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ISSUE 118 VOL 14 PUBLISHED 3/18/2005

What sustains us?

By Executive Editors
Executive Editor


Friday, March 18, 2005

The merits of being “environmentally friendly” have long been a subject of casual discussion on campus. However, when the college announced plans to build a wind turbine earlier this year, campus sustainability stopped being a passive concern and became a college-wide movement.

Among other efforts, Dayna Burtness ’07 started STOGROW, an organization designed to grow organic vegetables, and the college purchased a composter to convert the cafeteria’s roughly 700 pounds of daily food waste into useful fertilizer.

All year, Bon Appétit has proudly marketed its “circle of sustainability” slogan, and just recently, the cafeteria started serving a growth hormone-free milk.

In the midst of this “green wave” of environmental concern, we need to ask ourselves, “Is the college going about this the right way?”

Recently, St. Olaf sold its 87 year-old radio station and increased tuition costs again, at least in part to combat the rising cost of college education. In this period of fiscal uncertainty, is it appropriate to spend money on issues not directly pertaining to the quality and affordability of education?

Granted, many of the college’s eco-friendly endeavors will save money and should be vigorously pursued. The wind turbine, for example, will save St. Olaf an estimated $200,000 in a year, and the new composting system may reduce the college’s overall garbage disposal costs in addition to offering abundant agricultural benefits.

No one in his or her right mind would oppose a process that both saves money and is also environmentally friendly. Along the same lines, few would recommend implementing a system that costs more and offers few additional benefits.

However, Bon Appétit’s drive toward using more organic foods seems to defy that logic. There are no proven health benefits to organic foods that justify the higher price. Deja moo, for example, is four cents a gallon more expensive than the Kemps milk previously served in Stav Hall – and it has no additional nutritional value.

Some people insist that deja moo milk tastes better. If that is the case, we applaud Bon Appétit’s continuing dedication to providing students with the highest-quality food and beverages. But the way they have marketed the new product – namely as a local, hormone-free substance – indicates they care far more about the image the milk projects than its actual quality.

Don’t get us wrong; we are in favor of a more intelligent allocation and consumption of our resources. Sustainability is a great goal – one that can ultimately save the college money and help the environment at the same time.

What we wish to impart is that we must not lose sight of what is truly important on college campuses: education.

Rather than adopting sustainability at all costs, we must first examine the issues affecting the quality and accessibility of our academic resources. If our educational demands, rather than our organic food quotients, are lacking, we must provide that our minds take precedence over our stomachs.

We should do all that we can to learn about sustainability, but we must also find cost-effective ways to implement them. After all, we must sustain ourselves, and this endeavor must include the enrichment of our minds, as well as our fields and gardens.





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