Not another live earth.
September 26, 2007 5:36 PM   Subscribe

I'm a massive critic of boycott-protests, but I'd like to change some things around my college campus for the good of the environment and for the students. What are the most effective ways (no big-jam-concert-to-raise-"awareness") to do this?

For instance, some things that I've noticed

- Lots of styrofoam used in all eating areas
- No recycling at dorms
- Dining services provided by Aramark and are awful
- Students massively underrepresented in the surrounding town

More abstractly, I'd like to know if there's any middle ground between total apathy and ineffective idealism in this sort of thing, because I'd like to take some action. So, any suggestions of methods that have shown results in the past?

Thanks for any help.
posted by tmcw to Law & Government (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
College students tend to take the victim approach - assuming they haven't got a voice in appropriate channels, and then resorting to staging a loud, large protest or circulating a petition (no one will care about a petition).

In fact, the way you're likely to get the farthest is to begin by scheduling appointments with the staff making the decisions you dislike, staying respectful, and gathering information.

"I'm concerned about the environmental impact of the styro cups. We go through [X number] of them per weekend, which is [X number] per year, and that takes up [amount of space] in a landfill. I'm interested in working with you to find an alternative."

Then find out what the obstacles are (paper hot cups are twice as expensive/not carried by the supplier/do not meet health code) and figure out how to get around those obstacles. In some cases, there may be no obstacles other than that someone never thought about the problem before.

Keep working together with the decision-makers. Also, enlist support. Sit down with any campus groups that are stakeholders who might partner with you (there must be environmental, global warming, nutrition-and-fitness groups and that sort of thing), and see if you can work together to write informative articles and letters to the student paper, or put together a survey about what alternatives to the present systems students would use. Going table to table with information and suggesting a change in behavior couldn't hurt. If the hot cups are there because people want to take coffee away, maybe you'll end up selling logo thermal mugs.

Whatever you do, try the official channels first, and stay optomistic and solution-oriented. Not only will you move farther on your current projects, you'll understand much more about why change is difficult to effect, which will put you in a better position to negotiate in your later career.

Sometimes boycotts and protests are warranted - but only when aboveboard, good-faith efforts have proven worthless.
posted by Miko at 5:51 PM on September 26, 2007 [6 favorites]

Also, do research. Other students have been there before. Some quick links I just found:

Blueprint for a Green Campus
Green Campus Consortium of Maine
Green Campus Initiative
Slow Food on Campus
posted by Miko at 5:55 PM on September 26, 2007

What about student government? Can you get involved?

Is there a dining council or an Eco-Reps program? Some schools have student advisory boards, and this seems like a good concern to raise to them. Sometimes people don't know there's a problem.

Also, what about a letter or guest editorial in the school newspaper?

Your environmental concerns are very well developed, and you can see a solution to them. But the concern with dining needs to be more exact. What is bad about it? Bad food? Bad selection? Bad hours? Bad employees? Bad prices? Too few locations? This is something to consider.
posted by ALongDecember at 6:01 PM on September 26, 2007

Go talk to Student Government. They are likely the only people in the place who actually care even a lick. And even if they don't care, just like full-grown politicians they will throw money/attention at the problems to further their political goals. Yay, politics!
posted by SassHat at 6:35 PM on September 26, 2007

"I'm against protest signs, but I don't know how to show it"
-Mitch Hedberg
posted by Mach5 at 7:16 PM on September 26, 2007

At my college campus, people worked with the head of the food service to substitute local produce for Aramark's in one dining hall as a test case. It wasn't like protests would've helped -- the dining hall manager was only concerned about "can local farms deliver enough produce consistently?" We helped find reliable local sources, and voila.
posted by salvia at 9:09 PM on September 26, 2007

miko's post is right on, and I just want to second two points:

It's important to keep a decent attitude. Nothing will change overnight, so establishing a productive working relationship with the people who make decisions is important. Try to understand where they're coming from ("I know feeding 30,000 students cannot be easy"), be sensible and matter-of-fact rather than ideological and argumentative (aim for "this makes good sense," like "since the county landfill is nearing its capacity, it makes sense to reduce the university's waste flows") and a cooperative attitude ("how can we work together to do that?"). Try to bond around being human before confronting differences (how was their vacation? are those their grandchildren's photos?). Rather than go in guns blaring, begin with two goals: 1) to express your concerns (rather than your proposed solutions), and 2) to better understand how they see the situation and what concerns your ideas raise with them (quantity, difficulty of delivery, reliablity, cost, existing contracts).

It's a great idea to think about getting other groups on your side at some point. Not to outnumber or overpower them, (hopefully it won't reach that point), but to show them the benefits of doing something a different way. Some ideas: local farms would make money, local chambers of commerce try to help local businesses make money, the university budget office knows how much the college pays in disposal fees on styrofoam-filled dumpsters, the city/county/state government people may have to find new landfill space if the landfill gets full.
posted by salvia at 9:30 PM on September 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

Propose solutions, don't bitch about problems. I can't stress that enough.

The dining services at my alma mater was very 'green' (and was so before being it was really cool for corporations and institutions to be so) because students had come to them and presented ways to do things both more inexpensively but also more environmentally-friendly than they were doing.

One thing that I remember specifically was the elimination of Styrofoam cups. Some student group came to them and presented an analysis showing that by eliminating the foam cups and replacing them with paper, they could save some money, reduce both the frequency of their orders and the amount of space the spare cups took up (you can stack paper cups more densely than foam), and that people either preferred them or didn't really care. Dining services people said 'neat!' and ordered paper cups.

One thing I've heard of student groups doing on several campuses is "Dump and Run." At the end of each semester the group puts big cardboard (think: refrigerator) boxes in each dormitory lounge, and people who have stuff they don't want to take home leave it in the box, as an alternative to throwing it away. The stuff gets taken and sold at a huge 'yard sale,' to raise funds, with the remainder donated to charity or responsibly recycled/disposed. It's a good service all around: it raises money for other environmental initiatives, it eliminates waste, it saves the students from having to haul appliances and metal items to central dumpsters, and the yard sales are great for bargain-hunters in the surrounding community.

With the money raised by something like that, you can do a lot more to change things than if you basically have to beg other people to do things. When you have money, it's a lot easier to be part of the solution rather than an outsider.

Displacing Aramark will probably be hard, and take a lot of very diligent campaigning. But some of the other things could probably be changed quickly if you work to engage key people and make yourself out to be a reasonable voice who wants to help them do their job, and not some obnoxious hippie getting in their way. If you can do that, you're probably 80% of the way there.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:11 PM on September 26, 2007

At our campus, some student workers talked with the ARAMARK managers and figured out a way to add in some locally grown food.

We also had huge problems with recycling in the past (read: people just wouldn't do it) and what helped the most was that the student government bought separate paper bins and bottle bins, and put them right next to the trash cans and then got the janitors to agree to put those in the recycling.

So, yeah. Getting a few people to organize talking with people, informing both administration and students about the problem and possible solutions.
posted by Galt at 10:21 PM on September 26, 2007

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