Colleges Go Green, Each In Their Own Way, for Earth Day

Students have their pick among energy competitions, expert panels, green concerts, even birdwalks.

Harper College graduate Catherine Camastro, who works in the campus bookstore, models the school's new green, biodegradable graduation gown.
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Taking that advice to heart, officials at Colgate University see Earth Day as an opportunity to get more in touch with nature, and they plan on doing that by connecting with some of the feathered members of the campus community. John Pumilio, the school's sustainability coordinator, will lead several hourlong Earth Day "Birdwalks" during the day. "Each year, chickadees, juncos, sparrows, hummingbirds, warblers, hawks, owls, woodpeckers, and many other species build their nests and raise their families right outside of the buildings where we learn and teach," he says. "This is a way to get some exercise, meet other people, and emphasize that nature is right outside our office windows." 

There will also be some rocking out: The whole Colgate community is invited to a folk festival concert, where information booths from local green organizations and businesses will be set up, along with a raffle for prizes such as a full season's share of locally grown organic produce. Binghamton University has a similar annual "zero waste festival," and so does St. Michael's College, where musical performances take place on a solar-powered stage and free healthful snacks and treats are given to attendees. 

The animal theme is also important at Washington College in Chestertown, Md. The small liberal arts college's Center for Environment & Society is letting dogs get in on the action: On Saturday, April 24, the school is partnering with the town of Chestertown and the Humane Society of Kent County, Md., to hold its annual "mutt strut" and Earth Day festival. There is a farmer's market, live music, and ecofriendly crafters and vendors, but the real fun might be the dog parade. It winds through town and finishes at the courthouse, where the dogs compete in a series of agility contests and tricks. 

There also is free paper shredding, free recycling of fluorescent light bulbs and alkaline batteries, and environmental education during the main festival, which is free and open to the public. "It's one of the best events that the town comes together to put on each year," says JoAnn Fairchild, program manager for the college's Center for Environment & Society. 

The various events might run the gamut, but a recurring theme in many colleges' Earth Day activities is an effort to give students opportunities for hands-on conservation efforts. Dorm energy reduction competitions held in honor of Earth Day, like the one at Sewanee: The University of the South or Colorado College, are becoming quite common. Students residing in campus dorms compete to see who can conserve the most energy. Officials at Sewanee say it allows students to see, measure and appreciate the results of their own conservation efforts. The campus bookstore at Lebanon Valley College has computers set up for students to calculate their own carbon footprints. And for the first time, seniors at Harper College, located just outside Chicago, will be donning green, biodegradable graduation gowns made from renewable, managed forests. 

WPI's Orr says the ultimate goal for colleges is to get students to think more broadly, outside of the classroom. "It's not so much about putting the onus on the students, but to help them see how they can make a change on a community-wide basis," he says. 

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