By Jessica Kane Special to the Hoya
Despite the conception of student apathy these days, some student groups, such as Eco-Action, are working to defy the stereotype. Lois Gibbs, executive director of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, challenged members of Eco-Action as well as other environment-conscious students at ECOnference 2000. “Do you feel like you are part of a movement?” Gibbs asked. “Do you feel like you are going to make a difference in the long run?”
These were just a couple of the questions that students at the conference discussed. ECOnference 2000, held October 15-17 at the University of Pennsylvania, was designed by over 50 grassroots environmental groups to motivate college students from across the nation about environmental issues for Earth Day 2000 and Election Day 2000, according to Eco-Action co-president Maggie Master (COL ’01). With over 30 sponsors for the event, including Greenpeace, Rock the Vote and Center for Marine Conservation, organizers called the event a “springboard to a new millenium.” Approximately 2500 students from colleges and universities around the country attended the conference, according to Master. Georgetown, one of the larger groups, sent 19 students.
ECOnference 2000 served as the forum for the unveiling of a major initiative directed towards graduating college seniors, the Dirty Jobs Pledge, Master said. According to the Dirty Jobs Boycott announcement featured in the ECOnference 2000 conference program, the pledge states, “By pledging to join the Dirty Jobs Boycott, students are forming a powerful association that can use the leverage of their potential employment to pressure corporations to take steps to protect the environment.”
The Dirty Jobs Boycott, a campaign led by student environmental groups, will attempt to use the power of consumers, citizens and workers to force corporations to improve their environmental records. According to Eco-Action Co-President Elaine Magil (COL ’02), the Dirty Jobs Boycott is “asking people to make ethical choices with their careers and their lives.”
Individuals and grassroots campaigns will research the environmental records of corporations in each sector of the economy to identify bad actors, those companies that fail to take the most basic precautions to protect the environment. According to the Dirty Jobs Boycott announcement featured in the ECOnference 2000 conference program, a national advisory board composed of students, scientists and representatives of environmental groups will notify the corporations of their environmental offenses. If the company fails to respond to pressure to change their policies to be environmentally safe, the corporation will be placed on the Dirty Jobs Boycott list. Students who sign the Dirty Jobs Pledge promise not to work these specified companies.
“Georgetown students could have a significant effect,” Magil said. She would say to students, “Do research on your job offer.” The companies on the Dirty Jobs Boycott list thus far do not recruit heavily at Georgetown, so it is up to students to find out about the companies they will work for.
Currently, there are three corporations on the Dirty Jobs Boycott list: Coca-Cola Company, British Petroleum Amoco Oil Company and Ford Motor Company. Since Georgetown has an exclusive contract with Coca-Cola, Master said that Eco-Action wants to educate Georgetown students about the corporation’s environmental record. She noted that in 1990, Coke agreed to use recycled plastic in the making of their plastic bottles. However, nine years later, Coke still does not use recycled plastic in their operations, she said.
A nationwide initiative that originated from grassroots campaigns aimed at Coca-Cola also emphasizes the recycled content of the plastic coke bottles, Master said. Named “Coke, Take it Back,” this undertaking urges consumers to mail empty plastic Coca-Cola bottles back to the CEO of Coke in protest of the company’s abandonment of its commitment to use recycled plastic.
Eco-Action will have a table in Red Square on Nov. 15 to collect empty plastic bottles and ask students for donations to cover the postage to send the bottles back to Coke.
In addition to the Dirty Jobs Boycott, the conference included several workshops and panels. The first day of the three-day conference began with an all-day networking fair and ended with a welcoming address given by Philadelphia Mayor Edward Rendell, longtime consumer advocate Ralph Nadar and representatives from Ozone Action, Green Peace and Corporate Watch. The panel discussed the future of the environmental movement. The last two days of the conference consisted of various speakers, panel sessions and workshops, Master said.
Speakers comprised a large portion of the conference. Students heard not only from representatives of groups such as the Sierra Club, Circle of Life Foundation and Earth Day 2000, but also from working professionals. Denis Hayes from the Earth Day Network, who also served as the national coordinator for the first Earth Day in 1970, spoke to students in a welcome address on Saturday. Jan Schlictmann, the attorney portrayed in the book “A Civil Action,” was also a keynote speaker. Schlictmann represented eight Woburn, ass., families in a civil suit against W.R. Grace and Beatrice Foods for the contamination of the Woburn water supply.
However, according to Master, Gibbs was the most energizing speaker at the conference. Gibbs founded the Citizen’s Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste in 1970 after she discovered that her child attended an elementary school located on top of a toxic waste dump. She continues her environmental activism today as the executive director of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice. “Everything hit home during Lois Gibbs’ speech,” Magil said.
Students did not spend the entire weekend listening to speeches. They also attended workshops sessions. Although the workshops primary dealt with environmental issues, they also addressed the ideas of effective organization and public relations skills. Time was also allotted for small group meetings. Groups were formed on the basis of geographic location, so that students could discuss the issues relevant to their region of the country.
Georgetown, the University of Maryland and George Washington University participated in the same small group. “One of the best things about the conference was making connections with other schools,” Magil said.
According to Master, Eco-Action has now contacted other schools to share information and receive feedback about environmental programs on other campuses. Area schools have been involved in “Coke, Take it Back” as well as an effort to get Home Depot to stop using old growth wood, Master said.
The conference culminated in a rally and march in Philadelphia. With floats, banners, and posters, students paraded through Philadelphia from the University of Pennsylvania to City Hall. aster called this demonstration of students “energizing and motivating.”
“The most exciting part [of the conference] was the overall idea of 2500 people together all caring about the environment,” conference attendee Jacquie Firth (COL ’01) said.
The conference is only one of several activities in which Eco-Action has participated in recent years. In the past two years, Eco-Action has “made more of a name for ourselves on campus,” aster said. Magil said that Eco-Action has been reassured by the increased response from the students.
The club provided the recycling guides that were found in campus apartments at the beginning of the year. Additionally, Eco-Action members have made presentations in the freshman dorms to educate students about recycling at Georgetown.
Eco-Action has also embraced two major issues this year, Master said. The group is continuing its campaign to increase recycling awareness and attempting to change the percentage of recycled paper used in the university’s paper.
In January 1999, Eco-Action submitted a petition to the office of University President Leo J. O’Donovan, S.J., to match the U.S. government standard for its offices, which is 30 percent recycled paper. According to Master, Eco-Action is just beginning to receive a response on this issue. She called O’Donovan’s office twice this semester and was finally put in touch with the person who handles purchasing for the university. However, the jump in price if the university stayed with the same company, Boise Cascade, would be $60,000, Master said. She is now trying to contact Senior Vice President Jack DeGioia, who would have to make the decision to switch.
Eco-Action has many upcoming events planned for the Georgetown community. On Nov. 6, Georgetown will participate in “Walk for the Wild,” a nationwide walkathon occurring in several cities across the country to raise money and rally support for the preservation of the wilderness. The money raised by members of the Georgetown community will help environmental causes in the Maryland and Virginia area. On Nov. 9, Eco-Action will bring speaker Ross Gelpspan, author of “The Heat is On,” to speak on global climate change. Less than a month away is National Recycling Day, Nov. 12, for which Eco-Action will sponsor its second annual residence hall and university-owned apartments recycling contest. Whichever dorm or apartment complex has the most per capita recycling wins an undisclosed prize, Master said.
“We are really enthused,” Master said of Eco-Action. “The conference did a lot to re-energize us. It was an invigorating experience. Now we just have to get the issues out there.”