Why Are You Green: Whitman Community Reflects on Environmentalism
It’s no question that many people at Whitman are environmentally conscious of their environment and how much waste they generate. However, the question is why? The Pioneer takes a moment to ask Whitman community members to reflect on how environmentalism touches their lives.
Margo Heffron, first-year
People often refer to first-year Margo Heffron as the “greenest” person in her section, and she is known for nagging her section mates about running water, showering for too long or not turning off the lights. Heffron grew up in a family that encouraged “green” habits. Being surrounded by numerous composting and recycling institutions in Seattle has also influenced her attitude toward sustainability.
Heffron views consciousness of everyday actions as a step toward being “green”—the little actions help make the bigger picture. Despite her own personal drive to live sustainably, she acknowledges that modern civilization depends a lot on harmful habits.
“[We can] change our habits and be conscious of what our habits do to our environment,” said Heffron. “We can change [our actions] slightly to be less harmful to the environment, so like composting or recycling instead of throwing all your trash into a landfill. Switch [to an] alternative.”
Having grown up in a city that advocates ecofriendliness, she feels Walla Walla’s lack of green institutions is concerning. According to Heffron, if there are no opportunities for a person to choose to partake in something “green,” he or she will never do it.
“The habits that we have are not sustainable right now,” said Heffron. “Being green doesn’t take that much effort if we can get these systems and institutions in place, like composting and recycling. If the bins are there, people will do it. If they aren’t, you can’t do anything to work on the problem.”
Heffron’s involvement with the student-run group Campus Climate Challenge brought many opportunities for her to advocate her beliefs. She organized the environmental justice workshop in the Power and Privilege Symposium. Though she didn’t know much about the issue at first, that did not stop her from pursuing further research on a phenomenon that has become increasingly prevalent in the United States.
“All this toxic waste was being dumped into lower economic neighborhoods,” said Heffron. “It wasn’t just the socioeconomic status [involved, but] it [also involved] race.”
Her research included learning about water rights and addressing the question of who has access to water as it becomes an even scarcer resource in some parts of the world.
“It’s the white, privileged people who will get the remaining fresh water,” said Heffron.
Although Heffron understands the importance of educating individual people about the significance of being “green,” she sometimes sees it as a tedious and endless cycle. She views bigger issues, such as the divestment movement on campus, as more important.
“I actually hate telling people what to do,” said Heffron. “It’s so insignificant that I don’t have to think about [my habits] to do it, so why can’t other [people] think about this and just do the thing that’s right? They were raised a different way. I don’t think that’s where my effort needs to be. It needs to be in bigger issues, like divestment.”
Susie Krikava, sophomore
Silence. Complete silence filled sophomore Susie Krikava’s ears as the crisp air chilled her lungs. Being surrounded by trees that reached up toward the sky, seeing the view from the top of mountains, hearing her own breath in the peaceful quiet: all of it was beautiful to her. Krikava’s adventures in northern Minnesota with the YMCA were what first sparked her appreciation for the outdoors.
“That was the first time in my life that I really appreciated the beauty of nature and what this earth has to offer besides just buildings, flashy designer clothes or cars,” said Krikava. “[There were] lakes, mountains [and] the beauty of silence in the natural habitat that was way before paved roads and highways and buildings.”
Krikava described how her outdoor experience opened her eyes to harmful habits. While she recognizes modern society’s dependence on natural resources, she also touts the importance of living on less in a society that encourages living in abundance.
“I think we are able to live on an amount that is less than what we do live on, but it’s so hard to say that because people want more or people don’t realize that,” said Krikava.
Being “green,” according to Krikava, is being aware of how many resources you use in everyday life. As a participant in the Green Leaders program on campus, she advocates environmentally friendly habits.
“It’s a big domino effect,” said Krikava. “If you turn one light on, [there are] a whole different set of reactions that happen that we don’t realize [and] we take for granted.”
Awareness and consciousness of one’s actions are also important steps in trying to live more sustainably. But to Krikava, being “green” means leading a “less is better” lifestyle.
“It’s overloaded [to live with so much stuff],” said Krikava. “I need one of this and one of that, and I’m a lot happier with less stuff than with more. I appreciate that I have more because I have less [stuff].”
Audrey Vaughan, junior
In high school, junior Audrey Vaughan participated in many discussions about social justice. When she reached college, she learned more about complex environmental issues through environmental studies classes at Whitman. According to Vaughan, consideration of one’s impact on other people and on the environment is one step toward being “green.” For her personally, that means thinking about the environmental impacts of everything she does. Vaughan emphasizes the co-dependent existence of each individual in this system.
