Josh Radoff, Tork® Green Hygiene Council™ member and co-founder and principal of YR&G
I am just back from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) conference in Pittsburgh, where I presented with fellow Tork® Green Hygiene Council™ member Allison Aiello on how to integrate campus health and wellness with sustainability. In developing our presentation, I really wanted to challenge the idea of what it means to be simply “healthy” on campus. After we presented our session, I went to see David Orr from Oberlin College in Ohio give a talk on the need for radical action around sustainability, not just on college campuses, but throughout society. Between these two experiences, I came away with a few lessons learned:
- Being healthy or achieving “wellness” is more than not getting sick. It’s learning how to be multifaceted, how to get your hands dirty, how to develop skills and understand how to participate in the basic functions of our society. Students should learn how to grow food, how to compost, how to live in a zero-waste environment, how to design and construct a building (even a simple one), how to cook and even how to make their own stuff, like furniture, cheese or fuel. Regardless of whether a student is an economics or policy major, think how much better prepared and equipped they would be with their future pursuits if these experiences were included in their college education. At the very least, student should have a sense of what it’s like to be active in a daily sense – even if it’s just working a garden – to help avoid the scourge of future suburban traffic, cubicle workplaces and heading off to participate in a purely consumptive economy.
- A university can significantly contribute to the local economy. In addition to creating jobs in facility management and the like, universities can enact policies to source everything locally, especially things like food. In David Orr’s talk, he mentioned that Oberlin enacted a goal to source 70 percent of its food locally. Oberlin is in a region that is significantly depressed economically, but has some of the best farmland in the country. By taking this simple step, the college effectively guarantees jobs to local farmers, provides a source for fresh healthy food for the campus population to eat, while minimizing the massive pollution and energy consumption of giant monoculture farming (land degradation, erosion, fertilizer and pesticide runoff) and the shipping required to bring food to the table (2000-3000 miles on average).
- Food is merely one way to spur local economy and provide higher quality “stuff” to students. The same model could apply to furniture sourcing, building materials, composting and waste management, fuel production (e.g. biodiesel from waste oils), etc. Any of these would give students the opportunity to apprentice with skilled trades and develop an even more multifaceted experience.
- Go big or go home. One of the reasons David Orr was invited to speak – aside from his tenure as a leader in the sustainability field for several years – is because of the work taking place at Oberlin College, where he a professor. Oberlin is aggressively trying to reshape not only the landscape of their campus, but also of the town of Oberlin and surrounding region. Attempts at net-zero and Living Buildings, among other efforts, have put the college at the forefront of the movement, and in doing so, they are becoming one of the galvanizing forces for sustainability in any sector. Their efforts emphasize that it’s not enough to talk about minimal gestures towards sustainability if you really want to demonstrate leadership and move the conversation forward.