Georgia Hall ’25 (She/Her), Staff Writer
Sustainable solutions stereotypically start with students. As a whole, the Davidson student body is socially engaged, which includes caring to varying degrees about the environment and combating climate change. For example, in the recent first-year student government election, almost every candidate cited at least one campaign promise focused on sustainability. However, findings from a recent Davidsonian lifestyle survey of 145 students suggest that everyday practices don’t necessarily align with students’ sustainable mindsets.
According to a recent Guardian article, meat accounts for 60% of all greenhouse gases from food production. The lifestyle survey revealed that 18.6% of surveyed students eat meat in every meal, 55.9% eat meat in some meals and 8.3% eat meat very rarely. Only 13.1% reported to be vegetarian and 2.1% to be vegan. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2019 special report on climate change cited plant-based diets as a major opportunity for mitigating and adapting to climate change and included a policy recommendation to reduce meat consumption. For college students, reducing meat consumption is one approachable step toward mitigating the effects of the climate crisis.
Food waste and sourcing is another major component of climate change. Food is often imported from across the globe, increasing the emissions due to plane and shipping fuel. Nevertheless, in the lifestyle survey, 33.8% of surveyed students reported that between 10-30% of the food they buy is wasted and only 54.5% stated that between 0-10% is wasted. Just over half reported that they do not know where their food comes from.
Total emissions from food pale in comparison to greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in 2019 transportation was the largest sector of emissions in the entirety of the US, accounting for more greenhouse gas production than industry or electricity. In the US the number of vehicle miles traveled by light-duty motor vehicles (passenger cars and light-duty trucks) increased by 48% from 1990 to 2019. According to the lifestyle survey 88.3% of surveyed students reported their primary source of transportation is a car.
In addition to transportation’s detrimental impact to climate change, water also plays a major role. Not only is water the primary medium through which we will feel the effects of climate change, according to the UN, but also its waste is a significant contributor to climate change. Of surveyed students, 44.1% spend 5-10 minutes showering, and 33.1% spend 10-20 minutes in the shower, on average. According to the EPA’s estimatations, each minute in the shower uses 2.5 gallons of water. Excess water usage could have global ramifications; BBC writer Sandy Milne predicts that water scarcity will be one of the primary sources of conflict between nations.
This lifestyle survey is only a snapshot, and sustainability efforts by students are happening across campus. Gabriela Nahm ‘24 is a member of The Sunrise Movement, The Sustainability Collective, and lives in the Sustainability Cooperative House on campus. Nahm has been working to reduce environmental harm in multifarious ways, specifically tackling widespread herbicide usage on Davidson’s pristine, green lawns.
Nahm worked for an environmental NGO and learned about Herbicide Free Campus, a UC Berkeley initiative whose mission is to empower the next generation of students by starting locally and advocating for organic land care on their campuses. Inspired by the movement, Nahm met with Davidson’s landscaper to try and incorporate their scheme on Davidson’s campus by findind an alternative to glyphosate, a herbicide and crop desiccant. Nahm’s main concern is the human health effects of glyphosate, which is carcinogenic at high concentrations.
However, it was incumbent on Nahm, according to the head of landscaping, to find an alternative to glyphosate that would be “equally effective” if the landscaping team were to stop using the chemical. Nahm stressed that “it’s a cultural thing…people have an expectation of a green lawn; Chambers lawn is pristine [all year].” She specifically cited “the admissions office” as “a big problem,” as they want tours of campus to present an idyllic liberal arts scene, potentially at the expense of the college’s environment and health.
Other campus groups are also trying to promote sustainable practices, like The Sustainability Collective, who “aim to practice and promote environmentally conscious initiatives on campus and the surrounding area by an entirely student-led team,” according to leaders Emma White ‘23 and Oma Hameed ‘24. While the organization just started last year, they have already “organized an Earth Day fair and helped with the Earth Day month,” said White and Hameed.
In order to enact large-scale effective change to combat the climate crisis, efforts will have to be made on an institutional level. However, there will also have to be a collective change in how students lead their daily lives. Nahm stressed the importance of “the term ‘responsibility’” and believes “we need to change people’s mindsets and take responsibility for our own actions.” Hameed and White also shared the sentiment that “there also needs to be cultural changes.”
There are many ways the student body can begin to work effectively to help promote sustainable practices. Yancey Fouché, head of the Sustainability Office, suggested starting small by attending local town hall meetings and advocating for sustainability. Nahm proposed turning off the shower in between shaving your legs or bringing your own cutlery when you go to the Davis Café. Having meat only once or twice a week, showering for shorter lengths, and walking whenever possible are all small but meaningful student-driven changes that would bolster Davidson’s instutional sustainability goals.