In an effort to broaden the community's definition of sustainability, OEMS has hosted a series of events and discussions surrounding different sustainability themes. Examples of some of those themes are noted below.
The U.S. produces over 250 million tons of waste every year, about 30% of which is diverted from the landfill via recycling and composting. While we've seen improvements in recycling rates over the past several years, recycling and composting is never going to be enough to reach our sustainability goals. There are too many people on the planet consuming too much for us efficiently deal with all the waste we produce. The solution isn't in how we throw things away, it's in how we buy the stuff we need. Want to learn more? Check out The Story of Stuff and UCLA's Climate Lab video on zero waste.
While burning fossil fuels for electricity is still the #1 (29%) contributor to atmospheric greenhouse gases, transportation is a close second. Responsible for 27% of total GHG emissions, transportation in the U.S. contributed 6,587 million metric tons of CO2 in 2015, much of which was produced by light duty (or personal) vehicles. Aside from CO2, cars and trucks also produce methane, nitrous oxides (NOx), and hydrofluorocarbon (HFC), which are capable of having an impact on our climate 300 times greater than that of carbon dioxide.
Global water scarcity is one of the biggest issues facing humanity today. Less than 1% of the water on Earth is available and accessible (with current technology) to humans, and it's needed to feed and fuel the current population of over 7 billion people. This results in over 780 million people lacking access to clean water, and 3.4 million water related deaths each year - most of which are children in impoverished areas of the world. For more information, consider watching National Geographic's Our Thirsty World. Documentaries on water availability and the impacts of bottled water include: Flow: For the Love of Water, Tapped, Bottled Life, and Blue Gold: World Water Wars.
Want to make a big impact on climate change while saving money, decreasing your risk for heart disease, and reducing world hunger? Consider eating less meat, particularly red meat. Agriculture accounts for 80% of America's water use, with significantly more water needed to raise animals rather than plant proteins. The lack of humane husbandry and slaughter aside, raising animals as food has a profound effect on our planet - including impacts on human health, water quality, soil erosion, air quality, and water availability. Movies and books documenting animal welfare, sustainability, and food systems include: Food Inc., Cowspiracy, Forks Over Knives, Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, and The Ethics of What We Eat by Peter Singer.
Perhaps the element most commonly associated with sustainability, energy generation is very broad and therefore broken down into scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions.
- Scope 1 emissions are all direct greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources such as boilers for building heat, hot water heaters, and fleet vehicles (lawn maintenance, snow removal, and College owned passenger vehicles).
- Scope 2 emissions are the energy indirect GHG emissions - primarily electricity purchased by the College. While the amount of electricity consumed by an individual is staggering, it takes 3.1 times more energy to produce and transport that electricity to us.
- Scope 3 emissions are the other indirect GHG emissions and the toughest to measure. Contributors to scope 3 emissions include daily and business commuting, airline travel, and third party emissions for producing and delivering food, supplies and equipment to the College.
Human health is a complex combination of physical, social, and mental well-being and cannot be defined as merely the absence of illness. Each of these elements are intimately connected to the physical environment and its own state of well-being. These connections can be seen with the steady correlations between: air quality and the number of asthma cases; water quality/availability and patients with giardia, E.coli, and other waterborne disease; and farmland degradation, sometimes coupled with inundation, and starvation.
Equity & Justice
Threats related to climate, air quality, and waste don't impact everyone equally. Studies have proven that race - even more than class - is the primary indicator for the placement of toxic facilities in the United States and that low-income communities are often the first hit by the dangers of climate change. For example, when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf coast in 2005, nobody felt the impact as acutely as low-income communities of color who waited far longer than necessary to receive adequate emergency response. In this example, like in many others, the climate crisis has merely compounded a history of environmental and social injustice. For more information, consider visiting the People of Color Sustainability Collective at the University of California, Santa Cruz website, reading Dumping in Dixie by Dr. Robert Bullard, or Clean and White: A History of Environmental Racism in the United States by Carl Zimring. For Anthony Rogers-Wright's suggested reading list, please click here.
Sustainability in business is often defined by the triple bottom line: a process that considers an organization's social, fiscal, and environmental opportunities and obligations. Traditionally, many businesses focused primarily on cost-cutting and financial profit - ignoring the impacts those practices might have on the environment, human health, or the individuals working for that organization. The triple bottom line, however, is not considered without obstacle. While it's simple to measure a company's financial profit, it is increasingly difficult to measure the social or environmental impact in the same terms. This makes it even more challenging to make a tangible comparison between the three pillars. Nevertheless, the rise of fair trade and the wide acceptance of climate change science has shown us that companies all over the world have been making the necessary changes to ensure their organization is well rounded and sustainable. For information on some well-known organizations considering their impact, consider reading The Zeronauts: Breaking the Sustainability Barrier by John Elkington or Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard.
All of the aforementioned themes contribute to or will be directly affected by climate change. The astronomical production of waste and fossil fuel-derived energy, coupled with the wild consumption of oil for transportation, food, and water all directly impact global social justice, human health, and fiscal longevity. Ithaca College asks our community to be mindful of the everyday decisions you make, and to take into account the environmental, social, and financial impacts of your choices. For information regarding the science behind and impacts of global climate change, consider watching An Inconvenient Truth or Carbon Nation; or try reading Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet by Mark Lynas or The Uninhabitable Earth: A Story of the Future by David Wallace-Wells .