Sustainability. That word has been thrown around a bit excessively as of late, almost as much as the words “organic” or “green.” It connotes images of Earth Day, recycling, and Birkenstocks.

But what exactly does it mean?

Part of the reason sustainability is used so often may be because its definition is so broad. Kimbrough Mauney, coordinator for Residents' Resource Awareness Program (ResRAP), gave two definitions of sustainability. One comes from the Brundtland Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development, a United Nations group. It states that a sustainable society ensures it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs, she said via email.

While this definition focuses on sustainability by humans for humans, there are other definitions that focus on all species, Mauney said. Author William McDonough said that sustainability means securing the viability of, or designing for, all children of all species for all time, Mauney quoted.

Western has its own protocol for sustainability, defined by the Western sustainability committee, which can be divided into four main components, Mauney said. To be sustainable Western must protect local and global ecology, uphold social equity, create economic vitality, and protect the health of its inhabitants, she said.

Mauney said that her job was created to help target dorm residents to create a more sustainable campus. The ResRAP program will use the residence hall council's eco-reps to inform their halls of their environmental impact. Eco-reps, which previously have focused only on hall recycling, are going to become more active catalysts to promote student conservation, Mauney said. They will attend workshops, the first of which will be focused on fostering behavior change, Mauney said.

Mauney said she and the University are hoping for a drop in electricity use during winter due to the new emphasis on eco-reps, and the first ever dorm energy reduction competition. In this competition all residence halls will try to reduce energy use, with prizes for the most successful halls.

Students will be encouraged to use energy saving bulbs, turn off lights unless needed, use the stairs, air dry clothing, and turn off computers rather than leave them on all day.

According to the Office of Sustainability Web site Western has also become only one of 50 schools whose president has signed the President's Climate Commitment. This means that the University is committing to eliminate their greenhouse gas emissions over time, and is agreeing to follow certain, specific steps to insure this process.

Western students have also been active in the movement towards sustainability. According to the Students for Renewable Energy Web site, Students for Renewable Energy, an Associated Students club, researched the possibilities of buying renewable energy here at Western. They found it was feasible to use 100% renewable energy on campus if students paid a small fee each quarter. They campaigned to get student signatures and received enough to have the initiative included on the AS ballot, where it passed. Western is now the forth largest renewable energy buyer of all collegiate institutions.

Students for Sustainable Foods, another AS environmental club, has provided composting to the residents of the Birnam Wood Apartments, said club member Bridgett Jamison. Members of the club realized that there was a lot of waste generated in the dorms, Jamison said. They then figured out what the cost would be to provide students with the tools to compost. The RA's supported their idea and now Birnam Wood residents can compost if they so choose.

“It is important for the school to encourage composting so that students can learn environmentally friendly habits for their future,” Jamison said. “College is an educational experience in many ways. I would hope the school would make it easy and fun for students to compost so that students develop good habits that they will continue long after they leave the dorms.”

So the University and student clubs seem to be doing their part, but what can you do as an individual? Well first off you should check out the Web site http://www.myfootprint.org. This Web site is run by the Earth Day Network, which promotes environmental citizenship, and Redefining Progress, a public policy think tank dedicated to finding solutions for a sustainable world.

You can take a ecological footprint quiz on this Web site which will tell you whether or not your personal lifestyle choices are sustainable, or if you consume more than the earth's resources provide.

Mauney said that off campus students can reduce waste by requesting a food waste bin from their garbage company. The service only costs $8 a month and cuts back on landfill use, as well as creating compost for farmers. If you live in the dorms you can ask your residence halls to provide food waste bins, she said. Students can also ask for bins to be provided in the retail markets and other places around campus, she said.

Another tip is to bring your own reusable cup to campus, Mauney said. It saves you money on every coffee drink you purchase and cuts down massively on waste, she said. If you don't have your own cup they are for sale in the markets, Mauney said.

But the best way to reduce your consumption and waste is to educate yourself, Mauney said. “Educate yourself on the source of your food, where your trash is going, and where your energy comes from;” she said, “consider your options and analyze your actions.”

“We have the chance to create an ecologically and socially healthy world for us and future generations. Knowing not only how much we consume, but what we consume and the origin or source of our resources is the first step in creating a just and healthy world,” Mauney said.

Interested students can check out the Office of Sustainability Web site for more information at
www.wwu.edu/sustain/.