On March 12th, early on a chilly pre-spring morning, a hundred-some Hood College students and Frederick residents gathered to be a part of the annual Green Neighbor Forum, a series of forums educating citizens and students alike on simple and accessible ways to be more environmentally friendly.
Kicking off the event was keynote speaker Eric Eckl, LLC of Water Words that Work, a firm that acts as a general contractor and manages various projects and campaigns in a way that is both sustainable and environmentally friendly.
According to a study that he presented from the Gallop group, the top problems that people surveyed worried about had to do with water. In his speech, Eckl began with mentioning all of the different ways that we use water in our lives and how we can use it in a creative and sustainable way.
He concluded his speech by highlighting his key point, “The Diffusion of Innovations”, and their environmental impacts, such as bottled water, for example. Originally, it was only for those who were “pretentious enough to drink it,” but that it is now normal, albeit extremely environmentally degradative. He says that the things that seem strange now, like green roofs and rain barrels, will eventually become the new normal, just like bottled water, and how we can all become innovators and empower others to spark lasting environmental change.
The day shifted after this, everyone migrating to their morning forum of choice. Of these forums, relating to the key topics of Eckl’s speech, one could choose a workshop on installing rain barrels, using technology to better support home energy management, or one on the importance of recycling and consuming less.
I decided to attend the rain barrel installation forum. I commute, so it would be easy to use the dusty, old rain barrel in my backyard to water my lawn in the warm coming summer months. So, the first workshop that I went to was about how to responsibly and properly begin using one.
The speaker was Jenny Willoughby, sustainability manager of Frederick County. In her forum, she taught the group the rights and wrongs of using rain barrels to collect rainwater for use around the yard, washing one’s car, etc.
“Using a rain barrel is a visual statement,” she said. “It can start a conversation with neighbors, which might lead to ‘would you like help with your rain garden?’ And so on.”
Being a part of such a visual movement is what brings the community together, and can help to really begin the cultural shift toward a more environmentally-centered mindset. This, in turn, is really what will begin the long journey toward environmental sustainability and progress toward a healthier Earth.
The second workshop that I attended was about recycling more and wasting less, led by Annmarie Cramer, one of the coordinators for the recycling program in Frederick county. She said that on average, we produce approximately seven pounds of waste per day per person, trash and recyclables included. What does that mean for us here at Hood?
We all probably know about how Hood doesn’t seem to be very big on recycling, and have heard the rumor that facilities doesn’t separate trash from recyclables. As students and future leaders, what can we do now to make recycling and reducing our waste a priority? Should we buy reusable bamboo utensils instead of using disposable ones? Not using a bag when we
get food to-go at the Blazer? Taking notes on our laptops and tablets instead of in notebooks? The possibilities are endless.
During lunch, a vegetarian meal accompanied by factoids about the harmful effects of eating meat, people were asked to discuss the various hot-topics that were scattered on placards on each table. After the discussions, the day shifted gears toward the hands-on seminar.
These hands-on seminars, of which participants had three to choose from. I decided to attend The Birth of a Green Roof, led by Peter Ensign of LiveRoof Brand roofs.
He showed participants what he would normally show to a firm that he would represent, which detailed the the positive economic effects that green roofs have been shown to have, and the positive effects that it can have on well being, which is the main reason that businesses choose to invest in green roofs.
It can bring together billionaires and homeless people, he said, and that it’s simply people on their knees, planting vegetables and plants, and getting to know each other.
After his presentation, our small group created our own small tiles of crushed-up seedums, a hardy and tolerant mix between a coniferous and deciduous plant, which is typical of the work he does with his clients.
Now, hypothetically speaking, what kind of implications would this have for us, Hood College students? Not only would having access to public roof-top garden decrease our general stress and well being (as numerous studies have shown), but it would bring students together in a new way. No club meetings, no assignments, no internships, just a common love for being outdoors and enjoying what nature as to offer. Plus, wouldn’t it be cool?
As students, and more importantly, as humans, we should strive for progress in our communities. Whether it’s seeking out a recycling bin rather than tossing out our recyclables in the nearby waste bin, visiting the hypothetical roof-top garden and planting all kinds of vegetables and herbs, or eating organic and local food whenever possible, today, I personally have a lot of hope for our potential as an academic institution.
We are more than just GPA averages, club attendances, and athletes, we are a community. We all depend on each other, and we must always consider the possible ramifications of each and every one of our actions, how they affect one another, and most critically, how they impact our Earth, the only Earth.
The Green Neighbor Forum was more than just a mandatory assignment or a disturbance in our schedule. It was a sign of our community growing and becoming a more cohesive whole, and that our world may be headed on a different path than what is predicted, maybe a better path.
Maybe every building will have green roofs, maybe everyone will recycle, or better yet, maybe we will abandon our consumer tendencies in favor of a more sustainable lifestyle. Maybe, albeit hopefully, environmental stewardship will become the new normal.