Forward thinking

GVL Staff

Last year, the College of Interdisciplinary Studies started the sustainable office awards. This year, various on-campus departments are filling out surveys to see how their office measures up to others in different areas of sustainability. The survey asks questions about the type of coffee maker an office uses and how many recycling bins it has. There is also a section for individual evaluation, all in an effort to increase workplace sustainability.

This individual evaluation is something students could benefit from as well as faculty. GVSU and Grand Rapids have adopted a philosophy of the triple bottom line, which includes environmental, economic and social sustainability. The office awards are one step toward improving that triple bottom line and GVSU has made other significant strides to reaching that goal. But sustainability cannot be just an institutionalized concept. It has to be a personal commitment from all members of the community.

Though GVSU does not give its students a sustainability survey and reward the most “green”-conscious Lakers, students can benefit from a self-evaluation of their impact on the triple bottom line. The founding values of GVSU promote diversity and original thought, so it is not expected that all students and faculty will completely agree on their personal convictions, ethics and standards. However, it is difficult for anyone to disagree that sustaining a healthy, profitable way of life is not a worthy cause.

In developing a triple bottom line for sustainable student life, students must first look at their environmental impact. GVSU has placed recycling bins all over campus, do you use them? The University Bookstore is conscious to sell apparel only produced in fair working conditions, do you shop there or at stores with similar standards? The Rapid partners with GVSU to offer free transportation to its students, do you ride the bus? Or better yet, do you walk or bike to class or the store? The university has made it easy for students to exercise basic environmentally-sustainable practices on campus. There are even more opportunities to get involved through student groups and the community garden.

The sustainable economic bottom line is not as easy to come by for students. With the high cost of tuition and thousands of dollars in student debt piling up, it is difficult to say this is a financially sustainable lifestyle. But education is an investment. In the bigger picture, the career college graduates obtain is sustainable and will balance out the debt they may have now. In the meantime, students can still do their best to show financial responsibility. Shopping at second-hand stores cuts costs of a new wardrobe and also saves the materials and labor needed to produce new clothing. Carpooling saves money on gas and also reduces harmful emissions into the environment. Holding a part-time job is an option for some students, which can reduce the sum of their loans and also give them an outlet for contribution to the community.

Social sustainability is part of the triple bottom line students can definitely help improve. First we must help create a society worth sustaining. Students should be aware of the events going on in their community, state and nation. They should educate themselves on current issues and take an active role in voicing their opinions. Communication is a staple to any healthy society, and students can lead the way with a productive use of the Internet, social media and instant messaging. Volunteering is another way to give back to the community and create a better social climate. As the up-and-coming generation, college students have a significant opportunity to shape the social environment and make it one people want to engage in and sustain.

There are countless other ways to embrace the triple bottom line and truly commit to sustainability. Each person will have his or her own convictions and perspective on how best to accomplish it. But until everyone is at least thinking about sustainability and making it a priority, the impact will go no further than an office survey.