With so many people practicing and propagating thoughts, ideas, beliefs, and practices of sustainable behaviour, it would be tempting to conclude that the world is on its way to a greener future. But this is not necessarily the case: statistics point to the possibility of losing a major portion of the world’s forest cover by the end of the century. Humans also face other environmental challenges: global warming, over-farming and loss of biodiversity.
This begs the question: are we “green” enough? Institutions of education have begun to take a certain responsibility towards creating a green culture. Ultimately, the success of this culture depends on the student population itself.
The University of Toronto has already initiated several green programs to help curb the effects of global warming. St. George and Scarborough have their respective sustainability offices. UTM has the Green Team, which is funded by the Environmental Affairs Office. UTM’s The Ministry of Environment, on the other hand, is managed by the UTMSU. In both cases, students can assume different active roles.
Thus, UTM has two groups to face environmental issues—two groups that tackle the same problem. Or do they?
While the Ministry of Environment and the Green Team have the same rough goal (that of “greenifying” UTM) they operate in different ways. Staff is one of them: the Green Team is part of an official university department (the Environmental Affairs Office), where students who need financial aid are given the opportunity to work for pay. This gives environmentally minded students who have received OSAP and are looking for work the option of joining the Green Team.
On the other hands, students who, in the words of Maria Galvez of UTMSU, are “passionate, dedicated to the environment and UTM,” and are willing to volunteer (read: work without pay) can turn toward the Ministry of Environment.
Another way in which the Green Team and the Ministry differ is in the nature of the activities that their staff perform. The aim of the Green Team, according to Environmental Project Coordinator Aubrey Iwaniw, is to “fix problems that are occurring currently at the school,” which means that its members usually work behind the scenes. As employees of the University, they are involved in the quiet research and auditing of opportunities for the campus to be further greenified.
The Ministry, however, likes to make its members noticeable, for example, by having them display and distribute garden-fresh fruit and vegetables in front of the Blind Duck.
More importantly, the Green Team’s focus on campus events prevents it, for example, from campaigning against the creation of North Simcoe Landfill in the county of Simcoe, which the Ministry has done.
Ultimately, both organizations face the same problem: apathy. Maria Galvez says that “without students’ help there is not much that can be done.” Aubrey Iwaniw agrees that the green attitude of students at UTM has not kicked into full swing yet. No amount of campaigning will do any good if students are not persuaded to throw away garbage and discard recyclables appropriately while avoiding waste in the first place.
To recruit more students into the Green Team, a proposal was made that would open a limited number of positions for students who are not taking OSAP. After all, loan-borrowing students are not automatically the best fit for work/study positions—others who are currently ineligible to join may have more of a personal interest in the matter. By allowing non-OSAP students to work for them, the Green Team would have a better opportunity to pick the keenest students. The Green Team could also collaborate more frequently and vocally with the Ministry of Environment .
While the Ministry of Environment does its part in trying to educate and instil a sense of environmental responsibility in students, it could do with a fresh approach in its publicity tactics.
Solutions and recommendations are easier said than done. Nonetheless, this is our university and our campus and we should not have to leave it to select groups of students to clean up after us. This feeling of responsibility that should arise from within is not being evoked. The next time you leave your empty Pizza Pizza tray at the Meeting Place or use plastic bottles, think again—pick up after yourself and think of your carbon footprint.