Environmental change can make a difference on campus

Karl Hahn, Contributor

Implementing positive change on campus with regard to environmental stewardship is a difficult task, one that can only be made by changing the community culture, through an intentional, inclusive, step-by-step process. Larger-scale, comprehensive efforts of the Environmental Stewardship Committee (ESC) and Environmental Action Committee (EAC) to make the Augsburg University campus infrastructure more sustainable are sometimes tabled and shelved indefinitely due to bureaucratic obstacles and budget constraints. But these are obstacles that, with persistence, can be and have been overcome with passionate effort by dedicated students, faculty, and staff working together.

Changing the broader campus culture regarding environmental awareness and action is a greater and more difficult task than changing an individual policy. Making individual change regularly and incrementally, alongside policy change, can help shift campus culture and awareness. Moving away from bottled water on campus and towards loving our local water can make a difference in how students, faculty, and staff perceive progress in our efforts toward greater sustainability. The job of getting rid of plastic bottles on campus is not yet completed.

But maybe this job is better done if not completed overnight. Re-education is part of the process toward culture change. Culture change involves conscious choice. And a sustainable choice needs to be as barrier-free as possible, with recognition that we all face different social, psychological, economic, and infrastructural barriers when asked to make these choices. That moment where we have to pause and make a decision can contribute to changing our understanding and shifting our habits. Granted: There are still plastic bottles on campus, we are still using non-local water in some areas, and the infrastructure and education to support this effort isn’t fully realized yet. But there’s no “loophole” here; now there’s a choice. And making the better choice is what defines environmental stewardship.

Augsburg ESC and EAC sustainability efforts are intentional, incremental, and directed. These efforts are also made to become the default and not just the better choice. While changes may happen slowly or partially, behavior adjusts. The next time we go to a meeting, we will bring our own reusable container for water. The next time we go to a vending machine, a question may arise: “Do I really need to buy this product? Look at how it’s packaged.”

Perhaps the next time we host a campus event, we will request a large, reusable container and make a health-conscious beverage using tap water and fresh fruit from a local market. Small-scale efforts are ongoing and are gaining momentum. Beyond the short-term dysfunction, confronting environmental efforts with a default decision actually makes the change happen. They address different angles of the multifaceted challenges of sustainability. Together, all of our efforts (including yours) are making a difference.

This article first appeared in the Friday, April 13, Edition of The Echo.