Sustainability Within Education

Sustainability Within Education

Kalen Evans, Maura Bruns, Cameron Lewis, & Zachary Bell  

As society continues to advance rapidly in order to accommodate our growing population and cultural needs, we run into many different sustainability issues that must be addressed. We are becoming more aware of this as it has gone from potential problems in the future, to problems that are at our doorstep and must be handled right now. One of the best ways to address these issues across the country would be effectively educating college students on the topic. 

Colleges and universities around the country have an amazing opportunity to educate their students on these issues by integrating sustainable living habits and techniques into their culture. A perfect example of this is Stanford University in California. They have made incredible efforts in allowing sustainability to be a priority within the University’s community. Over the last 20 years, Stanford has reduced their landfill waste by 26%, domestic water use by 45%, and greenhouse gas emissions by 72%. They also have a program designed specifically to help students create an ongoing list of sustainable actions. When they participate in these actions they receive points that can go toward different prizes and rewards. Programs like this are one of many ways in which we can educate our students in these issues along with helping them acquire  habits which will carry over into society when they graduate. 

Water, forest, and waste management are a few of the main sustainability issues that higher education establishments have implemented plans to address which is important to consider when understanding how to educate students on these topics.

Even though water is a renewable resource it is often taken for granted, which results in sparse availability due to society’s demands and improper techniques to keep such resources safe and replenished. The decreasing availability of water has adverse impacts where it results in this ripple effect into various issues in the ecosystems and civilizations around the world. Water scarcity is due to multiple factors including the pollution from fertilizers, from human waste water that is left untreated, agriculture’s ineffective irrigation systems and climate change as greenhouse gases cause weather patterns to change resulting in droughts to become increasingly more common. 

In order to comprehend how water is decreasingly becoming unavailable it is important to understand how water is obtained in the first place. According to the CDC for water treatment, water is obtained by lakes and rivers which is called surface water or by aquifers which are essentially sedimentary rocks that hold groundwater below earth’s surface. When those resources are stressed, due to any number of factors, it leads them to become dried out with little to no time to be replenished. Causing a negative ripple effect on the population’s water resource that some individuals may resort to drinking water that is contaminated with deadly illnesses or some even travel far distances to get clean water. So why is such a basic necessity to maintain life and civilization has gotten to a point that clean and accessible water is now scarce and or hard to obtain in some areas? Even though water is a renewable resource, those sources cannot be reliably renewable when the stress from multiple variables is continued to be placed. According to Worldwilfe.org, by 2025 two thirds of the world will have water shortages, in Eastern Europe the pollution of the Danube River has left countries like the Republic of Moldova and Hungary with a no longer reliable water source (Moyer and Storrs 2010). These issues trickle down to preventing young children from getting an education, especially for young girls in developing countries. Resulting in many young girls ending up being required to travel many miles so their family can have the water they need to survive since the local water resource is no longer safe or available (water.org). Based on un.org for the International decade for Action “Water for Life”, the average distance for a woman to walk to get water is 6 kilometers, an equal distance is just about 4 miles. Which is interesting because a physically acceptable water supply should be around 1,000 meters from a household, an educational building or a healthcare facility also obtaining water should not take no longer than 30 minutes. Not to mention the United Nations General Assembly reiterates that every human has a right to clean water that is free from diseases and other negative impacts caused by humans. Although what is absolutely baffling is even though water is a basic human right it is still one of the least prioritized, as 43 countries are still suffering from water scarcity and without drastic efforts to change the issue is going to continue to increase. So really the drastic change truly starts with humans because and in a way humans were the ones that caused this issue to occur in the first place.

