Thursday, May 9, 2013

Students Challenged to Rethink Materialism

Ohio Wesleyan free store fashion show

By Erika Kazi (edited by Mira Luna)

Sarah Jilbert, Melissa Guziak, and I were juniors at Ohio Wesleyan University when we formulated Green Week. Our school has lagged behind when it comes to sustainability efforts - only making baby steps in the past two years due to a lack of environmental awareness among our peers.

Our research about other campus sustainability programs showed us that once educated and conscious, students can easily become enthusiastic for environmental causes. We’d seen this grow at our own school - a school once without a uniform recycling program. In just one semester, we initiated a composting program at our school, redesigned the recycling program, and hosted two free stores. Our first Free Store collected items during student move out in May, and allowed students to claim items at the start of the following school year. This was a great success - we diverted 43 tons of waste from a landfill within just 2 weeks. To build on this enthusiasm, we created Green Week, funded in part by a seed grant from Shareable and OWU.

OWU Free Store

Though the week-long event was mainly focused on education, having fun and bonding as a community was an integral part. Each day of the week had a different theme to promote ‘green’ actions through playful challenges. Each activity was an opportunity for teams to earn points and three teams with the highest points earned certificates for local ice cream. The winning team won the opportunity to implement an innovative sustainable project on campus with the help of the Sustainability Task Force.

On Monday, Energy and Water Day, students won a free water bottle for sharing information about their energy and water habits.

Reusable water bottles from Camelbak given away at OWU Green Week

Tuesday was Mind Your Area Business Day, a big dinner celebration with local food, wine, and beer to create relationships between students and local business owners and encourage local consumption.

Wednesday's Waste Naught event featured a recycled art display about waste and a “Compost Challenge” - to receive a free Green Week reusable tote bag, contestants had to demonstrate knowledge of compostable materials.

On Thursday, Smoothie Moves / Social Bike Ride day, we surveyed students how they got to class (walking, biking, or driving) in order to get a smoothie and sign up with our campus bike share program costing only $1 for the semester. Students gathered for a bike ride, which earned them a reusable spork.

Friday's Black Out Day & Night / Community Free Store event was focused on reusing clothes and striving for accountability in turning lights out. Students signed a statement saying that they would be more consciously aware of turning out lights to receive “when not in use, turn out the juice” stickers, a pencil, or a spork. In order to enter a thrift shop dance party later that night, students had to donate at least one clothing item to a Free Store the following day, supported by a donation from Shareable.

OWU Give and Take free store

Reflecting on the excitement around Green Week, the campus’ reaction was the greatest proof of the impact that we made. It was hopeful to hear students encouraging their peers to recycle and carrying the free water reusable bottles, and to see the administration's awe of such a successful event. Some students, as cheesy as it sounds, mentioned that Green Week changed their lives. In one case, a student approached me and explained that by getting the water bottle she gave up drinking soda, speaking to local businesses encouraged her to be more conscious about her food choices, and the bike ride made her join the bike share program. This student is now trying out being a vegetarian and is excited to be helping to fix the recycling program in her residence hall.

Encouraging students to take a step back from the dominant materialistic culture and get a feel for a more genuine and sustainable lifestyle allowed the importance and benefits of living in an eco-friendly manner to be understood in a real way. It was such a hugely successful event that nearly everyone was affected even if it was just by seeing the waste display on our main walkway. In total, we estimate that 1,900 people were influenced by our event, based on the number of students that participated in the challenges.

Thumbs up for Green Week!

Students, faculty, and staff responded so well to our initial effort that we are confident that next year will be even better and our community will learn even more. There are already other students on campus interested in taking charge of Green Week, so as we graduate, the program will continue on.