Editorial, Opinion

EDITORIAL: Sustainability at BU — progressive or performative?

In 2022, the Horn of Africa experienced the worst drought on record, one-third of Pakistan was submerged by floods and the world experienced its second-hottest temperatures in written history. 

At the same time, Boston University introduced its Choose to Reuse program: students pick up food in vomit-green, plastic containers — smaller portions of food than before — and drop the containers off three days later. Should the drop-off be late, students are charged $8. Should the student use the old, non-reusable containers, they’re charged an extra $2.50 — even though the non-reusable containers are more biodegradable than the new ones. 

This seems to be a common theme running throughout BU’s sustainability initiatives. Good intentions, perhaps, but flimsy, almost harmful execution.

Chloe Patel | Senior Graphics Artist

Take composting, for example. According to BU students, in order to access compost bins within dorm buildings, residents must take a quiz in order to receive a code. As such, only a scant few students end up composting their organic waste at all — directly because of the University’s restrictive policies. 

Even more egregious, student sustainability groups purportedly have one main goal for BU in 2023: turn off building lights during the middle of the night. And yet, this ridiculously simple initiative, which would have a positive impact on BU’s carbon footprint, has yet to be implemented. Rare is the night that the College of Arts & Sciences building isn’t dotted with blazing yellow windows, no matter how late one walks through the campus streets. 

Currently, easy and quick fixes which could have actual results seem to be overshadowed by money-grubbing, roundabout measures. 

Forcing students to pay for plastic, reusable containers that are actually less sustainable than the single-use containers is not only ineffective, it serves as another barrier for lower-income students to thrive at BU. 

The dining halls shovel all the extra food into bins at the end of the day, weigh the waste and then create cheeky graphics and messages comparing the weight of the waste to the weight of animals or buildings.

To be fair, BU is making small strides towards its 2040 carbon-neutral goal. The new Center for Computing & Data Sciences — colloquially known as the “Jenga” building — is 100% fossil-fuel free and one of the most sustainable buildings in New England. 

But for BU to actually cool down the rapidly-warming planet, it needs to stop simply throwing money at the problem by constructing fancy buildings or up-charging students who need a quick bite between classes. 

Instead, BU needs to cultivate a culture — among students, faculty and staff alike — that upholds sustainability as a necessary, integral part of life. 

Yes, using reusable containers can be inconvenient, but it is even more inconvenient to live through food crises, a growing consequence of climate change as farmland is destroyed and crops fail. 

Sorting through waste to figure out what’s trash and what’s recyclable can be a pain, but it’s a lot more painful to lose homes and families in natural disasters — many of which are no longer natural at all, but directly caused by humanity’s failure to address global warming. 

These messages need to be hammered into those who learn, work, eat and live at BU, so that sustainability becomes part-and-parcel of daily life rather than treated as an afterthought or a nuisance.

Most importantly, BU administrators need to develop these feelings of personal responsibility and global empathy themselves. If BU students see those in charge fundamentally reforming and strongly prioritizing sustainability throughout the University, the ripple effect could not only cement BU’s place as a pillar of environmental protection, but actually make a tangible difference throughout the world. 

This article was written by Opinion Editor Caroline McCord.

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