Promoting Sustainable Choices at College Events

To put it as diplomatically as possible, we experienced some challenges in attempts to make a recent event more sustainable, especially in regards to the free food that was offered to community participants.  The Cabrillo Sustainability Council decided to put together a statement about how we can improve future performance on this.  I offer my contribution to that here, hoping that others can use and transform these arguments to make their own events and organizations more sustainable.

Why Cabrillo College events should emphasize sustainable choices

1)      Events like Graduation and the Social Justice Conference are some of our major opportunities to connect with the broader community that we serve.  We want to look like we are keeping up with important cultural changes in higher education.  One of the major transformations taking place on college and university campuses everywhere, particularly at some of our major transfer schools, is a shift to sustainability.  There is a broad movement in higher education institutions shifting to the use of sustainable, local and organic foods, meatless and vegan food choices, and a reduction of single-use or disposable items like bottled water.  See http://www.aashe.org/ for many examples.

2)     Cabrillo College should model what we teach in classes and at events like the Social Justice Conference and Earth Week, and strive to do better than the bare minimum in our many commitments to improve campus sustainability (including both external commitments like the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment and the Monterey Bay Area Regional Climate Action Compact, and internal commitments like the Student Senate and Inter-Club Council Sustainable Purchasing Resolution – see http://www.wiser.org/file/view/5b15399f971a04c9726f12805d48486e).  Our students will be living in the time of consequences for our current choices, and they may not forgive hypocrisy and foot-dragging in our efforts to meet these commitments.

3)     We have an opportunity to be on the leading edge of the necessary and perhaps inevitable changes in our culture toward sustainability.    The drive toward “global awareness,” “personal and professional responsibility,” “sustainability” and “a strong sense of social justice” are embedded in the Cabrillo College Vision Statement (http://www.cabrillo.edu/home/mission.html). We must not miss opportunities to demonstrate leadership in these areas.

4)     Sustainability and Social Justice are inextricably linked.  The impacts of unsustainable choices fall most heavily on the disenfranchised in our own communities, and more broadly on the global poor.  The consequences of non-organic agriculture are felt most deeply by farmworkers and nearby communities, where rates of cancer and birth defects are higher in those exposed to pesticides.  Climate change is triggering devastating floods in places like Pakistan, Brazil and Mississipi (http://climatecommunication.org/new/articles/extreme-weather/floods/).

5)     The gravest social injustice fostered by our limited commitment to improving the sustainability of our choices is to the generations that will follow us.  Cabrillo College is an institution that has endured for over five decades, and most of us hope that we will continue to serve our community for many decades to come.  We should be an institution that can take the long view, considering the consequences of our choices and actions and how they will impact the well-being of future generations in our community and across the planet.

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