 People still have time to reduce the effects of the water crisis but the change needs to be drastic and it all starts with education of affirmative action for the preservation of water. Looking specifically at the Central Valley aquifer in California more comes to understand how education about the water crisis and affirmative action plans are very much needed. In recent years, water availability for the Central Valley has had increased droughts as a very large drought ranging from 2012 to 2016 has resulted in the valley to sink down to 60 centimeters per year. With such a large drought along with the valley continuing to sink during that time drastic education and affirmative action plans to combat this issue called the Central Valley Water and Implementation which is part of the Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA). As the act has many efforts to restore the Central Valley area its most notable effort is to restore water resources and improve the conservation of water to prevent any more issues to occur. How such interventions may look can range from a variety of methods including focusing on effective agricultural irrigation methods. The improvement for appropriate irrigation methods is another strategy to prevent further destruction of the earth’s water resources, since most of what water is used for is agricultural irrigation, a large portion of it is contaminated due to the ineffective irrigation methods. Better irrigation tactics that prevent water being contaminated could have a huge impact in reducing water scarcity. According to cuesa.org, drip irrigation is a water irrigation system that delivers water directly to plant’s roots which can save up to 80% more water than normal spraying irrigation. 

Some methods may include that because aquifers are continuing to dry up intervention is needed to conserve water leading to more inventions for technology for water conservation, in the places where aquifers are especially drying up and rain patterns are increasingly becoming unpredictable due to climate change. A second option is recycling waste water which can be done by reusing water that was used for a previous purpose like for the irrigation for agriculture and then that water is treated to be used again for more agricultural irrigation although it must meet the standards for food safety to prevent harm to humans (epa.gov). 

About 6% of all the water used in the United States is used by colleges and universities across the nation. Landscaping, Kitchen/Dishwashing, Restrooms, Laundry, and Cooling/Heating are all things that these establishments use water for. Even though it doesn’t seem like a large percentage when looking at the total, these are great places to target for using water smarter along with educating those students that are using it in the process.

There are a few schools that have already started implementing programs and tools into their establishments on this specific topic. The first example is the University of California, Santa Cruiz. Students that arrive at UCSC will learn about water conservation both on and off campus throughout their orientation meetings. The campus also offers students dorm room usage audits, which is widely available among different residence halls across campus. 

Secondly, there are many schools including Boston College that are replacing older “water consuming” appliances (dishwashers, laundry machines, ect.) with newer, more energy efficient machines. Actions like this among colleges and universities have helped cut water consumption in half.

Lastly, establishments across the country have changed the types of grass and plants used on campus to save water. Centralia College has switched to all native plants because of their lack of water/maintenance due to their indigenous status.

These three examples only scratch the surface of all the things that are being done to use less water within colleges and universities across the country. Not only are we beginning to see action take place using less, but we’re using it smarter and we are using the educational platform to help students become knowledgeable in the subject which will hopefully carry over into society after graduation.   

Forest management and the protection of the national parks which have been an ever-growing process with the different challenges they face. Water and plant life are essential for habitats and the problems they face are substantial for their survival. Forest fires and bark beetles are the usual suspects faced with mass destruction and land devastation, but another problem is humans and their part in protecting, or lack thereof, that plays a role in the sustainability of the forests. There are many different organizations put in place to protect and manage forests and they do an outstanding job but there is still more work to do. Education on the environmental impact we have can be the first steps in our parts in ensuring the survival for the forests and wildlife.

An early sustainability pioneer, John Muir is one of the earliest advocates for the environmental movement and spent much of his time in the American wilderness after moving from Scotland in 1849. His writings aided the establishment of the Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks. “In 1901, Muir published Our National Parks, the book that brought him to the attention of President Theodore Roosevelt. In 1903, Roosevelt visited Muir in Yosemite. There, together, beneath the trees, they laid the foundation of Roosevelt’s innovative and notable conservation programs” (vault.sierraclub.org). Muir’s work paved the way for countless other organizations to start their donations, charity work, and preservation of parks and nature, giving back to the environment and sustaining the forests, habitats, and wonders of the world.

Muir’s essay, “The American Forests”, writes about the amazing nature of nature and the vast relationships it contains within itself and with outside species like humans. In his essay he creates a parallel with the past and present and the government’s involvement with protecting and maintaining the forests. Muir states, “So far our government has done nothing effective with its forests, though the bet in the world, but is like a rich and foolish spendthrift who has inherited a magnificent estate in perfect order, and then has left his rich fields and meadows, forests and parks, to be sold and plundered and wasted at will, depending on their inexhaustible abundance. Now it is plain that the forests are not inexhaustible, and quick measures must be taken if ruin is to be avoided” (Sustainability 44). Current events have managed to deny climate change and the effect it has on the forests, specifically the tragic California wildfires. As the climate changes, the land dries up more and more creating a perfect situation for uncontrollable fires to spread hundreds and thousands of acres absolutely destroying lives of families and condoning a burnt patch for nothing else to grow again.

