The Green Giant: The Challenge of College Campuses Strengthening The Green Movement

Elisha Riesterer

            In 1970, a movement began to help preserve the planet, to make people aware of the problems with mass consumption of products, the future problems that could be caused if change did not start, and the need to stop and reverse the damage. This movement still exists today, but has not traveled as far as it needs to.  A large carbon footprint is still being created and little is being done to inform people about the problems or urge the change needed to stop the damage before it is too late.  This is what college campuses throughout the United States as well as some international universities are trying to do.  They have started taking steps not only to reduce the carbon footprint, which colleges have an extraordinary role in contributing to, but also to help students and other colleges and universities to do the same by sharing results of their experiments and helping to inspire new and innovative inventions to save the planet.          

            Colleges and university campuses are places for learning and discovery.  It is the job of administrators on these campuses to develop student learning and in the process teach them how to be good citizens as well as how to be successful in life.  This is the perfect time to introduce students to green living and the benefits it has in protecting the environment.  As future leaders, businesspeople, and parents, students must be exposed to the problems with society today and ways they can help.  The greening of college campuses should occur so that students can understand what the carbon footprint is and its importance, explore the benefits of environmentally friendly living, have the opportunity for hands on learning, be exposed to healthier food choices, and gain new perspectives as they become future leaders. 

            In order to understand why colleges and universities should go green, the phrase “carbon footprint” should be explained as the amount of carbon dioxide (carbon) and other gasses produced from the everyday living of a group or individual (EPA 1).  When people discuss many topics including industry, food production, vehicle MPG, and the environment, the term “carbon footprint” tends to come up.  Many individuals know that there are problems with the way humans live today, but do not know how this term, “carbon footprint,” pertains to nonscientists let alone the scientists.  A green movement has begun throughout the world to reduce this carbon footprint, but it is almost a joke.  Some people believe one thing and others another, and nothing changes fast or seems to have a strong impact on populations or societies.  There is no change in society because very few people fully understand what the problem is or how to resolve it.  Everything that humans do affects the environment in some form or another, but whether this impact is a positive or negative one is up to every individual, company, manufacturer, and corporation.  The level of gasses that is produced as life progresses can be changed for the better; however, it will take educating individuals in societies to get there.  To paint a clear picture of what a carbon footprint is there are three main parts that must be examined: the first of these being an understanding of what greenhouse gasses are, the second looking at why carbon is used, and the third pertaining to the green movement and its importance.    

            As technology improves and develops, the impact it has on the environment becomes greater and the more aware of the growing problems scientists become.  This development in technology produces what scientists call, collectively, greenhouse gasses.  Greenhouse gasses trap heat into or around the earth.  According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), these gasses include carbon dioxide (84%), methane (10%), nitrous oxide (4%), and fluorinated gasses (2%) (1).  The problem is that when products today are used or manufactured, they release these greenhouse gasses that are then trapped in the atmosphere.  As more trees and forests are being cleared, the buildup of these gasses continues to grow.  Trees take carbon dioxide out of the air through their life cycle and release oxygen that is again usable for humans, but with less of this exchange being possible causes this buildup of unusable gasses.  As this happens, something else starts becoming a problem, the sun.  The sun shines into the atmosphere and gets trapped under all of the gas and the heat produced from it cannot be released back into space, causing the greenhouse effect or global warming.  Most of these gasses are natural and have ways of being used in the environment; however, the fluorinated gasses are manmade and eat away at the ozone layer.  “Dinner’s Dirty Secret” by Bijal Trivedi discusses the fact that methane remains in the atmosphere up to 15 years, nitrous oxide up to 114 years, and fluorinated gasses never leave the atmosphere (2).  This fact poses the concerns that activists for the green movement have been examining and trying to combat; however, their efforts will not be sufficient as population and technology has and will continue to rise.    

            Carbon dioxide’s significant existence in the environment has caused it to virtually replace the phrase greenhouse gas and has been replaced by the catchphrase “carbon footprint.”  These terms, however, are both still used and mean and measure the same thing.  Since carbon comprises the largest percentile of the greenhouse gasses, it is the easiest to measure and for this reason gives a way of tracking the change in the amount of gasses in the atmosphere.  Carbon dioxide can be removed from the air if more trees are planted to support the amount of it in the air, but this will continue to be a problem if vegetation is not planted. Mass clearing of trees is being done to form space to construct new buildings, which halts the transformation of carbon dioxide into oxygen, leaving it in the air to continue the greenhouse effect. Without the cause of the increase in greenhouse gasses being discovered, a true solution cannot be produced.

