Dartmouth’s First Sustainability Director Offers 11-Point Plan

I have a hard time keeping up with sustainable development on college campuses, even though (as you might imagine) it’s a real interest: there’s just simply too much going on! One item that did draw my attention, though, is this article from Dartmouth College‘s The Dartmouth, which reports on Sustainability Director James Merkel’s plan “…to help imbed sustainable principles into the campus community.”

Reflecting his all-encompassing approach, Merkel unveiled an 11-point plan for the sustainable future of Dartmouth, which includes a diverse set of goals. Among them, he hopes to collect data concerning conservation and sustainability, develop Sustainable Dartmouth as an organization and attempt to create waste-free dining on campus. Other aspects include a commitment to energy reduction and diversification and garbage recycling….

On the importance of waste-free dining, Merkel said the majority of food items in Collis are sold in packages. He added that opting for a plastic “to-go” container instead of a plate contributes to Dartmouth’s “garbage-footprint” of 833 pounds of garbage per year per person — an amount close to the total annual amount of South Africa.

Merkel emphasized the importance of personal choice and the power of the individual in the creation and perpetuation of sustainable practices such as this waste-free dining effort.

“We can take ownership for our own choices,” Merkel said. “It’s not rocket science to have a cloth napkin, but it takes thinking and an understanding of our environmental impact.”

It’s encouraging to see schools 1) hiring people to oversee sustainability initiatives, and 2) implementing complex initiatives that recognize the systemic nature of waste-creation. Yes, college students tend to be a bit more progressive in their outlook, and are likely a willing audience for these kinds of initiatives. Most of the time, though, universities’ effort address only the lowest of the low-hanging fruit (i.e. paper and aluminum recycling). College kids are also open to complex ideas, and leaders like Merkel recognize that, and answer that willingness with challenging ideas and programs of action. Isn’t that what education is supposed to do? Good job, Darmouth…!

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