The importance of educating about past environmentalists who’ve established the grounds for what it means to sustain and be environmentally friendly can start earlier in students’ educational careers but should at most be implemented in college curricular. College students are at the very beginning of their adult lives and should carry knowledge of political and environmental impacts with them so they can lead a sustainable lifestyle and push back the problems we are currently facing.

Many programs are being implemented throughout the country in order to educate students on this problem. One really important thing that is being done is getting students to understand the science behind ecology and how people’s actions affect the earth from a physical standpoint. Vanderbilt University has added over 20 courses to their curriculum that students can choose from which specifically look at forest management or ecology to help students better understand how forests are being taken along with what can be done to help.  Educating individuals is important to spread the word of the world burning, both physically and metaphorically. Without knowledge of what’s going on, the world will be left a wasteland of ashes and decaying forests for no one to enjoy. 

Environmental issues that have developed and since evolved by means of human population and environmental misuse have resulted in causing a negative effect on drinking water  and other natural resources due to waste  management of certain communities and populations. Through the sustainable management of waste/garbage, educating college students on this topic can result in not only benefiting the environment, but helping  businesses and consumers build the knowledge on how to conserve natural resources for future generations to come. Developing a similar concept off of  the familiar,  “Reduce, reuse, recycle”, can help approach the views on environmental protection and this could lead to improving and strengthening the impacts of what individuals waste on the daily. This could lead to a more conscious and greener way of  reducing waste for the better of the human population.

The resources that the human population needs to survive overtime is based upon sustainability. The concept of pursuing the idea of educating students and communities on sustainability will help promote a more  positive outcome, in order to be conscious of future generations and natural resources. Communities living in harmony alongside nature, will not only help support a better environment but assist in not compromising the environment at an accelerated pace. 

The main types of pollution that are affecting our environment being: air, water, soil, radioactive, and thermal wastes, are all interlinked and influence each other, therefore the problems need to be addressed together, to assist in the problems. The population of the planet is reaching unsustainable  levels as it faces a shortage of resources like drinking water, food and fuels. In “A Transition Towards Sustainability” written by the Natural Resource Council, it was stated that reduction of industrial wastes, would have large advantages for human health through approaches using industrial ecology and increased efficiency in greener resource use. “the maintenance of natural ecosystems and the protection of their services can influence human health in many ways, including by providing natural enemies for disease vectors and natural water and air purification and supply systems” (nap.edu). While water pollution is caused by countless oil spills, acid rain and urban debris, air pollution is caused by toxins and gases released by large industries and factories (fossil fuels). Soil pollution is caused by industrial waste that deprives soil and plant growth from the main essential nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

By raising awareness of waste management to a more diverse population and age group, we as a whole can tackle and restore the environment for a more sustainable, greener, conscious way of living. Through the sustainable management of waste/garbage, educating college students on this topic can result in not only benefiting the environment, but helping  businesses and consumers build the knowledge on how to conserve natural resources for future generations to come.

In conclusion it is clear that colleges and universities host a great opportunity to educate people who are just beginning to enter society. As a country it is clear that sustainability is a pressing issue and more people need to learn how to include habits in their lifestyle to help slow the progression of these problems. Such issues include water management and learning how to use it smarter and less of it. The second is forest management and how we can inhibit patterns to keep our forests healthy. The third is waste management and how lifestyles, products, and policies can help protect the land from the endless sources of waste that humans provide. All of these issues are being addressed in the college setting whether that be educating students through programs, implementing courses on these topics, switching on campus resources to be more energy efficient, or even online communities like this to initiate conversation amongst the community. 

Sources

https://www.treehugger.com/important-ways-that-colleges-are-conserving-water-4863755

https://earth.stanford.edu/sustainability

https://www.nap.edu/read/9690/chapter/7#194

https://www.epa.gov/emergency-response-research/waste-management

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