Guilt trips aren’t sustainable

| Staff Columnist

I have been rather put off by the “sustainability” program that’s ramping up at Washington University. Before I get there, however, let me qualify that statement a bit. I’m a fan of the LEED certification that adorns some of the buildings. An acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, LEED certification is, in my opinion, a good idea. I’m not necessarily for advertising the certification ad nauseam, but I applaud companies, charities and universities who opt for lower energy usage and thus lower expenses. I do not look at it in terms of how much coal went into powering the Danforth University Center, and I do not count carbon. Instead, I look at numbers. I study accounting and economics, and if one thing rings true in my ears, it’s that lower expenses are better than higher expenses in the long term.

I support recycling also for economic reasons. If recycling was not in some way a cost-effective alternative to using non-recycled items, I do not believe the market for recycling services and recycled goods would be as large as it is today, let alone in existence whatsoever. I thus put most of my recyclables in recycling bins if it is convenient. That said, I do have grievances with the sustainability efforts at Wash. U.

When I returned from winter break, I found that just about every garbage can on campus had been defiled with gigantic stickers emblazoned with the word “LANDFILL.” A little poking and prodding into the matter showed that the University had adopted a single-stream recycling program (SSR). Good so far, yes? Again, it’s back to the economics of the matter. If SSR is both easier for the Wash. U. community and cost effective, then why not use it? Where I think the environmentalists have gone overboard is with the stickers on the garbage cans. On the Wash. U. sustainability Web site, the University admits that a variety of everyday items cannot be recycled. This material has to go in the garbage cans. It is here where environmentalism loses its credibility with me.

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Tacking a guilt trip sticker to the cans is obnoxious, especially when not everything is recyclable. I thus propose this question: What is the point of using a sticker when its message undermines your credibility? The answer is simple. There is no point. Save for the green activists feeling good about making others notice their cause, the stickers serve as a mere eyesore to the rest of us. I don’t like having a finger pointed at me every time I try to throw away non-recyclable material. I don’t appreciate the accusation that I’m adding to piles of landfill garbage somewhere in the nation when I’m not supposed to pitch something in the recycling bin anyhow. I can’t help it. Am I instead to leave my garbage on a table in the DUC just to avoid putting it in a landfill?

I ask the environmental sustainability initiative to rethink its promotional policies. Roping people into such a trap just doesn’t work. If you want to convince me, or any contingent of reasonable individuals, of a cause, try facts. Try telling me what it is that I am doing right or wrong. A big, critical sticker on a garbage can doesn’t really help anyone; it merely pushes them away. The “green” movement ought to step off the corrugated cardboard pedestal it has built for itself and realize where it’s gone astray. Until then, I’ll continue putting my garbage in the garbage cans and not feeling bad about it.

Richard is a junior in the Olin School of Business. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].

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