Earth Day events invite sustainability

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April 27, 2010

4:12 AM

With the creation of the Committee on Sustainability, the achievement of being the nation’s first Do One Thing university through the DOT campaign, and the proposal to the Board of Visitors to renovate the lodges into an eco-village — all within the last three years — the College of William and Mary has proven that environmental sustainability is an issue the community cannot ignore.

The increased emphasis on being environmentally friendly is a big step forward and a clear indicator of improvement considering that the September/October 2008 issue of the Sierra Club Magazine placed the College in its “Five that Fail” listing for environmentally minded universities. Although this grade was contested by professors and the College administration due to a lack of supporting data for its analysis, the “F” clearly encouraged the College to initiate change.

This year’s Earth Day weekend provided an opportunity for the College to showcase its appreciation for all things eco-friendly as well as benchmark the progress since then. The College’s Earth Day Celebration as well as the International Mercury Expo 2010 highlighted this year’s Earth Day festivities.

At the Sadler Center terrace from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday the Committee on Sustainability, the Student Environmental Action Coalition and the Mercury Expo organized a day-long program.

“I think this year’s Earth Day was extremely successful,” SEAC Fundraising Chair Emily Sample ’11 said. “I started planning in February. We started by finding speakers and mailing various environmental organizations and clubs at William and Mary and organizations around the state that we had been in contact with before and who happened to be environmentally active.”

As for financial support, the COS contributed $2,000 and the Student Activities Office donated $1,500. Sample said that the funding they received for Earth Day allowed them to enjoy the day and provide students with free T-shirts and Frisbees.

“That kind of funding really enabled us to put on a huge, extremely successful event because we could stop worrying about where money came from,” she said. “We were able to give a lot of free giveaways which attracts a much larger crowd.”

The terrace’s 18 tables, filled with various campus organizations and a vegetarian barbeque, drew a crowd of students, professors and Williamsburg locals. Throughout the day, Student Dining Services provided complimentary vegetarian and sustainably produced barbeque, complete with biodegradable plates and compost waste bins. The Virginia Theatre Machine animatedly put on an environmentally-themed peformance amidst student organizations selling plants and eco-friendly products.

The DOT Campaign distributed awards to individuals who made an impact through their environmentally conscious decisions to be sustainable. A winner was also selected for the DOTumentary YouTube video contest, which encouraged individuals to explain their DOT.

President Taylor Reveley made an appearance to read Dr. Seuss’s “The Lorax,” an event he said he hoped would become a tradition similar to the reading of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” at the Yule Log Ceremony. Although this was the first year Reveley spoke at Earth Day, SEAC facilitator Caroline Cress ’10 said she hoped it wouldn’t be the last.

“A huge part of Earth Day was President Reveley announcing the College DOT, which was the eco-village,” Sample said. “Members of SEAC have been working on this [project] for several years. [The lodges] are going to be sustainable housing that will be running on different kinds of alternative energy.”

Cress was one such member who helped design the concept of the eco-village along with other students.
“I most recently was given the honor of being able to present the proposal to the Board of Visitors,” she said. “Although I’m graduating in a few weeks, [I] am still involved in the project’s further development.”
Cress explained that the eco-village was seeking funding entirely from sources external to the College due budget constraints.

“We are working with the Office of Development to design a fundraising strategy to fund each individual building as we design and [re]construct it,” she said. “This way, we will not need a large sum of money all at once, and we won’t be acting as a burden on the College’s already-tight budget situation.”

In reference to the success of the DOT campaign, Sample reflected on how the College has improved its sustainability agenda.

“In three years, we went from having no energy policy whatsoever to now having green fees and the new eco-village, which is being implemented next year,” she said.

The International Mercury Expo 2010 began last Thursday and lasted until Sunday. The Reves Center for International Studies and the William and Mary Mercury Global Inquiry Group coordinated a series of exhibits, performances and presentations dealing with mercury. Events included film screenings, gallery exhibits at Andrews Hall and the Muscarelle Museum of Art, theater workshops and panels. According to Expo Executive Producer Adam Stackhouse, the aim of the series was to promote a better understanding of the global impact of mercury and was scheduled to take place during Earth Day weekend due to its overlap with the environmental place during Earth Day weekend due to its overlap with the environmental issue concerning mercury hazards.

According to Cress, the “Stop the Surry Coal Plant Campaign,” a subcommittee of SEAC, worked with the Mercury Expo’s panel to discuss the potential effects of the power plant’s projected mercury emissions. SEAC also collaborated with the Expo in designing and funding 300 sustainably produced T-shirts. The shirts have President Reveley’s face printed as the Mad Hatter alongside the motto “Sustainability, a tradition in the making.”

“[The T-shirts] were distributed for free at the Earth Day event as a way to demonstrate the many collaborations within the College which are working towards increased sustainability” Cress said.
“Mercury: The International Impact” — one of the longer concurrent panels — presented six researchers and one historian on their findings on mercury. The panel discussed ways in which mercury impacted the global arena by its presence in the atmosphere, waterways, soil and mining sites. The symposium invited international speakers and university professors to discuss topics ranging from mercury and its effect on the policy sphere, to methylmercury production to ecotoxity and risk.

“The challenge for me is to inform effective policies [on mercury issues] that reduce risk at multiple scales,” Noelle Eckley Selin, assistant professor of engineering systems and atmospheric chemistry, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said at the panel.

She expressed the importance of implementing policy change for mercury issues and taking global action in order to protect overall human health.

She referenced the Global Mercury Assessment of 2002 as sufficient evidence to warrant international intervention. Selin also addressed upcoming negotiations that begin in June 2010 to initiate a global treaty on mercury.

The session took a dynamic turn when one of the presenters, Dr. Marcello M. Veiga from the University of British Columbia, concluded his presentation on mercury pollution caused by artisanal gold miners in Antioquia, Colombia by breaking out into song. Playing the guitar and singing a traditional Spanish song about artisanal gold miners, his personality drew appreciative laughter from students and members of faculty in the audience.

Andrew Johnston, associate professor at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, Ma., offered a different perspective on mercury. Johnston discussed the history behind the geographical location of current mines.

“My studies of the physical and social structures of the mercury industry have pushed me back to Spanish and British colonial structures,” he said.

The guest speakers at the panel provided diverse exposure to international issues on mercury. Although the information was enlightening, it was the presentation’s technical subject matter that affected audience reception as expressed by the number of students remaining at the close of the information session.
This year’s Earth Day festivities have already opened the door of anticipation and excitement to next year with ongoing projects such as the eco-village and the DOT Campaign.

“We are so happy that Earth Day went really well, and we’re looking forward to having a successful Earth Day next year,” Sample said.

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