Saturday, February 18, 2006

University of Victoria Promotes Ethical Consumption

In my own experience, I've noticed that colleges and universities, like other institutions, are likely to believe that by addressing "low-hanging fruit," they're making a substantial contribution to sustainability. We're all aware, though, that those recycling bins only make a slight dent in the problem, so its good to see many universities thinking more holistically about environmental impact. Canada's University of Victoria recently held an event to highlight more systematic thinking about campus sustainability: Ethical Consumption Day. From Victoria News:
The local chapter of the World University Service of Canada helped arrange Monday's event, which featured panel discussions on sustainability, corporate responsibility, ethical consumption and "fair trade," as well as displays and information booths set up by environmental advocates and consumer education groups. The UVic Sustainability Project is concentrating on making the university itself more sustainable, through initiatives as simple as encouraging the administration to provide photocopiers that routinely print on both sides of a page.

Bringing many diverse interest groups together in one place can create a grassroots momentum and prompt people to explore alternative consumer practices, [event co-ordinator Johann] Jenson said.

"I think this sort of event empowers them," he explained. "One person composting is not going to make a difference, but when you've got the whole campus on board, it's providing a model for other organizations."

Jenson acknowledged that consumerism is an unavoidable part of modern life, but he argued that people can reduce the negative impacts their purchases have on the environment (using recycled paper, for example) or offer increased benefits to the primary producers of commodities (Colombian coffee farmers). The idea is to promote a broader view of world trade and also focus on people's purchasing habits, so that they better understand where particular commodities come from, how they're manufactured and what potentially damaging side-effects may be associated with their production.

"They can choose to consume ethically and if that means consuming less, that's great," Jenson pointed out. "I'd like them to remember that their consumption choices affect more than their local community. They're part of a global production chain (and) the products they consume are part of global industry."
I think this is good in that it shows students how they can actively incorporate sustainability into their own lives: its not just a matter of certain activities being "environmentally-friendly," but rather a way of living that decreases one's "ecological footprint." Furthermore, other issues (labor and trade standards) are part of the equation, not seperate concerns. Good job, UVic!

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