What's in it for me?
This year’s freshman summer reading
choice, Deep Economy by Bill McKibben,
was perhaps not the most rousing of
choices; nevertheless, it was an excellent
selection for initiating dialogue about our
future. In the book, McKibben argues that
we must reject the assumption that an
increase in economic growth and possessions
will make us more content. Judging by
the way we are heading, there will not be
enough resources available for everyone to
achieve more, and there will not be enough
replenishment of those resources to sustain
anything even closely resembling our current
lifestyle. According to McKibben, the
key to greater progress is to slow the consumer
demand that impacts the availability
of resources. He proposes that a household
needs to earn $10,000 per inhabitant to
achieve the optimal level of contentment;
earning more than that has no further positive
On this point, there is much disagreement.
Associate Professor of Economics at RIT, Dr.
Jeanette Mitchell, found that McKibben’s
proposal “went against the basic principles
of capitalism,” a system that prides itself on
finding the most cost-effective way to provide
goods and services for a competitive
price. Says Mitchell, “The concept of placing a uniform amount of money
that creates optimal happiness is ridiculous because everyone’s idea of
what would make them content is completely subjective and unique to
them.” In this aspect, I am much more inclined to agree with Mitchell.
Surely, the environment in which a person is raised has a huge influence
on what they define as “comfortable!”
Despite this, many readers found the environmental aspect of Deep Economy
quite resonant. New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), a nonpartisan
and not-for-profit environmental and consumer advocacy organization
based in New York State, would agree that an immediate change
needs to occur in both government policy and society in order for a positive
environmental change to occur. For the past two summers, NYPIRG has
been working to establish an energy plan that makes use of wind, water,
and solar power to supplement our current energy sources with the intention
of eventually decrease the pollution output of New York State associated
with energy production. Another popular campaign that was specifically
environmental was the creation of the Bigger Better Bottle Bill, which
will allow consumers to receive a five cent deposit amount for beverage
containers that were not currently on the deposit system. NYPIRG considers
that small changes, when executed smartly and with substantial support,
have the potential to create huge impacts on our daily lives.
How is RIT keeping up? The institute has shown considerable commitment
to the value of sustainability during the past school year. Some of the
simplest measures have resulted from Dining Services working with the
Student Environmental Action League (SEAL), most of which had little to no
impact on the way in which we receive and consume our food on campus.
Unbleached napkins were used at every on-campus eatery for an entire
year of food service. During Spring Quarter, Gracie’s eliminated tray usage
except for those with disabilities, which created an immediate decrease
in the amount of food waste and helped to conserve the amount of water
and cleaning supplies required to clean the utensils at Gracie’s.
At the same time, the RITz was undergoing experimental use of biodegradable
utensils and containers made from corn or recycled paper. Though
eventually deemed too costly, this effort was a step in the right direction.
And according to the RIT Green website, baking soda is now the cleaning
agent of choice throughout campus.
As a campus, approximately 35% of our energy usage is supplied by green
(or eco-friendly) sources of energy, including nuclear, hydro, and wind
power. Heating, cooling, and electrical renovations are also expected to
increase RIT’s energy efficiency, and will be continuing through Fall 2009.
The new academic year will bring with it the introduction of RIT’s first
Farmer’s Market every Thursday during the Fall. It will feature organic
produce whose fertilizer was composted waste generated through RIT’s
food preparation service. This year has also brought about a new dedication
to improved mass transit and pedestrian travel, with many more RIT
shuttles available to go off campus or to Park Point and the RIT Inn. The
loop around the RIT campus has also become more pedestrian and biker
friendly, with a wide sidewalk that has almost completely been installed
throughout the campus. Along with the wide sidewalks, several sheltered
bike racks are expected to be installed during the school year.
For more on RIT’s effort to increase sustainability, visit http://www.rit.edu/fa/ritgreen and learn what you can do to help with these efforts. To
become involved with SEAL, go to http://www.rit.edu/sg/seal or contact
one of the current officers for more information.