Updated April 23, 2020
Originally published Sept. 27, 2019
Last fall, millions of people around the world stood up for the environment during Global Climate Strike week. Many Wilfrid Laurier University students were among them, including members of the EcoHawks, a committee of eco-conscious students whose members advocate for sustainable practices at Laurier.
Through initiatives big and small, the EcoHawks help students on Laurier’s Waterloo and Brantford campuses learn about the role they can play in fostering a healthy environment. Although the group’s in-person events and activities are currently paused due to COVID-19, members say there are easy-yet-impactful ways students can stay green at home.
“As exams wind down, many of us will have more time for things like watching Netflix or reading, which are perfect ways to learn about important environmental issues,” says Olivia Kupferschmidt, an EcoHawk volunteer and fourth-year student at Laurier’s Waterloo campus.
Kupferschmidt recommends the eye-opening documentaries A Plastic Ocean (2016), which examines the devastating impact of plastics on marine life, and Chasing Coral (2017), which investigates the impact of the worldwide coral-bleaching epidemic. Both documentaries are available on Netflix.
For those looking to read about environmental issues, Kupferschmidt suggests Simple Acts to Save Our Planet: 500 Ways to Make a Difference by Michelle Neff or F**k Plastic: 101 Ways to Free Yourself from Plastic and Save the World, published by the marine conservation charity Surfers Against Sewage.
Kupferschmidt says forgoing plastic utensils when ordering food and composting food waste are among impactful practices students can undertake to support the environment while at home.
“We share one ecosystem and we all need to make it our business to take better care of it,” says Kupferschmidt. “The little things add up to big differences.”
In early April, Kupferschmidt and EcoHawk alumni Emily Tran and Bradley Thomas collected nine bags of garbage from around Laurier’s Waterloo campus, following proper safety precautions while undertaking the task. A few days later, Kupferschmidt and her mother returned to the area, filling five more bags with trash and debris.
“It doesn’t take much to pitch in in your community,” says Kupferschmidt. “And it sets a good example for younger generations.”
To grow sustainability at Laurier, students can apply to the Sustainable Hawk Fund, which grants up to $30,000 annually for green, student-led projects. The fund has supported initiatives including vertical vegetable gardens in the lobby of Brantford’s Research and Academic Centre, a pollinator garden at Laurier’s Northdale campus in Waterloo and Last20 Apparel, a sustainable clothing line that incorporates polyethylene terephthalate plastics into its fibres.
Kupferschmidt is one of many EcoHawk members finishing their Laurier student experience remotely due to COVID-19. Research indicates that current stay-at-home recommendations are positively affecting the environment, including lessening air pollution and emissions, but Kupferschmidt doesn’t take a lot of comfort in that fact.
“The current pause to our usual life isn’t going to fix the problem,” she says. “We need to strive to do these things without a pandemic.”