What It Means to Be Green

The word “green” has made its debut in the last couple of years as a verb, adjective and adverb. To “green” a building means to make it more sustainable. To “go green” means to make lifestyle changes that reduce damage to the environment. A “green” dorm is one that boasts environmentally-conscious features. It seems that the developed world is in a “green” buzz. It’s trendy to be green, and everyone is talking about it. Businesses have also latched onto “greenness” as an advertising tactic. We proudly bring our own eco-design shopping bags, obsess about organic foods, wear organic cotton, use recycled paper and look for the Energy Star logo. But as with any trend, it’s easy to step onto the “green” bandwagon without truly knowing what you are getting into. What does it really mean to be green? This week, Phillips Academy celebrated Earth Week by inviting guest speakers, featuring organic foods during lunch and dinner, displaying home-grown vegetables in Commons and hosting discussions on climate change and policy making. But next week, as we immerse ourselves in mid-terms and our relentless schedules, I would not be surprised to see the green hype wither away. The same cycle occurred in the Green Cup Challenge. During those weeks of fierce competition, friends and dorm mates reminded each other about to turn off or dim the lights so that we could “beat Exeter.” We succeeded and then promptly abandoned the cause. When the Green Cup Challenge ended, the lights came back, and many of us took admittedly less care in reducing our energy usage, if we hadn’t abandoned our efforts altogether. Competition is so engrained into our genomes that it seems almost a necessity when we want to accomplish anything. At the very least, Earth Week should be a kind of initiation ceremony for a new way of life on campus. This year’s Earth Week at Andover is quite discussion-based. Raising awareness through speakers and activities is an essential first step towards making a difference. However, we need to put the ideas and motivation we get from Earth Week and the Green Cup Challenge to practice. What better way to celebrate Earth Week than to become directly involved in service for the environment? This can range from anything as large-scale as joining a habitat-preservation project and advocating for climate bills in Congress to something as simple as picking up trash outside the dorm. Choose a cause and take initiative. Organize a dorm-wide lights-out hour. Try going vegetarian for a day or two. There is still time to make the most of this Earth Week. Be committed, and find a reason to care about whatever you choose. I find it helpful to remind myself of the consequences that result from not taking a certain initiative. For example, if I am tempted to throw a plastic bottle into the trash can when no recycling bins are around, I imagine where that bottle will end up. It could very well end up in the recently-discovered Great Atlantic Garbage Patch, a swirling vortex of filthy debris that break into smaller particles and sink to the bottom of the ocean, decimating marine life for miles around. I will not list the infinite possible ways of living more sustainably. Ads and magazines are filled with such ideas nowadays. However, I will stress the importance of extending whatever changes made during Earth Week to the rest of the year. Every week should be an Earth Week. As Annie Leonard so optimistically said during All-School Meeting, there is hope for long-term environmental change. The Alumni House green dorm pilot is a perfect example of the green spirit pervading day-to-day life. I do not consider myself an “eco-freak,” and I realize that it’s too much to ask that everyone suddenly become vegetarian for the rest of their lives or stop using plastic for good. Obviously, the environment is not at the top of everyone’s minds, especially when we are helplessly busy with academics, extracurricular activities and social lives. However, we can afford to work towards an attitude change and gradually incorporate environmentally-conscious practices into our everyday lives, beginning with the most trivial actions such as unplugging our chargers. How do we arrive at permanent change? The first step is to learn to appreciate nature so that “going green” will be more than just a trend. While walking down the path to a class, we need to raise our heads up from our iPhones and look around carefully. Notice the sharp outline of that tree against the blue sky. How many different shades of green can you identify on that patch of bush? What different bird calls do you hear, and what could they be saying? Stephanie Liu is a three-year Upper Raleigh, North Carolina, and an Arts Editor for The Phillipian.