Sustainability efforts require further student involvement

By Emma Reilly
Opinion Editor

Washington College often prides itself as an environmentally friendly institution. The sheer number of sustainability projects students, faculty, and staff take on substantiates this claim, yet environmental efforts remain unacknowledged by a significant portion of the student body. 

Many students are aware, likely thanks to a George’s General or environmental science professor, that WC is Bee Campus USA and Tree Campus Higher Ed certified — but what do those certifications actually mean?

While it is easy for students to find out for themselves that these accolades mark the College as a conservator of both pollinators and forest growth, many people don’t take that extra step to do further research. 

Nevertheless, environmental consciousness is the issue at hand for many members of the campus community. 

“[WC’s] faculty do a wonderful job of eliciting thoughtful inquiry among students about their places in the world, and our responsibility as individual participants in a complex world,” Associate Director of Alumni Engagement and Interim Director of Sustainability and Regenerative Living Shane Brill ’03 M’11 said. 

Outside of the classroom, students promote environmental consciousness as members of the Student Environmental Alliance, Permaculture and Food Initiative Interns, and contributors to the campus’ composting and terracycling efforts.

Between groups like SEA, the Kappa Alpha Omicron Environmental Honor Society, the Center for Environment and Society, and a slew of environmentally-oriented clubs, serious attention is being paid to the environmental impact of WC as an institution and as a home to a microcosmic culture. Projects like the College’s Food Recovery Network and Campus Garden are making and talking about environmental change in meaningful ways.

Additionally, the Student Government Association works to promote sustainability and energy conservation at WC. The SGA Environmental Committee is working to bring environmental issues to the forefront of student concerns.

These are all exciting student groups and endeavors that our campus community should support and promote. However, students who are not involved in environmental groups may be unaware that participation in these endeavors is open to anyone.

According to Student Director of the Student Sustainability Council senior Emma Cease, the Sustainability Council oversees all of the environmental groups on campus, including the Environmental Committee, SEA, and more. Partnership between these groups is essential to effectively promoting environmental consciousness amongst the WC community. 

Collaboration is key to thriving environmental initiatives at WC. 

In this spirit, the Sustainability Council meets with leaders from student environmental groups, Buildings and Grounds, and even President of the College Dr. Mike Sosulski.

According to Cease, Dr. Sosulski and the council hope to improve the environmental practices of the institution as a whole by hiring a full-time sustainability director, implementing themed housing in a Western Shore dorm for students involved with environmental efforts on campus, and planting more native species in open areas on campus.

Though these projects are promising, collaboration needs to occur amongst students as well. Without participation from the wider student body, environmental projects will falter. 

According to Chair of the Environmental Committee junior Kevin Denice, terracycling is an example of an important, accessible project that does not see widespread student participation.

“It’s expansive recycling, essentially. There’s a list of products that normally can’t be recycled in Chestertown…[with terracycling] you can recycle a whole host of products, like shampoo and conditioner bottles, solo cups, Swiffer pads, laundry detergent bottles…a lot of stuff that can’t be recycled normally,” Denice said. 

Terracycling receptacles are available to students in many dorm laundry rooms, as well as the first floor lounge of Sassafras Hall, which is open to all students. 

The easiest solution to a lack of participation is for students to take advantage of the resources posted on the College website’s sustainability page to learn more. Informing oneself is a vital first step to tackling any issue. Beyond that, getting involved with the Campus Garden Club, Composting Team, Wildlife Conservation Club, or SEA is a way to promote participation in sustainability efforts. 

“Follow the permaculture principle ‘integrate rather than segregate.’ Join an environmental club or organization. Find your tribe. By doing what you love, what makes you feel awesome, even if it’s not overtly environmental, you will live in a way that supports the resilience of our species,” Brill said.

Best of all, environmental student groups are easily incorporated into a busy schedule. According to Denice, participation in environmental student groups, whether minimal or extensive, can make a difference.

Sustainability is an issue of significance at a scale much larger than a single college campus, but that does not diminish the importance of making change here at WC. Students who have heard of the College’s environmental initiatives but have never actively participated in them should be urged on by college students’ role in shaping culture more broadly.

The Maryland Public Service Commission’s recent approval of the US Wind and Skipjack offshore wind energy projects indicates that strides toward environmental consciousness are also being made at the state level. Though these initiatives may seem unrelated to the WC community’s interest in environmental protection, projects at the institutional and state levels are closely linked.

“Colleges are in a position to influence public thought and guide successive generations of human beings,” Brill said. “We all contain within us the intuitive ability to be responsible living beings on this planet.”

This position empowers colleges and college students to make real, impactful change.

By promoting widespread student involvement in environmental initiatives on campus and better educating the campus community about initiatives that are planned and currently underway, WC can make a difference in the future of the College, the region, and the planet.

Photo by Olivia Dorsey

Featured Photo by Kayla Thornton

Featured Photo Caption: WC’s Campus Garden houses several environmental projects. Native gardens, composting piles, and bee boxes are all maintained by members of the Campus Garden Club.

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