Earth Day…Why Care

Earth Day is celebrated each year on April 22nd and for many it is a very important event. Most schools and universities will celebrate the day with speeches from environmentalists and school leaders, educational programs, tree plantings, habitat and campus clean-ups, recycling events, energy and water conservation competitions, fairs, community service activities, and more.

It appears that environmental awareness is increasing among students, which is a good thing and should help address green and sustainability issues over the long term. The importance of this cannot be overstated especially since global population has already passed 7 billion on its way to 9 or 10 billion within these student’s life time.

Because most of the population growth will come from developing countries that at the same time are becoming more affluent; the demands for food, water, clothing, health services, fuels, building materials, text books, computers and other materials will skyrocket. So too will their cost which will directly affect schools and universities in the US.

Case in point — toilet tissue. The consumption of toilet tissue in the US is 65 pounds per person per year. Just five years ago in China the consumption was only 2 pounds per person per year. Today the demand in China has increased to 10 pounds per person per year – a 5 fold increase! And it is anticipated due to their growing affluence that demand will double in just 3 more years. While China’s consumption will still be less than the US’s on a per person bases, but due to the fact that their population is 4 times greater than the US, their overall demand will exceed ours. And this will be repeated in developing countries around the world.

While these issues may seem a far distance away or off into the future, but they are already affecting poorer communities in the US as global competition for basic commodities such as energy, water, fuels, food and building materials increase costs for schools and reduce funds for operations and repairs, teacher and staff salaries, supplies, and more. And all of this in a time when funding for schools and universities are declining.

Because schools and universities are finding it increasingly difficult to meet even the most basic cleaning and facility needs, Earth Day can be an excellent opportunity to help students and staff, and perhaps more important the administrators, budget officers and the community members (voters) understand the importance of the facility and custodial departments. It is an opportunity for facility and custodial departments to “beat the drum” and visibly demonstrate the contribution to protecting health while reducing environmental impacts

And if this is not done, it becomes too easy to minimize the importance of the work being done. As the old customer service adage goes — if customers aren’t told what is being done for them, customers will assume nothing is being done. This makes it too easy to take the work for granted and cut funding for facilities and custodial activities to fund departments and programs considered more important.

So this year, roll out the “green” carpet and beat the drum. Setup a display and showcase your Green Cleaning program. Proudly explain to students, staff and the community-at-large the efforts by the custodial department to reduce consumption of chemicals, paper, cleaning equipment and other supplies. These reductions can be quantified into environmental savings such as the gallons of petroleum, kilowatts of electricity, cars removed from the road, tons of CO2, trees saved, tons of materials kept out of landfills, and other environmental metrics. And yes, even dollars saved!

Collectively it is making a difference and one that the institution should be proud. Especially on Earth Day.