            The carbon footprint is a big part of the green movement.  Everything that is involved with the movement involves either reducing the carbon footprint or balancing it by taking the effects on the environment and neutralizing them with ones that protect it (Rappaport 13).  The movement must incorporate both in order to cancel the effects.  In the article “Carbon Footprint of Foods” the author M. Shakila Banu gives the definition of a carbon footprint as, “[a] measure of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with an activity, group of activities, or a product.  The increasing interest in carbon foot printing comes as a result of growing public awareness of global warming” (1). Banu goes on to talk about the impact that food processing has on the environment and research to find out what foods are creating the largest impact.  This allows for the truth about what parts of manufacturing are causing the increased carbon dioxide production to be unveiled.  She concludes her article by saying that this situation is very complex and involves many categories of living that would need further examination (7).  

            “Dinner’s Dirty Secret” takes a more in-depth look at the problem with the carbon footprint by looking at how food is produced and by comparing food choices, such as organic or nonorganic, and their actual impact on the environment and the carbon footprint. Bijal Trivedi informs the reader that, overall, general thoughts on what is causing the carbon footprint may not be accurate, saying, “It may surprise you to learn that our diets account for up to twice as many greenhouse emissions as driving” (1).  The author’s research found that the production of meat has the largest impact.  Red meat specifically is the biggest problem and as a result artificial meat is being made in the lab as the author discusses with a health economist Jason Matheny at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore (4).  Trivedi also discusses whether organic or nonorganic (conventional) foods are friendlier toward the environment.  The research led the author to discover that organic foods are more efficient because they “eliminate nitrogen fertilizer from the cultivation process” (Trivedi 5).  Plans are underway to produce a standard numbering system that manufacturers can use to number their products.  Some corporations have already started, so that consumers can make informed decisions to decrease the carbon footprint from their food consumption.  All of this information is used both to inform the public and to further the green movement. 

            To truly understand the importance of the green movement, it is important to comprehend the terms involved. With a better understanding of the greenhouse gasses, of the reasons carbon is so important, and of the effects that both have on the green movement, it becomes clear why there is the concern for the planet as well as why there is such a push to take action.  The destruction of forests, a growing industrial society, and processes of food corporations are literally endangering the planet.  These processes are causing increased gas emissions that are harming the atmosphere and posing problems that may be irreversible if steps are not taken.  The people involved in the green movement are trying to minimize the impact on the environment by various ways, but without the help and support of society these attempts may not be enough.

            With this understanding it makes senses why there is such a push for change. “Campus Greening: Behind the Headlines” by Ann Rappaport is inspired by her commitment to help the environment and she uses her experience as a member of the Tuft University faculty to start the change by helping Tuft to reduce emissions of the university. Rappaport uses this article to communicate with college administrators to convince the powers in the college and university to make a significant commitment to saving the planet and allows them to recognize different projects for going green and gives insight on how to protect and conserve resources. She discusses several ways in which Tuft University has moved to change campus life including replacing heating/cooling systems, removing old buildings and replacing them with new more efficient buildings, working with local gardeners/farmers for food, composting food waste, and upgrading to energy efficient lighting (9).  Later, she discusses concerns that colleges and universities may have making the transition and then ends with an overall suggestion that in order to accomplish these goals there must be cooperation, and not competition, amongst the college and university communities.  By learning not only from their successes, but also failures, colleges and universities are attempting new things and by doing this are willing to showcase their failures and why these changes did not work as well as how the problems where resolved. The author gives examples of successes which include the building of wind turbines at Massachusetts Maritime Academy to take advantage of the natural winds at the campus and the installation of a solar grid at California’s Stanford University (8).  However, she tells the story of Clark University where the attempt to install motion sensors to turn off the light when no one was in the room, but they were placed high enough that ceiling fans triggered the sensor to stay on all of the time (14).  These successes and failures are lessons to other colleges and universities to learn from and are presented in order to inspire not only new change, but also the sharing of future success and failures for others to learn from.    

