Ever since the global warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth shed new light on an old problem in 2006, reducing one's carbon footprint has become the hottest trend.
The earth, which proverbs remind us is not inherited from our ancestors but borrowed from our children, is the new must-have. SUVs are so 2003. Nalgene containers are the new paper cup. And it's no surprise that college students, always at the forefront of hip culture, are leading the way in eco-friendly style.
At New York University in Manhattan's Greenwich Village, Hillel students have formed the Footprint Forward initiative to engage their peers in sustainable living. Senior Adam Brock explains, "It's a challenge to NYU residents to reduce their environmental footprint and by doing so, adopt a more healthy lifestyle."
Like the name implies, the initiative prompts people to take a close look at their own "carbon footprint" as they move forward in life. It's a task Brock has taken to heart.
Cars powered by vegetable oil on display at CF Hillel Green Day Fair.
The ecological design major took some environmental courses in 2006 that inspired him to modify his routine and diet. He says the classes exposed him to the scale of the environmental crisis and introduced alternatives like consuming only organic and locally-grown foods. Those products are healthier for the environment because less waste is used transporting them long distances and no pesticides are used in the soil. The foods retain more nutrients and are fresher when consumed. Brock's new practice was habit-forming.
"From there it becomes a process of self-transformation and self-awareness," he says. "You start with yourself, and once you heal yourself you can begin to heal the eco-systems around you."
Brock and his roommate have purchased a subscription to an organic farm on Long Island, which for $1,000 a season, delivers fresh produce to their dorm room on a weekly basis.
The Footprint Forward initiative began as a week-long pilot program in November 2007, an offshoot of NYU's Sustainability Task Force which was formed in 2006. Since then, Brock estimates hundreds of members of the NYU community have become involved. The university recently created an environmental studies major; student clubs have been formed, including Wagner Environmental Policy and Action and Earth Matters; and the administration is currently developing long-term plans for reducing the school's carbon emissions.
CF Hillel hosts Green Day Fair.
At University of Kansas Hillel, students took the lead in localizing a national initiative called "Focus the Nation," which strives to educate the American public on global warming issues. For two days, professors at KU adjusted their lectures to incorporate climate change as part of a National Teach-In. In all, nearly 50 KU professors participated, engaging more than 1,600 students in a national conversation about energy conservation and society's environmental responsibility. To complement the Teach-In, KU Hillel and the Center for Sustainability, which have both received awards for their work, also sponsored a panel discussion on climate issues and the role of the college student. More than 400 people joined with U.S. Reps. Nancy Boyda (D-Kan.) and Dennis Moore (D-Kan.) and other elected officials to discuss the topic.
Central Florida Hillel commemorated Tu B'shvat with its second annual Green Day Fair. The day-long ecology exhibit was created to educate students about recycling, technological advancements in alternative energy and a variety of energy conservation practices.
Lisa Kipersztok, one of the event organizers, collaborated with community partners in the greater Orlando area to raise wider awareness. She says students were more intrigued by the sustainable car that runs on 60 percent vegetable oil.
CF Hillel Executive Director Rabbi Jonathan Siger said, "I am personally very proud of the job our students did not only engaging Jewish tradition in a modern and relevant way but also in the manner they involved the larger community and other student groups."
When Hillel hosted its Professional Staff Conference in Washington, D.C. in December, every effort was made to reduce waste, including the use of recycled paper products, encouraging attendees to bring their own coffee mugs, and off-setting carbon emissions. All future conferences hosted by Hillel will employ the same practice.
The Weinberg Tzedek Hillel program is promoting sustainability among students across hundreds of campuses. In the fall, Hillel sponsored five students for the Hazon Food Conference in Connecticut. There, they learned about organic agriculture, composting and healthy Jewish living. Currently, Abbey Greenberg, senior associate for Weinberg Tzedek Hillel, is working with students at Stanford, Louisiana State University, University of Massachusetts, Amherst and others to write a "Green Pledge" for the campuses.
In June, Hillel will partner with the Jewish Farm School to send 60 students on a weeklong farm-immersion experience. Two separate groups will volunteer at one of two locations. Kayam Farm outside Baltimore, Maryland will host the East Cost group from June 11 - 18. Oz Farm in California will host the West Coast group from June 24 - July 1. In addition to planting, harvesting and composting, student farmers will engage in related text studies and learn about Jewish agriculture laws and organic medicine. Registration for the farm-immersion experience is now open.
Meantime, in his NYU dorm, Brock says his own commitment to green living has renewed his personal connection to Judaism. Though he grew up in an observant home in Denver, the 22-year old was not involved with NYU Hillel until Footprint Forward.
"The transformation and personal self-awareness [of a green lifestyle] has brought me back to a sense of spirituality and tradition and history," he says. "It's begun a process for me of re-evaluating and re-exploring my Jewish identity."
Brock and his roommate now host regular Friday night pot luck dinners with friends, using organically grown food and vegetables.
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