How often do you hold people accountable for their environmental impact? It is easy to tell your friends to recycle or turn off the lights when they leave the room, but your environmental fighting shouldn’t stop there. We tent to only look at the individual scale when we try to make change, but we should be looking beyond that. Did you know that nearly 40% of carbon emissions in the United States come from our buildings? That is a staggering number when you think about it, but do you want to know another wild fact? Nearly 90% of carbon emissions that newly constructed buildings will produce from 2015-2050 will be a result of the building materials and their embodied carbon footprint while the remaining 10% of the emissions will be accounted for in the operations of the building. For those of you who aren’t aware, the term embodied carbon is related to the carbon footprint that an individual material takes to be produced, transported, and used in any field. That is a massively wicked problem that we must tackle to make a better tomorrow for everyone who gets the opportunity to see it. We should take a stand and let big corporations know that we disapprove of these numbers and make a change to save and preserve the only environment we have.
I know what you’re thinking, these fields are large and don’t affect my life, give me something that I can relate to that involves my everyday life. What do you think about the clothes you’re wearing right now? How about the materials and finishes in your home/work that you interact with on a daily basis? There are many chemicals and materials that go in to these products, over 82,000 registered chemicals by the EPA in fact. Out of these materials, only 650 are monitored for toxic release. Only 5 products out of those 82,000 and 650 monitored have been officially banned, that is about 0.00006% of those chemicals. That sounds pretty good right? The problem is, to be put on this list, these materials don’t have to be proven that they are non-toxic, but people have to go out of their way to prove that their own material is bad for you. Right there seems like a big problem doesn’t it? This system makes it difficult to protect the public from these possible harmful products and easy for corporations to push their toxic materials out for years to help their bottom line. In fact, it took 16-66 years for these 5 products to be banned by the EPA because of these backward policies and who knows what else is out there? Oh, and those sweat wicking clothes you wear to the gym, there’s a reason moisture doesn’t attach itself to your fabric. Many are coated with harmful chemicals that just sit on your skin all throughout the day, without testing, and no full way of knowing the impact these cause to not only you, but the environment. If that doesn’t literally make your skin crawl and want you to fight for higher regulation and accountability for these large corporations, I don’t know what will.
I understand that fighting large corporations seems like a daunting task that, and let’s be honest, the average person won’t do anything to try and fight them outside of posts on social media, but we can do things much closer to home to help change our communities for the better. After touring the sustainability office here at Oklahoma State, I learned about all of the things our simple community does to become more sustainable. From reusing old furniture, to recycling unusable furniture and paper products here on site, we help the environment every year and even make money while doing so. I was unaware of the staggering amount of recycled materials we go through on a yearly basis. If we didn’t have these departments, not only would we be spending more money every year, but we would be vastly contributing to the pollution problem and landfills every year. I personally believe that everyone in a community should be aware of these recycling plants and their daily productions. Knowledge of the system is the first step towards getting behind movements and understanding the ease and importance of doing so. I challenge everyone to learn more about your communities recycling programs and look in to what you could do as an individual and a community to help our environment and other seemingly unmanageable “wicked problems” and do one thing towards fixing that a day. I think you will be surprised at how many low effort changes you can make in your everyday life that will make you become a more sustainable individual and community. Go out and make a difference.