacher (MSB’12) and Mara Schechter (C’11) -- looks to focus on waste composting and sustainable food consumption in urban gardening.

Through a grant from Georgetown Reimagine -- a partnership between the Corp, The Hoya and the Georgetown University Alumni and Student Federal Credit Union, the students acquired approval for a plot of land behind Yates to begin the garden.

“We’ve already started (gardening),” Howard said. “We’ve put in a couple of blackberry bushes and some flower seeds but won’t be able to really begin planting the vegetable part of the garden until our raised beds arrive.”

The students hope to begin planting before their April 25 picnic marking the sowing of the garden. They hope to extend the project to the D.C. community.

“(For) kids our age and younger, we think, it’s high time that gardening became something that brings communities together,” Howard added.

She said growing things builds character and offers the bonus of a reliable food source.

“Students are leading (many) initiatives here,” Buckley said. “One thing I found was that so much is going on in little pockets … We just tried to bring them together to see the great impact we can have.”

Georgetown Sees Gains in Recycling Competition

After a 10-week RecycleMania competition among more than 200 colleges and universities, Georgetown ranks among the top institutions finding ways to reduce solid waste on campus.

RecycleMania pits colleges and universities against each other for a friendly recycling contest. This year, the contest went global with U.S. institutions competing alongside colleges in Canada and India. Schools combined to recycle materials totaling 69.4 million pounds during the competition.

In waste minimization efforts, Georgetown ranked 22 out of 148 schools. The category is judged by which schools produce the least amount of municipal solid waste, including trash and recyclables. The university ranked No. 48 of 206 schools in the grand champion category, which measures overall recycling. Georgetown had an average recycling rate of about 37 percent, improving on a rate just under 26 percent in 2008.

University environmental leaders are pleased with Georgetown's RecycleMania showing, and say the Hilltop’s green efforts will continue to evolve.

"We have performed better this year in every category," says Karen Frank, vice president for facilities and student housing. "Most notable is that, in the last week of this year's competition, we recycled over 52 percent of our total waste. … Now we must focus on ways to achieve these numbers when we are not in a competition."

Reducing Georgetown's overall solid waste is a top goal of EcoAction, a student-run environmental education group, says member Jonathan Cohn (C'10). He wants those efforts to start with the ubiquitous disposable water bottles people carry.

"Without a doubt, I want to see a reduction in the consumption of bottled water. During my experience at GU, I have felt as though many believe that bottled water is better than tap water and that the offering of bottled water to someone conveys something specific," he says. "However, the consumption of bottled water produces a large amount of unnecessary waste."

There are easy alternatives, Cohn adds, including reusable bottles and filtered tap water.

Frank says her office shares Cohn's concern and notes that Georgetown had lower rankings in recycling cans and bottles, placing 117 out of 210 schools.

"This suggests that many recyclables are still being disposed of in regular trash," she says. "We have placed more recycling containers throughout Bunn ICC and are considering removing waste baskets from classrooms to encourage the use of the recycling containers in the corridors just outside the classrooms."

Georgetown's results during RecycleMania are:
• Ranked No. 22 of 148 in waste minimization
• Ranked 48 of 206 in overall recycling
• Ranked No. 88 of 293 in recycled gross tonnage of combined paper, cardboard and bottle and cans with 158,371 pounds recycled
• Ranked No. 146 of 204 in paper recycling
• Ranked No. 71 of 204 in cardboard recycling
• Ranked No. 117 of 206 in bottle and can recycling With RecycleMania over for another year, Frank's office continues to collaborate with student groups to promote and institute environmental initiatives. She knows there is more work to do, especially to achieve a university recycling goal of 40 percent of all solid waste. Part of Frank's strategy is broader input from the university community.

"We have a lot of support and excellent suggestions from active students," she notes. "Now, we need to bring more faculty and staff into our awareness planning."

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A little late... but President Obama comes to Georgetown - and talks about ENERGY

You probably weren't one of the three Georgetown students who actually won the lottery to see President Obama at Gaston Hall, but he had a lot to say about, among other things, the current energy crisis. Here are some of the highlights:

"The third pillar of this new foundation is to harness the renewable energy that can create millions of new jobs and new industries. We all know that the country that harnesses this energy will lead the 21st century. Yet we have allowed other countries to outpace us on this race to the future.

Well, I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders. It is time for America to lead again.

The investments we made in the Recovery Act will double this nation's supply of renewable energy in the next three years. And we are putting Americans to work making our homes and buildings more efficient so that we can save billions on our energy bills and grow our economy at the same time.

But the only way to truly spark this transformation is through a gradual, market-based cap on carbon pollution, so that clean energy is the profitable kind of energy. Some have argued that we shouldn't attempt such a transition until the economy recovers, and they are right that we have to take the costs of transition into account. But we can no longer delay putting a framework for a clean energy economy in place. If businesses and entrepreneurs know today that we are closing this carbon pollution loophole, they will start investing in clean energy now. And pretty soon, we'll see more companies constructing solar panels, and workers building wind turbines, and car companies manufacturing fuel-efficient cars. Investors will put some money into a new energy technology, and a small business will open to start selling it. That's how we can grow this economy, enhance our security, and protect our planet at the same time."

"We will continue to reaffirm this nation's commitment to a 21st century American auto industry that creates new jobs and builds the fuel-efficient cars and trucks that will carry us toward a clean energy future."

