Friday, April 1, 2011

College Life's No Impact Challenge

By Jessica Vasquez

In 2007, a small family carried out a year-long experiment to make no net impact on the environment. It would be one thing if the family lived in the country side, but here comes the punch: Colin Beavan, wife Michelle, and 2-year-old daughter Isabella live in the heart of New York City! Where carbon emissions are at their highest, Colin initiated the challenge as a way of putting his money where his mouth is. People talk about the actions that must be taken to change global warming or what is now referred to as climate change. Colin was done with talk and waiting for higher powers such as government to lead the way. What started gradually as using only self-propelled transportation, cutting meat out of their diet, and turning off the electricity in their home for a year has become a lifestyle for the family.

Since then, Colin Beavan has blogged his “no impact man” journey (, written a book, and starred in a documentary that premiered at Sundance Film Festival in 2009. In sharing his story, Colin encourages others to do what they can, understanding that not everyone will go months without toilet paper as the family eventually did.

April marks the month of Earth Day, a time when people educate themselves on the environment and give back to Mother Earth. While it may seem like a challenge that will defeat us, it is in the best interest of the human race that we each change our habits for the better of the environment. Each step we take today has a grand effect tomorrow, and by tomorrow I mean years from now. It is scary to think that at one time, environmentalists and scientists thought that no immediate effect meant no effect, end of story. Some horrible things happen months or years after the cause and the best we can do is to learn from our mistakes and adjust our ways now.

As a resident at Ramapo College of New Jersey, I am living in an established dormitory, on a campus that is secluded from grocery stores and other material shops, the closest being about 10 miles away. Changing some habits can be difficult here, but with multiple student- run organizations working towards a “green” community, it is not impossible. Below are just a few tips towards going green while living on campus, in an off-campus apartment, or commuting.

Turn Off and Unplug

Colin’s family rid their house of television, and months into the experiment they shut off their home’s electricity. If you are not ready to read in the dark or you can’t live without your favorite television series just yet, here are some tips that won’t jeopardize your eye sight or pop culture knowledge.

When not using something, turn these things off. If this device is plugged into a wall, unplug it while it is not in use. This includes lights and faucets, radios and television sets in the dorm room, and laptops used in a dorm or around campus. This also applies to electrical device chargers. You can make the most of your device’s battery life by charging it only after the battery has died. Keeping something plugged in while it is in turned off still consumes electricity. Turning off and unplugging not only conserves electricity and water, but cuts down on utilities bills and conserves your battery or light bulb life.

Transporting the Message

The first day of the “no impact man” challenge cut out transportation that relies on electricity or that releases carbon emissions into the air. This had the family walking to work, and only using stairs to travel within buildings. Self-propelled transportation produces no carbon emissions and even gives you a work out.

At school, take the stairs those couple of flights when moving between floors. Do your best to use elevators only when you have a big load to carry. Walk or ride (use a bicycle, skate board, roller blades, or a scooter) to and from campus. When these ways of transportation are not an option (in the case of a long journey) carpool or use mass-transit to cut back on the carbon emissions released into the atmosphere as well as traffic on the roads.

Ramapo College offers a shuttle bus to the nearby shopping centers and train station. The bus to and from New York City also makes daily trips from campus. Just as well, there are several taxi services in the area that are available when the shuttle is not.

When driving your car somewhere, plan out your route. Take into consideration the time, weather conditions, and road construction to avoid traffic and detours. Taking the shortest route means less time your car is releasing emissions, means less gas used, means the longer you can use that tank before filling up again. It also means no rushing which will in turn keep you a safe and cautious driver. If you are commuting to school, think of the class time schedules. Arriving just as classes are getting out means fewer time idling or driving in circles and a more ideal opportunity to find a space sooner, saving you from running to class for that exam or presentation. At Ramapo College, the last thing you want to do is run to the academics building when the pathways are icy or even on a hot day when the journey uphill from the parking lot is twice as exhausting!

Balance Your Impact

The key word in the “no impact man” experiment is no net impact. Balancing negative actions with positive actions results in zero net impact. During the initial year experiment, Colin and his family gave back to the Earth by cleaning beaches and planting trees. You can do these same things and more in your own community by contacting your local environmental activist group.

Ramapo College has two ways of going about this. The first is contacting the Community Services Center. This will inform you of the ways you can give back to your community, and some of these projects contribute to the environment. The college also has an organization called 1STEP: Students Together for Environmental Progress. According to the club description “1STEP works to make positive, measurable changes on the Ramapo College campus by promoting a sustainable environment. We take small steps that turn into big results in reducing carbon emissions, college costs and preserving the environment.” Since the founding in 2009, this student run group still hosts residence area competitions to bring residents together in conserving energy, picks up recycling in the residence areas to sort these items properly, and has rid plastic bags at the campus convenience stores to encourage the use of reusable bags.

Reuse, Reduce

Big-time consumer Michelle faced a big challenge when, as part of the no impact project, she gave up buying anything new. Also, the couple adjusted their diet to exclude meats and seafood. They only purchased locally produced food and beverages. This was to support local farmers and cut back on the emissions contributed to the atmosphere when transporting foods over a long distance. Yet, even at the Farmers’ Market, where they bought their groceries, Colin found something that did not suit his mission: unnecessary individual packaging that would only become waste.

While it can be difficult to come by a locally produced diet at college, there are options aside from cafeteria food. If you live on campus, research where your nearest farmers’ market is located whether this be an outdoor street fair set up every weekend, or a shop that is open daily. Such foods can be prepared at home or in residence hall kitchens. Most schools provide a microwave in the dining area to support “brown bagging” a portable lunch.

Still haven’t mastered crafting that caramel latte that you can only find on campus? No need to give it up to save from adding another paper cup to a landfill. Instead, invest in a thermos. The Ramapo College book store sells these and reusable cups complete with straws and lids for cold beverages as well. These cups are a great asset for sporting events, too, whether you are a spectator or an athlete keeping warm or hydrated.

Starting the Trend

These are just a few steps to consider when beginning your green transition during your college years. Attempting the no net impact challenge is just that, a challenge, no matter where you live, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try to reduce or contribute in a positive way. Although you may think that what you are doing is small, it is that fact that you are doing something that counts most. If your school does not have a group on campus to educate others about a green college environment, talk to your clubs and organizations committee to pioneer the first one! There’s no better time to start the change for a greener tomorrow than today!


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