Learning to Get Involved in Sustainability Initiatives: One Woman's Story

I can still recall the first computer my family owned, a large white IBM which I used religiously for my ever important doses of "Wolfenstein" and "Mortal Kombat." Reminiscing about it is almost nostalgic; there is just something about a joystick and poor graphics that really brings me back.

Since then, technology has taken us to places unexpected and thrilling, and opened up doors we could not have dreamt into existence. However, as we continue to strive for bigger and better, we are unknowingly sacrificing significant portions of the planet we call home.

Don't get me wrong, I am a poor excuse for an environmentalist. I choose to drive two minutes to campus instead of walking on those cold Oregon mornings, enjoy imported food as much as the next person, and refuse to sleep without the hallway light on. However, when I came across the Student Sustainability Initiative (SSI), I couldn't help but be interested. It's not often you find an ecologically focused student group that doesn't come off as a bunch of radicals.

Wanting to know more, I set up an appointment with Morgan Dumitru, co-director of SSI, before which, I have to admit, I was a little nervous. Preparing for what was sure to be an indirect lecture on how I have failed as a defender of Earth, I entered the SSI's office only to be met by a friendly face and a conversation I hadn't expected.

According to the OSU website, our university ranked in the top-25 nationally on the College Sustainability Report Card. Our position as a front-runner has both descended from, and triggered, additional expansion of campus sustainability through both creation and adjustment. At the forefront of these developments is the SSI, which seeks to administrate, communicate, and educate the masses on the importance and methods of living a more sustainable lifestyle.

Living within our means isn't exclusively about the environment — that's simply the area receiving most attention due to its scientific endorsements. Instead, the case for sustainability can be made on all planes. As Dumitru said, "Financially, ecologically and ethically, it just makes sense."  

Sustainability improves the economic bottom line by reducing operating costs and optimizing efficiency, not to mention providing unmatched marketing advantages. Subsequently, sustainability speaks to our ethics by providing the agenda for a more positive vision of our future.

Although acknowledging the idea was borrowed, Dumitru says, "Infinite growth in a finite world is impossible, and yet it is the decree on which we build our nation. Producing 3 percent more each year is unfeasible unless considering inflation and comparable events."

The real problem with our economy is more complex than our subprime market and dollar worth. What it really comes down to is our unreasonable demand for more.

The SSI has addressed the issue in their own unique way: targeting students and driving interest on all levels. In any given year, the SSI is working on 10 to 15 projects, both long and short term. In 2011, they installed a solar hot water heater on top of Dixon along with many other victories. They're now attempting to institute a green roof on Kelley, Oregon State composting facilities and a Corvallis ordinance banning plastic bags, among many other projects. On a smaller scale, keep an eye out for SSI's 5K Run, Energy Civil War, and Sustainable Film Festival.

There is no correlation between living sustainably and being unhappy, and there never will be. The truth is, less doesn't have to mean worse. If I learned anything from my time with Dumitru, it was that we need to find pleasure in what we already have for the benefit of our families, our planet and ourselves.

Through our actions we create a domino effect, which in turn influences our campus, our city and so on. Changing our lifestyles may not be easy, but it is not impossible. As Dumitru put it, "Sustainability is the capacity to continue an activity in practice for as long as desired. For example, in a marathon, sure you can run fast, but you will almost always deplete your resources and be unable to finish the race. Alternatively, you could pace yourself and continue running for as long as [you] wanted, meeting one goal and carrying on to the next."

If you're interested in learning more about the SSI, they can be found online at oregonstate.edu/sustainability/ssi.  Take the time to impart your ideas, share your passions, or just lend a hand. There is no better way to explore your interests and get involved on campus — all awhile doing something substantial for the community.


Courtney Jackson was a sophomore in anthropology when she wrote this op-ed for The Daily Barometer. The opinions expressed in her column does not necessarily represent those of The Daily Barometer staff or the Student Sustainability Initiative. Jackson can be reached at forum@dailybarometer.com. The original article can be found here.