“I think the crux of being green, ecofriendly [or] sustainable is that you’re thinking about how your actions affect others and [acknowledging] how we all exist together in a system,” said Vaughan. “We need to take care of the system and of each other in order to have our system function.”
Vaughan’s awareness of this interconnected system between humans and the environment sparked her interest in pursuing the intersection between mathematics and environmentalism. She recently started to look at the financial and economic pro-environmental arguments. By researching how many fossil fuel reserves certain companies have in the ground versus the value of their stock prices, she analyzes the effects of these fossil fuel reserves on the climate.
“I’m trying to bring statistics and environmentalism interests together and [am looking] at how we can use data and science to make it [more] understandable and approachable to the general public,” said Vaughan. “[I’m] walking that fine line.”
As a participant in the divestment movement on campus, she states it’s a new way of looking at climate change. By looking at the foundation of the current society and changing the culture behind fossil fuels, this movement questions the idea of fossil fuels and promotes the use of renewables.
“Divestment is a cool [and] new way of looking at climate change,” said Vaughan. “It challenges that idea and looks toward how we can base our system off of renewables in a world. ”
Tim Parker, assistant professor of biology
As an assistant professor of biology at Whitman, Tim Parker is able to incorporate his environmental sensibilities directly into his career. His love for nature and desire to protect environmental systems from modern development were what originally inspired him to pursue a career in biology. And while his biology and bio-diversity courses may not be explicitly connected to environmental conservation, he noted that there is a strong connection between understanding how nature works and conservation, a key aspect of being “green.”
A major goal of Parker’s environmental studies course is to introduce students to various environmental issues that span a vast range of disciplines from the sciences to the humanities.
“It’s the belief that environmental issues are some of the most important issues facing people today,” said Parker. “People live and work in environmental contexts.”
Parker broadly defines environmental contexts as all of our surroundings: the air, the offices people work in and the entire planet. He uses the phrase “human condition” to describe the interaction between humans and the environment, an important aspect of being conscious of one’s own actions.
“There’s a sensibility that has a relatively long history in our country and in the world that personal responsibility for your actions is really important,” said Parker. “If there’s a problem with the environment that is caused by human interactions, you should look at your own actions.”
Parker tries to minimize his environmental impact by riding his bike, but does not see individual behavior being as effective as governmental involvement to induce environmental change.
“Being ‘green’ [in the individual sense] falls short of the kind of institutional changes that are actually needed to [for example] reduce carbon dioxide emissions,” said Parker. “Political action is probably going to have to happen to effect environmental change.”
Despite his views on individual “green” actions, he also sees their benefits, as they may lead to increased political awareness of environmental issues.
“There are so many unknowns in terms of how humans will go forward to deal with this issue, and it will actually impact human society,” said Parker. “I have a really hard time to know what the right course of action is, [but] I feel like it’s really valuable for me to get students to think about these issues.”
Roger Edens, Bon Appétit general manager
Bon Appétit has long endorsed sustainability and environmentally friendly choices in food service at Whitman College. For the company, supporting the local economy by purchasing food from small- to medium-sized farmers around the area has many benefits.
According to general manager of Bon Appétit Roger Edens, who has worked for the company since 1992, the transportation of food affects the climate in the environment. A few years ago, the company decided to eliminate food service trays in the dining halls to promote smaller portion sizes, while also conserving water.
“Food contributes a huge amount to climate change, so the opportunity to reduce that is a great thing,” said Edens. “[Bon Appétit does] various things, [such as] trying to keep portion sizes in check [to] eliminate [food] waste.”
When purchasing food, Bon Appétit considers transportation and its affect on the environment. Bon Appétit’s decision to purchase seafood only frozen at sea is both the more sustainable and healthier option—the quality of the food tends to be fresher.
“Any time you put anything on a plane, carbon is coming out everywhere,” said Edens. “As a company, we decided we’re not going to do that [for seafood].”
Bon Appétit’s ability to make these “green” choices comes down to its philosophy of partaking in socially and environmentally responsible practices.
“We do try to buy as much as we can within 150 miles, and that’s what our definition of what local is as compared to 300-500 miles,” said Edens.
Edens said that Bon Appétit tries to buy as much as it can from small- to medium-sized farms as a way to contribute to the local economy. Bon Appétit has been working with a group of local wheat farmers for the past 10 years who practice the no-till technique, a farming technique that doesn’t disturb the soil.
Students also found ways to contribute to Bon Appétit’s goals. Student Agriculture at Whitman (SAW), which was founded in 2010, supplies some of the microgreens seasonally available in the dining hall salad bars.
“SAW is a success story when it comes to student initiatives,” said Edens. “We buy everything they produce, and we buy it at the same price it would cost us from anywhere else.”