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Dal takes green action

By Emily Rideout, Contributor

I am constantly amazed at how far the campus sustainability movement has come since I joined its ranks in 2006.
Since then I have seen the creation of the Dalhousie Office of Sustainability, the Dalhousie Student Union Sustainability Office, the Environment, Sustainability & Society program (ESS), and the flourishing of eco-oriented societies such as SustainDal, the Environmental Programs Student Society (EPSS), the Environmental Law Students Society (ELSS) and the brand spanking new ESS student society. I have seen green class projects implemented left right and center. I’ve seen green jobs popping up. I have seen students do weird and crazy things to draw your attention to the issues of climate change. And I love it all!
It’s been amazing to watch Dal get a little greener all along the spectrum, at both the highest levels of the university to the grassroots efforts of students. Considering that Dal emits 109,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually – the equivalent of 109,000 two-storey houses packed full of CO2, constituting a town twice the size of Truro – it’s about time.
With the creation of the Dalhousie Office of Sustainability, run by Director of Sustainability Rochelle Owen, a position that SustainDal helped create, we have seen the creation of a university sustainability policy, double-sided printing, a climate change strategy, a behavioural change program called ReThink, reductions in overnight computer energy use and a bike repair shop. Upcoming projects include $30 million worth of energy and water efficiency upgrades in the Life Sciences Centre, including solar panels.
Owens has actively sought to engage students in her work. She employs 10 students per year, providing much-needed green jobs on campus. She has also mobilized class groups to conduct campus-focused research about potential sustainability projects, many of which have been implemented.
Another high-level piece of the campus sustainability puzzle is the new ESS program offered by the College of Sustainability. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a lot of ESS students and they are some of the passionate and engaged students I’ve met in my three-and-a-half years at Dal.
At the grassroots end of the spectrum we have a plethora of student societies and initiatives.
When I first joined SustainDal, it consisted of a group of approximately 10 students who were trying encourage the use green products and behaviours in residences such as clothes drying racks, compact fluorescent light bulbs and shorter showers.
Flash forward to 2009. SustainDal is a group of 20 dedicated students with a mailing list a mile long. We carry out more practical campaigns with broader scopes such as Muggy Mondays – free fair trade organic coffee and tea if you bring a travel mug to the SUB lobby from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., and Tuppy Thursdays – locally sourced vegetarian food by donation if you bring your own Tupperware container and utensils to the McCain building upper lobby from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. We make BetterSide Notebooks made from one-sided paper collected from around campus ($1 each). Last year our water committee conducted a campus-wide water fountain quality assessment that documented which fountains had the best or worst taste, degree of cleanliness, accessibility and temperature. Now facilities management is making an effort to keep the fountains cleaner so you won’t have to drink bottled water.
EPSS, ELSS and the Nova Scotia Public Interest Research Group (NSPIRG) are all up to great things as well. NSPIRG’s SeeMore Green community garden is teaching students and the public about seed germination, indoor planting and canning. Students can also help harvest vegetables from their garden. EPSS publishes the Green Perspectives Journal and ELSS co-hosts IDEALaw, a social and environmental justice conference, which will be held in February 2010.
My all-time-favourite campus sustainability demonstrations are, by far, the flash mobs that have been popping up on campus to draw attention to federal government’s inaction on climate change. Mobs to date have seen students stripping down to their bathing suits in the Killam Atrium to sing, and students ‘freezing’ in the SUB lobby to the sound of cell phone alarms, representing the federal government’s disregard for the call for emissions reductions.
Keep your eyes peeled for actions every Monday at lunchtime in the weeks leading up to the pivotal United Nations climate negotiations in Copenhagen this December.
OK, so we have the high-level pieces and the grassroots pieces. What’s missing from this picture? If you guessed action from the DSU, you’re bang-on.
In 2007, the DSU launched its sustainability office (DSUSO) – also created by SustainDal – known for its excellent Green Week every March. The office got off to a rocky start, but has made some big changes. You’ll be hearing a lot more from this office in the near future.
A recent Gazette article highlighted the fact that a comprehensive audit of Student Union Building operations has never been carried out and the DSU has never made any sustainability statements or policy that would make their operations and the SUB more sustainable. This needs to happen if Dal is really going to get green.

Emily Rideout is a member of SustainDal.

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