Hiram College

On Wednesday, February 22 at 5 pm, Students Organized for Sustainability (SOS) spearheaded Hiram’s first Sustainability Symposium.  The event aimed to communicate in a civil and efficient manner the campus and the public’s concerns with Hiram’s environmental impact and its sustainability procedures.

The symposium’s audience proffered questions for discussion by a panel consisting of a diverse lineup of Hiram officials, professors, students, and alumni:

  • Sarah Mabey, assistant professor of environmental studies
  • Joe Hinton, resident director for AVI Food Services at the Hiram Dining Hall
  • Steve Jones, vice president for business and finance/chief financial officer
  • President Tom Chema
  • Douglass Brattebo, director of the Center for Engaged Ethics
  • Denny Taylor, professor of biology
  • Bryan Nemire, ’13, biology/environmental studies major
  • And Hiram Alumna Danae Wolfe, ’09

The event opened as Nathan Straffon ’12, student president of SOS, beseeched the audience and the members of the panel to give each idea and each point of view brought to light its due consideration.  He stressed the importance of the values of trust and communication during the upcoming discussion.

Lensa Jotte, ’14, followed up Straffon’s short speech by addressing the impact of global climate change in East Africa.  She spoke of the famine that has grasped the area in a stranglehold and rising farmer suicide rates, arguing that climate change is not simply an issue about graphs and numbers but one in which human lives are at stake.  This proved an effective segue into discussion about Hiram’s impact on the global community and what efforts the campus can take to increase sustainability.

President Chema began the discussion by describing his motivation for attending the symposium.  “There is little more important a thing we can do than to pass on to future generations more productive and fruitful land than we found,” he stated.  He went on to describe his belief in the importance of maintaining Hiram in a sustainable and cost-efficient way by creating sustainability projects that will eventually generate profit for the college.  He and Jones outlined many of the investments Hiram has taken toward sustainability and gave insights into the practical nature of many financial problems faced by the College’s struggle to achieve sustainable practices.

This soon encouraged Nemire to raise discussion about the issue of prioritizing sustainability projects.  The panelists seemed to reach the conclusion that it is important to find projects with immediate payback so that Hiram can raise funds to bring a hired sustainability coordinator to campus.

But while the symposium’s atmosphere was charged with a general agreement that administrative changes should be enacted,  behavioral changes were also a hotly discussed topic.  Wolfe advocated that we cannot simply rely on developing and purchasing new technology to back us out of a wasteful corner into the light of sustainability.  She asked, “What can we do support sustainability by a change in lifestyle rather than a change in technology?”

Mabey challenged the audience to ponder whether many everyday, wasteful behaviors were necessary.  “Do you really need to wash that one pair of jeans by itself just because you can?”

After one intriguing question prompted by a student, Sorrick asserted that the overarching sustainability problem was one of making sustainability a worthwhile communal value.  He said that a lack of time spent in nature has caused most of us to grow apathetic toward our world.  “Without a connection to nature,” he asked, “how can we value it?”  Because of this, he asserted that sustainability needs to be a part of education.

Taylor presented one way to overcome the population at large’s “environmental illiteracy.”  He stated, “We must empower people to find their own solutions.”  People can receive the tools for change, but the responsibility of working toward a solution must inevitably fall on the shoulders of a conscientious community.

In light of this, Sorrick went on to explain that Hiram students must make their own stand to improve sustainability, to rally for change.  Nemire received this by suggesting potential ways that Hiram could incorporate sustainability enforcement into student education.

Near the end of the discussion, Mabey reminded everyone of the far-reaching consequences of non-sustainable choices.  Mabey stated, “Sustainability is not just about nature, it is also about the people affected by non-sustainable actions.  Everything we do is connected, and by continuing non-sustainable practices, we poison ourselves.”

Wrapping up the conversation, Brattebo argued that the unethical nature of non-sustainable actions is not enough to convince people to behave otherwise.  “I don’t have such a sunny conception of human nature,” he said.  “I think that if we want to put a stop to non-sustainable activities, we make people pay for them so that they have a concrete connection to the consequences of their actions.”

The symposium was followed by a reception and dinner in the Dix Dining Hall.