This year, NASA achieved its first orbit of a spacecraft around a dwarf planet, the Chicago Cubs reached the MLB playoffs, Donald Trump entered the presidential race and, perhaps most surprisingly, the forecast in Illinois is still relatively snow-free. With the Paris Climate Change conference underway and the famed “El Niño” on the move, the topic of global warming and climate change is reemerging as an international concern. In light of such concerns, the continual movement towards environmental conscientiousness has led to the creation of various “eco-friendly” innovations in homes, schools and businesses across the nation.
Many of these alternatives are designed to specifically reduce waste and utilize more
sustainable forms of energy. Popular examples of these alternatives include recycling, electric or hybrid cars and LED lights. But while choosing a greener lifestyle may seem like the environmentally smart decision, it may, arguably, not always be the best economical choice.
Hybrid cars and solar panels could save consumers money in the long run, but the initial costs of purchasing, installing and maintaining these commodities are high and for many, not affordable. For example, recycling has increasingly become the norm as more businesses, schools and other facilities are encouraging people to recycle. However, the costs of recycling can be high; to put it into perspective, it costs New York $240 per ton of recycling (glass, metal and plastic), which is about twice as much as it would cost to throw those items away. In 2009, the city of Durango, Colorado switched its electricity source from wind farms to coal-burning plants. While this was a step in what environmental activists would consider the wrong direction, it ended up saving the city around $45,000. According to the article from USA Today, “Green power – from wind farms, solar power or other renewable energy sources – remains more expensive than traditional power sources.” The City Manager of Durango noted, “It’s very hard for us to lay off an employee to justify green power.”
Despite the costs, in 2010 the Wall Street Journal wrote the “even in tight-wallet times, a surprising number of consumers have shown they’re willing to pay a premium for environmentally friendly products.” Their data shows that despite the economic downturn, the amount of spending on energy-related home remodels was $49 billion in 2009 — 29 percent higher than the 2003 total.
In the realm of higher education, many college campuses have made environmental conscientiousness a significant priority. Some of the areas in which universities are working to decrease their environmental footprints include transportation, food waste and energy efficient lighting. The Princeton Review’s 2015 “Green College” ranking named Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon as the top green university. Some of the factors that went into this ranking include students’ quality of life, the extent to which students are prepared for “employment in an increasingly green economy” and “how environmentally responsible a school’s policies are.” Another article mentioned a major sustainability project taken on by Rutgers University, which consisted of a “3,500-spot parking lot with solar panels” and was predicted to save the institution $28 million over 20 years.
On Wheaton College’s campus, different efforts have recently been made in order to decrease the amount of waste the college expends. One major change was to encourage students to go trayless in the cafeteria. This reduction in tray use eliminates over 600 pounds of waste on a daily basis. Additionally, Wheaton College now offers reusable baskets in Stupe in addition to the disposable carryout boxes. The environmental club on campus, A Rocha, works to increase Wheaton’s sustainability while also informing students about what they can do to be more environmentally friendly.
This environmental concern on college campuses lines up with data published in a Washington Post article, which showed that the younger generation in America is more worried about the issue of climate change than the older generation (50 years and up). While colleges may have good intentions regarding their environmental impact, they are still faced with potential problem of increased costs. With tuition costs rising and many students struggling with obtaining enough financial aid, efforts to go green could make the price tag even higher and have a negative effect on students. Furthermore, installing, for example, an energy efficient showerhead in a household is one thing, but changing hundreds or thousands of showerheads on a college campus is a much bigger investment and commitment.
Fortunately, the costs of going green could become less of an issue, as technology continues to be refined and cheaper to produce. An article published earlier this year shows that it used to cost upwards of $100 for one LED light bulb, but now they can be purchased for just a few dollars. As other forms of environmental technology are better developed, they often become more accessible to a wider range of consumers and therefore used more frequently. Also, while the costs of environmentally friendly alternatives may be high, they can, over time pay for themselves by eliminating waste and reducing energy consumption. The executive director for the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Education, Paul Rowland, says, “There is a misconception that ‘greening’ costs more money… Much of that misconception is based on the initial costs and not long-term or life-cycle costs.”
As the debate around global warming continues, decisions regarding environmental action will be increasingly vital. While many believe that it is a major issue, others do not believe in global warming and don’t consider it to be a significant problem. The Washington Post says that the “large gap between perception and reality of scientific agreement reflects the heated nature of political debates over policy on the issue, as well as the impact of efforts to raise skepticism about scientific consensus.” Addressing this issue of skepticism, Wheaton professor Dr. Jeffrey Greenberg writes, “Global warming with climate change has become a very-well established scientific principle. There really is no scientific controversy at this time. The ‘debate’ is artificial and caused primarily by political, economic, and non-scientific ideologies.”
In the face of uncertainty, it is easy to become easily swayed or apathetic about important decisions. As stewards of the world we live in, it is important to weigh both the figurative and literal costs of benefits of different environmental actions in order to best know how to care for the earth and the people in it. Whether it’s simply turning off a light or purchasing a fuel-efficient car, each action can reflect a step in the direction of a greener, more environmentally responsible future. As the “conservation conversation” continues, our world will have to assess whether or not going green will ultimately pay.