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A Plea for Environmental Effort

As a child, I spent most of my free time exploring the mountains, lakes, and forests that surround my tiny New Hampshire town. Being so close to nature instilled in me a concern for the environment. My family and I compost, recycle, and garden, and my childhood memories are marked by the sound of my dad's voice reminding me to turn off the lights to save energy upon leaving a room. Before move-in last fall, I thought everyone at college would be similarly conscious about the environment. After all, how could a place dedicated to educating the future leaders of our world not foster an awareness of our environmental impact on that world? I was excited to find out what other students like me were doing on campus to help the environment, and how I could get involved. Now that I have been a student here for several months, I can say that I am disappointed.

Boston College is not a particularly “green” university. While there are many factors that go into a school’s eco-friendliness, one significant factor is its dining services. To its credit, BC Dining has made some recent changes in an attempt to be more sustainable. For instance, the 2017 Fresh to Table initiative has incorporated more local, sustainably produced, and fairly-traded ingredients into the meals served on campus. The Reusable Mug Discount Program incentivizes the use of reusable mugs and bottles to reduce the volume of disposable cups being sent to landfills. In 2014, BC worked with LeanPath to reduce food waste by 60%, and the Every Bite Counts program donates leftover food to over 40 Boston-area nonprofits. Additionally, BC Dining has replaced several old kitchen appliances with new, more efficient models, and it mandates that vending machine lights be turned off during slow hours to conserve energy.

These are all steps in the right direction. However, there are reasons why BC is not considered a green campus. There are insufficient supplies of reusable dishes and utensils in the dining halls; often when students purchase food “for here,” they are served with paper or plastic to-go containers and only offered plastic utensils. Each dining hall has multiple refrigerators filled with bottled drinks, with stacks of paper and plastic cups as the alternative. When students leave the dining hall, these plates, cups, and utensils are tossed into bins marked “Landfill.” Clearly, there are many areas in which BC Dining could work to decrease its impact on the environment. But while there are obviously major improvements that must be made on the administration’s part, students also have a huge role in conservation.

“I think that in general, BC students are not as environmentally conscious as they should be,” said EcoPledge member, Stevie Walker, MCAS ‘21. Evidently, BC Dining is aware of this; in addition to changing its own practices, it informs and educates students on how they can become more environmentally conscious. On the “Change Your Habits” section of its webpage, BC Dining recommends not using disposable containers, “creating waste for no reason,” unless students plan on eating outside of the dining hall. I have seen flyers on napkin dispensers asking students to “only take one” and posters urging students to invest in their own personal, reusable water bottles.

These are positive changes that students should make. While they may seem like small actions, it would lead to a huge reduction in waste and unnecessary energy use. Admittedly, it may be idealistic to expect students, staff, and community members to make the right choice every time. Many students have reusable bottles, but who hasn’t forgotten theirs once or twice as they rush out the door for class? Who hasn’t accidentally taken more napkins than they needed? Rather than blaming students for not doing enough, it makes much more sense for BC Dining to change the options, so that no matter what choice a customer makes, it is the right one for the environment.

It is not as if this problem is an inevitable part of college. Compared to other Massachusetts universities, BC is considerably less eco-friendly. I have visited friends and family at both Smith College and Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where BC’s lack of environmental consciousness becomes even more apparent. At both schools, washable dishes, mugs, cups, and silverware are available in every dining hall. Smith College has even implemented a grab-and-go program that allows students to take reusable containers from the dining halls, which they return later to be washed. It is absurd that schools with endowments of $466.3 million (WPI) and $1.3 billion (Smith) have been able to implement more sustainable practices than BC with its $2.4 billion endowment. Although there are certainly difficulties with implementing such programs besides money, it is in the best interest of the environment as well as the school, as sustainability becomes an ever more important factor in the college decision.

“There is still a lot of work that could and should be done,” Walker continued. To start, BC Dining should work to reduce waste in the ways discussed above, but we shouldn’t stop there. “For instance, installing solar panels and retrofitting old buildings would be a great way to reduce BC's environmental footprint.” Following this advice would surely improve environmental mindfulness at BC.

Even though much of the change will be the responsibility of the university itself, students must also do their part. Participate in initiatives put on by student-led organizations like EcoPledge and Climate Justice, or even become a member. Even though it might seem trivial, opt for reusable bottles, plates, and utensils when possible. Turn off the lights when you leave your dorm. Take the thirty seconds to sort your trash into the appropriate bins at the dining halls. The road to a sustainable, environmentally conscious campus may be a slow and difficult one, but it is the responsibility of all to make it happen for the good of our community.