Students promote initiatives for sustainable living

By Chris Trubac

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Juliette Sandleitner/Collegian

Some University of Massachusetts students last week sought to spread awareness about sustainability as part of a weeklong campaign known as “No Impact Week,” which was organized by the Eco-Rep Program, a campus group that seeks to promote environmental literacy.

The week’s events were inspired by the efforts of blogger Colin Beavan, who gained international attention in 2009 with his documentary film “No Impact Man.” The film documents Beavan’s attempt to live a sustainable lifestyle in New York City.

Encouraging students to follow Beavan’s example, Eco-Rep members promoted the cause each day last week in the Campus Center concourse. Orbiting around a folding table decorated with homemade posters, as many as 10 Eco-Reps at a time worked to try to get their messages heard.

Chris Hewes, the Eco-Rep Program manager, said the Eco-Reps were “trying to engage with passersby about why they should care about reducing their impact on the planet.”

With a new theme for each day of the week, the Eco-Reps challenged members of the campus community to rethink their lifestyles through a variety of activities.

On Monday, for instance, the Eco-Reps encouraged event participants to decrease their production of garbage. Students were asked to stockpile all of their waste products in a single bag, and then evaluate the contents at the day’s end.

The idea, Hewes said, was to “think about how much waste you produce, and how you could reduce it.”

Themes of other days included consumption, transportation and energy.

Wednesday, which focused on food production and consumption, included a joint-effort between the Eco-Reps and UMass Dining services. Together, they worked to spread awareness about local and organic foods, as well as the importance of composting practices.

On Friday, Eco-Reps turned their attention to water issues. Their slogan for the day was “taking back the tap,” and their efforts in the Campus Center included a blind taste test to determine whether students could really tell the difference between tap and bottled water.

“A lot of people think that tap water is dirtier than bottled water – that’s kind of a common misconception,” said Julie Sullivan, a lead Eco-Rep and environmental science major who served as one of the event’s several coordinators.

According to Sullivan, the goal of the taste test was to prove that the tap is an ideal source of water, while highlighting its lesser impact on the health of the planet in comparison to water that is packaged in plastic bottles.

While some students were receptive to the messages being delivered, others were dismissive, organizers said.

“A lot of people don’t respond very well to tabling,” said Sullivan, who joined her fellow Eco-Reps in the Campus Center several times throughout the week. “They’d just like, freeze up and walk away.”

At the same time, she emphasized her fulfillment in connecting with the public.

“It was always really exciting when we got people to stop – each one is a small victory,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan, however, said those “small victories” were rare. In her estimation, only one in 10 students took time to stop and talk to the Eco-Reps about ways of reducing their impact on the environment.

“We’re just trying to highlight some things about our culture and about our society. Every time someone stops by the table, it’s a win,” Sullivan said.

While Sullivan did note that rallying support for the cause of sustainability was no easy task, she said she was upbeat about the current state of sustainability at UMass.

“I think we’re doing a wonderful job,” Sullivan said of the University’s environmental practices, pointing out that all of the new buildings being constructed on campus are LEED certified.

Chris Trubac can be reached at [email protected]