Sustainability Starts With Students

Before we begin our weekly opining, we’d like to introduce you to TSL’s new logo. As we began to cover all the Claremont Colleges more thoroughly, we realized that our continued use of Pomona College’s (former) logo might give the wrong impression to our readers on other campuses. We’ve incorporated journalism’s ubiquitous quotation marks into the silhouette of a fountain—a familiar feature across the consortium—and we hope you appreciate the result. Yes, it’s blue—although we’re expanding, we still want to honor our roots at Pomona.

Speaking of water features, California remains in a severe drought, last week's rain notwithstanding. The threat to California’s urban and agricultural centers is obvious, and the parched state has turned our attention toward sustainability efforts here at the 5Cs.

Because responsible water use is at the forefront of our minds right now, we’re impressed by the efforts of the Scripps Water Task Force. The group's emphasis on teaching students to address water waste is encouraging, because we believe that institutional commitments must be matched by personal ones. By combining an education campaign with plans to reduce water use on the grounds, the Water Task Force sets an example for efforts that blend individual and institutional responsibilities.

On the topic of institutions, we’re glad that Pomona President David Oxtoby has committed to a 2030 deadline for carbon neutrality, but we hope to see facilities upgrades accompanied by individual efforts. The recent email to Pomona students from sustainability coordinator Ginny Routhe about ways to reduce water usage is a step in the right direction, but we imagine that many students missed the message among the tumult of daily emails. 

In order to make sustainability a lived value among 5C students, it’s important to focus on efforts that will make environmental consciousness an integrated part of student lives. We may not achieve carbon neutrality by brushing our teeth more quickly, but a general awareness of resource usage, fostered by habit, will have a far greater impact on the prospect of a sustainable society than any building retrofit.

Without diminishing the symbolism of divestment, we find ourselves unconvinced that the continued campaign is doing much to relay the importance of responsible resource use to students. A narrow focus on economic and institutional means of promoting sustainability seems ill-advised to us, and with Pomona and Pitzer declining to divest, we’re beginning to think the energy expended on divestment protests could be better applied elsewhere.

Take, for example, Pomona’s EcoRep peer education program—we think student-to-student interactions are a strong basis for incorporating sustainability into our community. Or the proposal to revive Harvey Mudd College’s Sustainability Committee, which would give students more opportunities to participate in a reevaluation and implementation process based on their own experiences. 

There’s no single solution to the problems that are contributing to drought in California and climate change around the world. But all solutions will need personal investment to be successful, and we encourage both administrations and student groups to emphasize individual commitment and responsibility, alongside top-down, institutional changes.