Though Georgetown may outperform its D.C. peer universities in academics, it lags far behind in campus sustainability initiatives. Looking at the progress that American University and The George Washington University have made recently, I can only hope Georgetown will match their dedication to sustainability. Given the various environmental student groups and initiatives on campus, it is clear that interest isn’t the problem. Unfortunately, a lack of communication within the administration and among the environmental groups on campus slowed our progress before. And though we are catching up, it is time to move even faster.

That being said, within my time on the Hilltop, the university has already seen huge improvements. I remember signing up for various environmental groups in the fall of my freshman year. Despite their overlapping agendas and goals, these groups all worked separately from one another. Now, with the formation of Georgetown Environmental Leaders, students across these fragmented groups have the chance to collaborate on projects and create a network to share ideas for sustainability.

For me, the most exciting development has been the establishment of the Office of Sustainability. I interned for the Sustainability Initiative last spring, which was the precursor to the official university office. Last year, we worked on a lot of the same types of projects, but now that we are officially recognized, with a budget, a director and 10 student staff members, I hope sustainability will be given more weight in administrative decisions. And though Georgetown’s 2008 goal to halve carbon emissions by 2020 is significant, the real challenge will be to meet it.

As a sustainability research fellow this summer, I created criteria and an application for the Green Revolving Loan Fund attached to the Social Innovation in Public Service Fund. As I was fielding ideas for project proposals, I noticed that students tend to think big, proposing to use the elliptical machines in Yates to generate electricity or renovate the Intercultural Center solar panels. In abstract, these ideas are great, but what most students don’t realize is that it’s not as easy as proposing an idea and getting the funding. First of all, these projects are expensive, and the return, both environmental and financial, is relatively small. More importantly, Georgetown’s bureaucracy makes it difficult to advance ambitious projects without a serious personal commitment from university officials. It is instead more realistic to focus on smaller projects that yield large influence.

Unfortunately, the administration seems to care less about these less marketable or monumental initiatives. For instance, we at the Office of Sustainability are working to implement a universal recycling system to decrease landfill waste. Although the university has shown support by buying new labels and providing bins for apartments and dorms, there is still inexplicably red tape over a complete recycling overhaul. Georgetown seems unwilling to support these types of small-scale sustainable improvements without some push from the students telling them they care about these issues. On the other hand, people who aren’t aware of these issues or who don’t care are not going to change their behavior without some transformation on campus, such as upgrading the recycling system. There are lots of opportunities for students, faculty and staff to show their interest, but we need to focus our collaboration on spreading the message that a greener school would benefit everyone, including those who don’t yet care about sustainability. If we can get these students to voice their support for sustainability initiatives, then, through a bottom-up approach, we would have a better shot of actually achieving our goals.

Jane Xie is a senior in the School of Foreign Service. She is an intern for the Office of Sustainability.

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