Commentary: Small Steps to a Greener Earth

Ever since visiting Lisbon, Portugal, over Spring Break, I have been reflecting on how the United States can be more environmentally friendly based on Lisbon’s successful systems. Portugal has made small, feasible changes to technology and culture with the goal of reducing their carbon footprint.

The first thing I noticed upon arriving in Lisbon was the size of the average car. Much narrower and smaller than those I see in the States, the standard cars were the station wagon and the hatchback. Americans’ preference for bigger cars has become embedded in the culture of our nation, but smaller cars are better for the environment because they require less fuel. For the many upperclassman day students who drive to school in individual cars, consider driving a small sedan or hatchback. It is time to implement Europe’s concept of “bigger is not necessarily better.”

Throughout my stay in Lisbon, I also noticed how foods were served in smaller portions, from the main courses to the pastries sold in cafes. As a result, less food is wasted. Our school, however, has a tendency to waste. Last year, Allison Zhu ’19 and Isabella Morona ’19 wrote an article about how Andover should reduce food waste. They wrote about how Michael Giampa, Director of Dining Services, said Paresky Commons produced 5,177 pounds of compost in a matter of two weeks. The stir fry line in particular serves fairly large portions, and students often throw away their leftovers. Using different sized plates for serving stir fry would contribute greatly to reducing waste. In general, helping ourselves to smaller portions and then getting back in line for seconds would be a simple yet efficient solution to waste. While many students are opposed to waiting in lines, the benefits of smaller portions outweigh the costs of a wait time. 

While the U.S. has made toilet flushing convenient, it is important to consider the location of the sensor. In Lisbon, the sensors are located in the upper-right-hand corner of the wall, high above the toilet, forcing every individual to stand up and wave their hand in order to activate the sensor. Not only does it get the job done, it is also more environmentally friendly. As Andover begins to remodel the library, considering minute details like where to place the sensor for automatic flushing is a step forward in helping our school save resources.

I was also struck by the fact that the electricity in my hotel room was powered by my room key. All the lights and the TV would turn off when my room card was not in the designated slot. This prevented me from accidentally leaving the lights on when I was not in the room, as many of us do on campus. In the long term, when renovating dorms, this is an addition that would reduce electricity usage on campus. In the short term, as the Green Cup Challenge has brought attention to, students should try taking shorter showers and unplugging chargers and chords when leaving the dorm.

After visiting Lisbon, I was able to see how environmental protection does not always require authorities and lawmakers; it starts with little changes. By continuing to make small changes to our lifestyles, we can most definitely make Andover a greener blue. Much of the impact that Lisbon has been making on the planet is through daily choices, and I have faith that, as a community, we can draw inspiration from their efforts to change our practices at Andover.