Insufficient awareness of Laurier environmental issues

There are three things that I believe to be true.

The first is that universities ought to be at the forefront of technological advances and social movements. The second is that environmental degradation is increasing and we really need to do something about it. The third is that Laurier has the potential to combine these two facts and become a leading institution for ecological knowledge and activism.

At this point in time, the school appears to barely be aware of the perils of climate change and over-consumption of resources.

Buried within WLU’s website is information about the new sustainability policy, research being done by faculty and students, as well as student-led initiatives that could lead to a better future.

Compare this to the University of Waterloo, where their information is found on one webpage devoted to sustainability, accessible within one click on the main UW website. More clicks take you to pages and pages of environmental initiatives and programs occurring at UW.

Laurier might not have quite the knowledge base that UW has, due to Waterloo’s entire faculty of environment compared to WLU’s environmental studies program, which is basically a convoluted version of a geography degree.

Of course, with budget cuts across the board, the environmental sustainability program had a slight scare about its existence, despite exponential increases in inquiries for the program at university fairs and Laurier Day.

Financial issues were also the reason that the sustainability office was not implemented when it was brought forward by Physical Plant and Planning in the summer of 2008.

The termination of the original sustainability office plan caused environmentalists at Laurier to take up the cause and campaign for a referendum that would create a student-funded office.

The campaign was run by the Campus Environmental Coalition (CEC), an ad hoc group comprised of environmentally-mandated groups at Laurier.

Many students do not realize the many different eco-friendly initiatives that have grown out of Laurier’s well-known volunteer spirit.

Most assume that the EcoHawks are the only students who care about the Earth, and action from this WLUSU- funded group has often been found lacking, as they are best known for handing out water bottles and coffee mugs – a necessary task, but fewer disposable cups are not going to change Laurier’s habits.

For those not willing to deal with the STARR interview process, other groups are available through WLUSU’s campus clubs, such as GeoHawks and the Laurier Campus Greens.

Another CEC member, the Laurier Students’ Public Interest Research Group (LSPIRG), funds and supports numerous groups and events, such as Simple Living, the Global Citizenship Conference and KW Urban Harvester, which recently set up a campus community garden.

The WLU Farm Market is supported by both WLUSU and LSPIRG and promotes healthy, local, organic eating.

New extracurricular activities and clubs relating to environmental awareness are increasing every year.

WLUSU has hired a sustainability co-ordinator for the summer while the sustainability officer contract is being worked out.

These two official positions will help keep the school headed in the right direction.

Also, WLU’s board of governors recently approved a new mission, vision and values; tacked at the bottom of the guiding principles is “sustainability and environmental responsibility”.

While this shows that ecological awareness is on the administration’s radar, without action it is simply green-washing the school.

With plans to tear down buildings and erect new ones, and continual renovations of existing buildings, student pressure must continue to ensure that Laurier leans towards eco-friendly endeavours such as LEED ratings and general energy efficiency.

At the same time, increasing awareness throughout the student population will also be necessary to ensure that the importance of initiatives such as composting and Lug-a-Mug are understood.

Volunteering at Laurier is a fantastic way to get involved while making a difference; volunteering with an environmental group provides a way to not only make change within the Laurier community but on a world-wide scale.

The same message extends to the office of the president: decreasing Laurier’s ecological footprint will have a positive impact for the future of the entire Earth, not just WLU.

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