The Green Cup Lifestyle

A half-hour shower in your dorm, seemingly endless supplies of paper for printing in the library and bins that will simply take everything “away” are all too familiar to the typical Andover student. Yet for some people, the impact of an everyday decision to buy bottled water or leave on a light can be elusive. Last year, Andover participated in its first ever Green Cup Challenge. As outlined on its website, the goal of the Green Cup Challenge is “to educate the school community about the environmental and economic impact of one’s actions, specifically in relation to global climate change, and to reduce campus emissions of greenhouse gasses.” The combination of last year’s efforts at Andover with those of the other participating schools undoubtedly made an immense impact. But have students actually developed better energy-saving habits as a result? Has the challenge truly attained what it was designed to do? Without a doubt, speeches at All-School Meetings, T-shirts and posters have attracted the attention of the student body. Recently, I have often heard my friend say, “Unplug your fan; it’s Green Cup Challenge,” a request much absent the rest of the year. While extra efforts are made in the months of February, immense lifestyle changes are harder to come by. Come March, most hallway lights will go back on, appliances and, in my case, the fan will more than likely stay plugged in. I have grown up with family members saying, “Turn off all the lights and shut down the computer before you go to bed!” Every time I heard it I would cringe. The responsibility to run around the whole house and ensure that every light was turned off would now fall on my shoulders. At the time, it seemed like just another one of those annoying chores your parents made you do. Now, however, I can fully comprehend that my parents had a bigger picture in mind. Out of habit, whenever I leave a room I remember to turn the lights off (for the most part), I rarely leave the sink running too long and I try to shut my computer down when it is not in use. If my parents had not been there to lecture me when I left the lights on, would I still have the tendency to turn things off? Everybody has good and bad habits. I would like to credit some of my small energy-saving tactics to parents and friends who have encouraged me to sustain good habits. Alas, if we were to take a step back and look at the United States as a whole, our energy-saving habits are among the poorest in the world. As a country, we are second only to China for emitting the most carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels, according to a June 19, 2007 Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency report. With many Americans feeling that we have an endless supply of relatively inexpensive energy, people do not see a need to develop better habits. If we take a look at a place where energy is more expensive (Europe, for example), we will see some differences in energy-conserving habits. In Europe, most people live in urban areas with access to public transportation. There are color-coded bins on the streets separating waste into paper, plastic or just plain trash. Lights in some buildings are timed and will shut off after a certain period of time. Many people eat locally grown foods. Although these are common practices for a number of people both in Europe and elsewhere, for us the Green Cup Challenge gives us an opportunity to instill better energy-saving habits. Even though there may be a poster in front of the elevator suggesting that you take the stairs, no one is going to stop you either way. Most habits become ingrained in our behaviors from a very young age. Therefore for some students, the Green Cup Challenge may be reiterating what they already know. An old habit will not go away until a new one can take its place. Everyday decisions such as filling up a water bottle instead of purchasing one from the vending machine may seem bothersome in the beginning, but over a short period of time can become part of a daily routine. People have the power to make an impact on their energy usage, however they choose. They can do it for a cause, a competition or just because they feel like they should. Whatever the reason, we all have to start somewhere. When the challenge ends and reminders to conserve energy fade into the past, the responsibility will ultimately fall upon each individual person.