Student activists in climate neutrality: what comes next?

Allegheny College will be declaring climate neutrality in 2020 — a project in place for 13 years will reach its end in fewer than two months. Well, almost.

I recently finished a series of stories about sustainability on campus, with topics ranging from green boxes to the October Energy Challenge, to the LEED certification of Bentley Hall. In each, topics were brought up about how each sustainability feature can be improved and two things stuck out: efficiency and engagement.

Several of our buildings have been retrofitted with some type of sustainability feature, LEED certification or not. However, many of our older buildings continually do not receive upgrades or modifications that would make the spaces more comfortable and more environmentally friendly. By improving insulation and retrofitting boilers and old heating systems in older campus buildings, we can eliminate more emissions while also saving money on utility bills.

That is all easier said than done. Allegheny College cannot just say: “Let’s add more insulation in traditional residence halls.” They need money to do it and a lot of it; look at how long it took to get funds for the Bentley renovations.

However, not every building needs to be gutted and retrofitted to the level of Bentley. This past summer, two residence halls, Brooks Hall and Crawford Hall, underwent complete restroom renovations. Next summer, Baldwin Hall and Edwards Hall are slated to be the next buildings to undergo restroom renovations. Renovations do not have to be all at once — in this case, less is more.

The October Energy Challenge has been proven to be an effective way to reduce emissions and has saved the College thousands of dollars in utilities. However, several people on campus still do not participate, and many that do resume their energy spending habits once November comes around. If everyone on campus could participate and if students could continue saving energy, the College could save thousands in utility bills, which could be used to upgrade current facilities.

Participation is also a factor in the complexities of the green box system, Allegheny’s reusable to-go box program in Mckinley’s Food Court and Brooks Dining Hall. The system is free and is as simple as it can get, yet students still choose the compostable single-use containers that have brought our compost system to a halt. Some people say it’s easier just to grab those compostable boxes, but is it really that hard to ask, “Can I get that in a green box please” to the workers at Mckinley’s?

If the green box system was used by everyone, maybe our composting system would be up and running again without single-use items flooding it. This could open the door to the possibility of adding compost bins in residence halls or green box machines in other buildings. Where would the college get the money for more sustainability features?

If fewer students use single-use items — which leads to fewer single-use items Parkhurst Dining Services has to keep in stock due to lower demand — thus saving money that can be used elsewhere. Rather than purchasing compostable single-use boxes, the college can invest in a more efficient compost system, or more water bottle refill stations.

This discussion ties back to the Presidents’ Climate Commitment, signed by former president of the College Richard Cook. However, the College will be purchasing carbon offsets to absorb our climate-changing gases.

After joining the Presidents Climate Commitment, Allegheny committed to having net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 — there will always be some residual emissions, since the College is striving for “net-zero” and not “gross-zero.” But overall, the College promises to be an institution that offsets greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.

But regardless of the title, we should always strive to eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions. The college administration has been very receptive about the issues at hand and have put methods in place to reduce the College’s carbon footprint as much as possible. Now it is up to the students and faculty to act on that.

You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink.

If you are a student, you are probably thinking, “If I turn my lights off and use a green box, it won’t make a difference.” That is where you are wrong. If one person does it and another person joins, and another, and another — then suddenly everyone will be engaging in sustainable practices. If you choose to do nothing, what will stop others from doing the same?

Yes, it is true: The world will not be saved with one person turning their lights off and using a green box. But that one person who does that is one less person contributing to the greenhouse gas emissions or increasing landfill waste. That is one less person contributing to the deterioration of our planet.

Climate change is inevitable. However, we can combat the issue. The solutions are in place. It is up to you to decide the future of our world.