            Industries have realized the power of the green movement and have taken steps to improve their companies; however, new graduates are not up to date with the necessary information to help improve systems that are in place currently. In the article “Clean, Green, and not so Mean” the authors Andy Spackman et al state that venture capitalist John Doerr says that green technology is going to be bigger than the internet: “the potential for growth in the area of green business seems unlimited, but scientists must be aware of the opportunities in this area and be prepared to take advantage of them” (138). In order to take advantage of this opportunity graduates must be prepared. However, in the article “Model for Faculty, Student, and Practitioner Development in Sustainability Engineering through an Integrated Design Experience” by Michael Walcott et al they present the fact that “firms consistently report that engineering graduates lack even the most fundamental understanding of sustainability and sustainable engineering designs to respond to current needs” (94). The Integrated Design Experience is a new course that has been designed at Washington State University to meet these needs. The first project was called Smartfarm, “the student design team consisted of 24 students from architecture, landscape architecture, construction management, and organic agriculture, as well as mechanical, electrical, environmental, and civil engineering” (97). Universities are starting to prepare students with an education that will help them in their future jobs.  Montclair State University has established a doctorate degree in environmental management (Walcott et al 97).  As more and more colleges and universities expose their students to stainable green lifestyles through hands on learning, the more students will put these practices into use in the real world. 

            Protecting the environment should start with everyone who has a desire to make change or be different.  These individuals will continue to grow in knowledge and increase in number, causing a 180 degree change in how society runs by what is expected of products that are in stores, people who make decisions for companies, and individuals in society. Society needs to change, but making excuses or ignoring the facts will not get the change necessary to limit and reverse the impact society has on the environment. There is something to change for every individual with every budget.  These changes will help get communities, countries, and other nations around the world heading in the right direction and begin to take responsibility for the harm that has been afflicted on the environment. The forests, plants, and animals are the responsibility of everyone who lives on earth and it is the duty of these individual to protect and preserve them and entrust them to the generations of the future.  The example left by this generation should inspire future change and growth in the green movement for a healthier environment.  There is no reason that the beauty of this world’s natural wildlife, forests, and plants are being destroyed.  This generation is gifted with resources to make life easier, but if they are destroying the essential beauty that all life is reliant on, then what is the point. There is no reason for individuals not to examine their life behaviors and make changes not only to help the environment, but also to save money. There is no reason that communities cannot make their towns cleaner, restore old parts of town so that tax money is not being used to pay for old and non-functioning buildings, and plant flowers and trees to make the place they live beautiful.  There is no reason that companies cannot modify how they run their business so that they are healthier for the environment, save money in the long run, and increase sales.  In order to keep material out of landfills this society should force companies to make quality merchandise that lasts and not “throw away” products.  Now is the time that individuals stand up for what is right and not just easy.  Today is the day that societies start taking care of the environment so that it can take care of the world.  However, this change is not something that all individuals know is needed, and for this reason colleges and universities have the challenge and pleasure of enriching today’s students with the knowledge to start the climb. Colleges and universities need to educate the next generation about mistakes of the past that have caused a down hill slide in natural wildlife and instill in students the desire and urgency to help.  This is going to be a giant task, but is it not the duty of these institutions to give a quality education that prepares students for their future and inspires confidence in them to change the world?  Individually everyone has the power to create change, but with a new generation ready to take action and who has the knowledge to lead the way, this change will happen.  The ideas of these students will bring the strength and numbers to reverse the damage of the past and protect the environment in the future. Change is obtainable and practical for this generation, so there is no excuse for not using the gifts of today to help the environment tomorrow. So, JUST DO IT.                         



Works Cited

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EPA. United States Government, 2012.Web. 25 February 2013.

Kain, John. “Tips for Growing A Green Organization.” Information Management (2010): 16-19.    

Lorenzen, Janet A.. “Going Green: The Process of Lifestyle Change.” Sociological Forum 27       (2012): 94-115.

Rappaport, Ann. “Campus Greening: Behind the Headlines.” Environment 50.1 (2008): 6-16.      

Shakila Banu, M. and P. Sasikala. “Carbon Foot Print of Foods.” Carpanthian Journal of Food Science &Technology 4:1 (2012): 1-8.

Spackman, Andy, “Clean, Green, and Not So Mean: Can Business Save the World?.”  Reference and User Service Quarterly 50:2 (2010): 135-40.    

Trivedi, Bijal. “Dinner’s Dirty Secret.” New Scientist 199:2673 (2008) 28-32.

Wilcott, Michael, et. al. “Model for Faculty, Students, and Practitioner Development in    Sustainability Engineering thought an Integrated Design Experience.” Journal of  Professional Issues in Engineering Education and Practice. 137:2 (2011): 94-101.