Solutions in Sustainability

I was surprised to learn of the extent of OSU’s commitment to sustainability. Sure, everyone hears about how important recycling is; Reduce-Reuse-Recycle has been a thing since about 1976, so it was a part of my own childhood. I think my mother even had a bag with the slogan on it – or maybe it was a tshirt. I can’t remember. Anyway, in the 11th Hour movie, someone says something about how people really do the best they can within the limited education (on the subject of climate change) that they have. That rings true to me, because outside of school, there’s no one really pushing that message. Target has recycle bins, and takes 5 cents off the total for every reusable bag you bring in, instead of using plastic. But mostly, it’s kind of hard to recycle. It’s just not a thing that’s made important in day to day life. 

OSU, though, has clearly put further thought into the concept, because there’s recycle bins everywhere (although the paper ones are harder to find, and I think it wouldn’t hurt to have separate ones for glass and plastic. They mentioned at the recycling center that paper and cardboard are different, too – that cardboard is corrugated. I also had no idea that those materials would be sold once they were baled, so that was interesting. 

We’ve started a compost in the backyard in an effort to keep food waste out of the landfill. The Recycling Center can’t do that because it requires special permits, but they did have a very healthy looking compost made primarily of paper and plants, which is used all over campus. I noticed in the autumn that it took them some time to clear up the spruce needles in front of Human Sciences, and that may just have been a shortage of enough help, but I hope it was on purpose, because it’s really much better for the insects. 

The upholstery shop was also really good. I would never have thought that they would go to the extent that they do to achieve cradle-to-cradle design – it’s great. LEED certified buildings are one thing; they’re kind of making a point in a visible way, but to be so committed as to actually reupholster furniture and make so many repairs is impressive. It’s not an easy undertaking.

As it is, the Earth isn’t able to cope with the sheer amount of waste that humans produce. If we were to stop recycling altogether, I can only imagine how quickly the problem would become utterly overwhelming. Aside from running out resources, the air would quickly become quite unhealthy, flooding would be even worse than it currently is, and we would escalate our current rate of self-destruction. Landfills, which are expected to last between thirty and fifty years, would fill yet more quickly, and all that trash, once covered over, would just go on producing methane, which would only contribute to heating the planet. As mentioned in the 11th Hour movie, the Earth itself would peacefully keep on going in circles round the Sun with or without us – and it would, eventually, recover from the damage we have so carelessly inflicted.

Largely due to the requirements OSU places on sustainability as part of the degree program, it’s impossible to ignore, even if one wanted to. In addition to that, a designer without LEED certification is almost a joke. Society is evolving, and finally figuring out that things can’t go on this way. Some private companies have taken it upon themselves to do better, using solar and wind power, that sort of thing. Green buildings are beginning to be the new normal, at least to some degree. Given how far we’ve come since that office burned and everyone died of smoke inhalation from the padding in the office chairs, I’d say every little bit is an improvement, and I hope to do my part in that, including becoming certified. I will also do my best to consider low-VOC finishes and materials, low-energy lighting and low-flow water installations. It’s going to be a challenge, and it’s not one that can ever be dropped, but I think it won’t be as hard as it seems. 

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