"Because of our recovery plan… clean energy companies and construction companies are re-hiring workers to build everything from energy efficient windows to new roads and highways."

"For even as too many were chasing ever-bigger bonuses and short-term profits over the last decade, we continued to neglect the long-term threats to our prosperity: the crushing burden that the rising cost of health care is placing on families and businesses; the failure of our education system to prepare our workers for a new age; the progress that other nations are making on clean energy industries and technologies while we remain addicted to foreign oil; the growing debt that we're passing on to our children. And even after we emerge from the current recession, these challenges will still represent major obstacles that stand in the way of our success in the 21st century."

"It's a foundation built upon five pillars that will grow our economy and make this new century another American century: new rules for Wall Street that will reward drive and innovation; new investments in education that will make our workforce more skilled and competitive; new investments in renewable energy and technology that will create new jobs and industries; new investments in health care that will cut costs for families and businesses; and new savings in our federal budget that will bring down the debt for future generations. That is the new foundation we must build. That must be our future – and my Administration's policies are designed to achieve that future."
So... what are your thoughts?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Progressive Coalition Forum

Last Tuesday, Matt Buccelli and I were invited on behalf of the College Democrats to participate in the Progressive Coalition Forum.

What was that? A friendly discussion with members of the College Dems, EcoAction, NAACP, H*yas for Choice, and GU Pride about what the next most important steps for the Obama administration are.

We brought up ENERGY INDEPENDENCE AND GLOBAL WARMING as a national security, social justice, and economic issue.

For more information about the interconnectedness of the ECONOMY, ENVIRONMENT, and GOVERNMENT, I highly recommend Thomas Friedman's Hot, Flat, and Crowded. It's an AMAZING read if you're into either economics, energy, or politics. (A.k.a., if you're a Georgetown student.)

Want to hear more about the ProCo Forum?

Obviously, Matt and I brought up ENERGY INDEPENDENCE AND GLOBAL WARMING as our "area" for President Obama to address. What it comes down to is that when a country is importing most of its energy, that's a national security issue. Should any country (whether it be Canada [harmless enough?] all the way to Iraq, who lies in the top ten countries we import from) decide to cut off their oil supply to us, what would we do?

Also, when it comes down to it, global warming is a social justice issue. It is NOT coincidential that the poorest countries and most disenfranchised people are the ones affected by global warming. These people often live in equatorial parts of the world [for many sociological/historical reasons], where global warming has the greatest effect.

It's also an economic issue. The U.S. has, for too long (in my opinion), been investing in old technologies. Why are we not investing in clean energy? China and India certainly are and when they beat us out in creating more efficient solar energy, it will be absolutely devastating for the U.S. economy.

The obstacles for overcoming this issue are three-fold:
  1. Fear of unemployment. A valid fear, but people need to realize that there's going to be structural unemployment when we're investing in new sectors.
  2. Lack of government incentives. Why are our brightest students all studying finance? Because that is where the money was. (Obviously, there's going to be a time-lag... but you get what I'm trying to say.) There are few incentives for students going into science/engineering - and if they are, it's usually health care because that's what the government subsidizes the most. Don't get me wrong, I'm all about finding the cure for cancer, but this is a legitimate obstacle. If the government gave more incentives for creating alternative energy sources, people would take up engineering.
  3. Poor education. There's not enough emphasis on math and science. According to the US Department of Education, U.S. 8th graders scored below average in math and U.S. 12th graders were among the lowest in the world - outperforming only Cyprus and South Africa. [Side note: SERIOUSLY??] (To clarify: this was a study covering over 40 countries, from all continents [minus Antarctica] and ranging from most to least developed.)
Fixing this issue is going to require a different kind of stimulation than we, as Americans, are used to. But Matt and I advocated cap-and-trade as a good first start.

Now for what the other groups had to say:

The College Democrats' issue was WITHDRAWING FROM IRAQ BY 2011. The war in Iraq is a huge burden to our economy. The challenges are sticking to a deadline and following through with promises.

The NAACP wanted to address the FLAWED CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM. They brought up police brutality against minorities and failing social institutions, which feed people into the criminal justice system. They think that the Obama administration, not necessarily legislation, needs to address this issue, if only to bring it to light.

H*yas for Choice brought up the REMOVAL OF ABSTINENCE-ONLY SEX-EDUCATION PROGRAMS IN PUBLIC EDUCATION. They believe that a more comprehensive education is necessary to give our young adults full, educated choices. The biggest obstacle to this is mythology - pro-choice is NOT the same as pro-abortion. One small victory was the repeal of the Mexico City policy, which requires NGOs to neither perform/actively promote abotitions to get money for funding.

GU Pride talked about MARRIAGE EQUALITY and giving full benefits to same-sex members of household for government employees.

What I found pretty interesting about this forum was how interlinked some of these issues are. As NAACP brought up, the flawed education institution greatly affects both the criminal justice system and energy independence.

The College Dems made a valid point about the Iraq-War drain on our economic system, using money that could be invested in our future.

As far as H*yas for Choice goes, contraception/abortion has always been a pretty political issue. What I'm interested in is overpopulation and the world is simply going to run out of resources for people to exploit. I would absolutely never condone killing of people to free up resources, but I was reading in my sociology textbook about Urbanization. There are families in the world where it's common to have children in the double-digits - and these are often the poorest families. If we gave all women (I say women because it most greatly affects them) the education about the choices they could make, the world would definitely be a different place.