Greening Muhlenberg and Beyond

As this blog comes to a close, I am reflecting on green and renewable energy initiatives in my own life. I’ve noticed that there is a great difference between sustainability at Muhlenberg and at my home. A family of six people and one dog goes through quite a lot of resources (and quickly), but that is truly no match for a school that houses around 2,200 people. And yet, here at Muhlenberg, sustainability seems more achievable. 

For a college, Muhlenberg’s green initiatives are fairly progressive. Working with student groups like EnAct and the garden club, they have devised a sustainability plan, which, among many other things, includes a solar panel, a hydroponic garden that provides some of our vegetables, the “just tap it” water fountain initiative to encourage water bottle use, a reduction of paper towels in dorms, and, most recently, paper straws instead of plastic. When I first arrived at Muhlenberg three years ago, I felt inconvenienced by bringing my own cloth towel into the dorm bathrooms to dry my hands with. But in a few weeks, this soon felt like just another adjustment to dorm life; not nearly as big of a life change as adjusting to virtually everything else in college.

I think that, often, when we feel we must make the choice between efficiency and well-being (for ourselves and the planet) we choose efficiency–which is why at home many parents (including mine) do not have energy conservation at the top of their priorities. Their top priorities are probably to shelter, clothe, and feed their very hungry and angsty teenaged children. If we have to use paper plates because all of the plates are in the dishwasher, then so be it.

Similarly, in a college environment, and especially at a school where people pride themselves on being busy, students don’t often take the time to make the best possible choice. This is then why they are forced to be minorly inconvenienced throughout their day–there may be a few grumbles to begin with, but it becomes integrated into their lifestyle. While the most recent Muhlenberg update (paper straws) has been probably caused the most uproar (the paper adds a certain flavor to the water), many of these green initiatives are worked into campus culture, making them feel like just another part of Muhlenberg’s charm.

By having these initiatives for a greener campus, Muhlenberg (and student groups like EnAct) makes the sustainability aspect easy by actively searching and creating solutions to problems that many busy students ignore–or didn’t even care about in the first place. Innovation, here, is then starting with just noticing the things that others may not–finding the places where we lack in our efforts, even when we already have made great strides. And though this institution is not an entrepreneur-driven business venture, this innovative and creative instinct must be present in order for these changes to occur; people must continue to imagine solutions to problems such as waste in the dining hall and overall campus electricity usage. In the coming years, more solutions will be put into place, and more ideas will be suggested; for example, a composting initiative is being set into motion for the MILE houses (the off campus houses owned by the college). Even though we are doing well, we have to be doing more. 

And while Muhlenberg is a much larger institution than a singular household, the idea still stands; the reason these changes are successful is because they remain committed to small changes which make a big impact. It is worthwhile to examine some green initiatives in your own life. Green innovation can happen in your kitchen, or bedroom, or even your backyard–wherever changes can be instituted and daily life can be reimagined. The life of the planet seems worth a small change in your daily routine.

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