There are good reasons to believe that humans have some ethical obligations with respect to the environment. This claim is true even if we believe that our only direct obligations are toward other human beings. For example, biodiversity plays an important role in the health of our food and water supply and in the development of modern medicine. So, doing right by the environment and promoting biodiversity, in addition to being good for nonhuman organisms, can be seen as a means to the end of meet our obligation to promote human flourishing. Other obligations that we might have toward the environment include reducing consumption of energy and the use of other products that use large amounts of natural resources, working toward minimizing the suffering of animals, and reducing carbon dioxide emissions to curb the effects of climate change.
Given these obligations, we ought to ask ourselves what Mines is doing as a community to promote environmental sustainability. One group that has made huge strides in promoting sustainability on campus is MinesDining. Here are some sustainable practices that MinesDining has adopted:
An extensive recycling and composting program in Slate Café and Diggers Den, including fryer oil recycling program and compostable cups, plates, cutlery, etc.
Meatless Mondays, to highlight and reduce the environmental impacts of meat eating
Discounts for customers who bring reusable cups, plates, etc.
Ethically sourced coffee and tea
Sustainable purchasing commitments (e.g., cage free eggs)
Beyond MinesDining, there are other actions that Mines has taken to promote sustainability. Many of the buildings and new construction projects on campus are LEED (Leadership in energy and Environmental Design) buildings. LEED buildings are categorized into four levels—certified, silver, gold, and platinum—based on the extent to which they are environmentally friendly. Maple Hall is LEED gold, and Marquez Hall is LEED silver. In general, LEED buildings have less environmental impact by, for example, recycling materials during construction, using locally sourced materials, and maximizing the amount of natural light to reduce energy use.
The practices mentioned here could have a lasting positive effect on the environment; but many of these practices require that we, as individual consumers, do the right thing. For example, we should take responsibility when dining to make sure that we compost what we can, bring reusable containers, etc. Also, we can show MinesDining that we care about sustainability by participating in meatless Monday, and by suggesting that it happen more often. Further, as a community, we should pressure those making decisions to do even more to promote sustainability. As an engineering campus, we should be leading the way in renewable energy use and demand that new projects be built with sustainability as the most important goal. This goal is certainly achievable; just minutes away from Mines, the National Renewable Energy Lab is home to several LEED platinum buildings. Further, some of their buildings are net-zero energy, which means that they produce as much energy (through renewable sources) as they use!
We should be proud that Mines understands our environmental obligations and is taking such big steps in promoting sustainability. Yet, we should strive for more! If you have sustainability suggestions for Mines, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will be sure that the Mines Sustainability Committee hears your suggestion.