April 23, 2009

Groups Use Earth Day To Inform Passersby

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Students from approximately 20 different campus sustainability organizations set up tables on Ho Plaza yesterday, offering information, educational activities and free giveaways to a large congregation of passing students and staff in honor of Earth Day.
The scene involved a massive “solar cooker” that roasted marshmallows using reflected sun rays, a display of sustainable menstrual products, a recycling challenge with T-shirt prizes for students who could correctly sort a mixture of paper, plastic and compostable refuse, multiple petitioners gathering signatures and a display car courtesy of Ithaca Carshare, with a live performance by Funk and Disorderly to complete the festivities. [img_assist|nid=37171|title=Check us out|desc=Adam Baratz ’11 talks to Lalo Lopez ’09 about Dilmun Hill student farm at their booth on Ho Plaza yesterday.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
In addition to the large variety of environmental groups in attendance — including KyotoNow, the Ecology House, the Dilmun Hill Student Farm, Engineers for a Sustainable World, and Roots and Shoots —­ there were an equal number of organizations dedicated to social responsibility and development, attesting to the increasingly multifaceted nature of sustainability. No longer is Earth Day all about recycling. Rather, there is an emerging trend toward the type of sustainability which encompasses ecological as well as social and humanitarian imperatives, both at the local and global levels.
Members of the Cornell Organization for Labor Action gathered signatures for their petition advocating a living wage for all Cornell staff members. COLA member Fil Eden ’10 explained that the University’s staff contract is up for renegotiation in June and under the current contract a number of workers are still not making a living wage.
“The workers really care about students but they don’t want to complain to us … we want to show our support for them and their families,” Eden said.
Representatives from the Cornell Microfinance Club, Stephanie Li ’11 and Amanda Chow ’11, work for community development on a more global scale by raising funds to lend to underprivileged entrepreneurs in third world countries. Like Eden, Chow and Li believed that Earth Day was about more than just environmental advocacy.
“This is about human sustainability, … social sustainability,” Li said.
The solar oven team, launched by Cornell Engineers for a Sustainable World, has an ongoing partnership with a community in Nicaragua. The team first visited Sabana Grande, Nicaragua over spring break and hopes to return next year. Engineer Nicholas Chisholm ’10 believes that solar oven usage is a sustainable alternative to wood-burning and the associated health and fire risks.
“We built ovens with the local women so they won’t need to collect and burn as much wood” Chisholm said.
The Society for Natural Resources Conservation set up a table on Ho Plaza in support of their Back to the Tap campaign. SNRC member Sherry Martin ’11 explained the reasoning ing behind the club’s mission to reduce bottled water sales on campus.
“Cornell selling [bottled water] is them saying that they don’t trust their own water supply,” Martin said.
Martin explained that Cornell has a contract with Pepsi and that Pepsi owns Aquafina. However, what students don’t realize is that bottled Aquafina water is nothing more than tap water, according to Martin.
“We have a statement from Pepsi saying that Aquafina is filtered tap water,” Martin said, adding that Aquafina has recently come under pressure to change its product label to “filtered water.”
Sitting behind the SNRC table was a colossal mound of clear trash bags filled with hundreds of used water bottles. Martin explained that club members collected over one thousand plastic bottles from campus garbage cans on Friday and decided to bring the pile of trash bags to Ho Plaza to demonstrate just how much waste bottled water can produce in as little as one day.
Cornell Apple representatives Matt Omans ’10 and Brian Tan ’09 used the event as a forum for promoting the latest Apple products, including the Macbook Air.
“It runs on the power of a lightbulb,” Omans said, noting that the whole base of the computer is made from one solid piece of recycled aluminum.
Omans argued that contrary to popular belief, a number of larger corporations are committed to environmental conservation, and that consumers ought to be aware of which corporations are working to create eco-friendly products when purchasing a computer.
“Because we’re working for a corporation, people usually assume we’re against the environment … but Apple is really committed to sustainability,” Omans said.
Apparent during the Earth Day events was the fact that a large number of campus groups are committed to sustainability, and that each group is contributing in its own unique way.
Pat Farnach ’10, a member of Cornell Big Red Bikes, appreciated this diversity and viewed the Earth Day events as a rare opportunity to see the projects of other ecologically-minded organizations on campus.
“It’s really good to see all the green organizations come together on campus,” Farnach said.