Stephen Ashkin

Invest In Our Planet

April 5, 2022

Everyone is tired talking about Covid.  Now it’s times time to celebrate the contributions that our schools and universities have made to address their environmental challenges while efficiently managing facilities and public funds.  Earth Day is the ideal time to do so.

Earth Day Origins

For those unfamiliar with Earth Day, it may be hard to imagine that before 1970, a factory next door to a school could spew black clouds of toxic smoke into the air or dump tons of toxic waste into a nearby stream used for drinking water, and that was perfectly legal.

This was possible because there was no EPA, no Clean Air Act, no Clean Water Act. There were few legal or regulatory mechanisms to protect our environment.

In spring 1970, Senator Gaylord Nelson created Earth Day in an effort to force environmentalism onto the national agenda. Twenty million Americans demonstrated in cities across the United States, and it worked! In December 1970, Congress authorized the creation of a federal agency to tackle environmental issues, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  Over the years, Earth Day has evolved into an annual event to celebrate environmental successes and to recommit to the work ahead. 

In 2022, the theme for the Earth Day celebration is Invest In Our Planet. Most schools and universities have accomplishments they can proudly celebrate.

Plan a Celebration

To create a successful celebration, it is important to plan ahead.  Consider which internal staff and vendors can provide information on what they have been doing to Invest In Our Planet.  Often there are school clubs and organizations that may already be planning events in which the facilities and custodial departments can participate.

Some accomplishments to highlight include energy efficiency efforts and investments in solar and other renewable energies; water conservation efforts both in facilities as well as landscaping and other uses; waste reduction efforts such as improvements in recycling and composting rates along and changing purchasing patterns; fuel efficiency efforts for buses and other vehicles, including the acquisition of alternative fuel vehicles; and more environmentally friendly purchasing practices for foods, paper products, electronics, and art supplies. And please don’t forget cleaning.

Showcase Green Cleaning

It may be difficult to get students excited about reducing greenhouse gas emissions by X megatons—most have no clue what a megaton actually is.  Cleaning, on the other hand, can be a great learning and teaching opportunity.

Ask cleaning product suppliers or contractors to put together some educational information on what is being done to Invest In Our Planet. Focus on practices that students can do and products they can use in their residence hall rooms or homes.  From entryway mats to cleaners and disinfectants to integrated pest management products, these products can be engaging and educational at the same time.

Some of the obvious products are those made with post-consumer recycled content or alternative resources such as janitorial paper products made from agricultural waste or rapidly renewable fibers.  Showcase on-site generators of cleaning chemicals along with robotic cleaning machines such as floor and carpet machines that reduce water consumption and minimize indoor air quality issues.  And in all cases, explain the environmental benefits such as the reduction in energy and water consumption, the number of trees saved and other metrics.

Investing in our future is something education institutions do every day in their facilities, and Earth Day is the perfect opportunity to showcase accomplishments.  After all, if nobody knows what is being done, they may believe nothing is happening.

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