Green dreams

Posted on March 6, 2011. Filed under: Environment and Livelihoods |

-The Star-

UPM students tie-in their love for the environment with a much bigger picture.

STOP anyone on the street and they will tell you that environmental conservation is of paramount importance.

The admission, however, is as good as it gets for most as cultivating a truly green life – shying away from polystyrene and plastic bags – remains a tall order.

GREEN INITIATIVE: Ahmad (middle) talks “recycling” with Assoc Prof Ramdzani (in white with tie) and Teoh (far right) while his fellow Green Scouts look on.

It’s not a case as to whether one is a tree hugger or not – far from it. The reason why people continue using non-biodegradable products is because the practice passes as the easier option.

This much was said by Ahmad Bukhari A. Rahim, a second-year Environmental Studies undergraduate at Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM), when he was quizzed on the obstacles which prevented “green living” on campus.

Now, kicking bad habits is no easy task but Ahmad Bukhari and around 200 of his fellow faculty members are adamant that they can make a difference.

Organising a week-long Lestari Lifestyle programme (Gah’stari Putra) which encouraged the UPM community to cultivate the 5Rs – namely, to repel; reduce; reuse; repair and recycle – the students did their bit for Mother Nature by thinking out of the box.

Recycling drives with “reward” systems were conducted and environmentally-themed events like quizzes and even debates are being planned. The branding of the campaign itself speaks volumes.

Of Javanese origin, the word Lestari denotes an eternal or abiding phase and its significance was not lost with the students who vowed to stay green.

Commenting further, Ahmad Bukhari said that a message of continuity underpinned the entire campaign and Gah’stari was a continuation of last year’s Green Scout programme – also organised by the faculty – which served to enlist an army of eco-warriors on campus.

“Our efforts actually bolstered the previous campaign as 70 new Green Scouts signed up this week, bringing the total number of scouts to 100,” he said.

“The Green Scouts play a key role in our upcoming efforts as they will be the ones who will organise campus-wide recycling drives and other green activities.”

Explaining further, Ahmad Bukhari said that the Green Scouts would rove around campus each Wednesday to promote environmental awareness and spearhead recycling drives.

Green Scout membership is currently exclusive to faculty members but Ahmad Bukhari has plans to break down the walls in order to effectively propagate the green message.

“We hope to embark on a recruitment drive which offers membership to all UPM students and we will set up a Facebook page soon,” he enthused.

It gets better: Ahmad Bukhari and gang are advocating that UPM become a polystyrene-free campus.

Starting small, Ahmad proposed – via a working paper which was sent to university administrators – for his faculty to be the pioneer department which bans polystyrene containers.

Should the pilot test work, a similar campus-wide endeavour could then be carried out.

Conceding that changing habits was no easy task, Ahmad Bukhari – who recently won a seat in the campus elections – promised to do “all he could” as a member of the Students Representative Council.

Far-reaching effects

Commending the students, faculty dean Assoc Prof Dr Ramdzani Abdullah said that he was encouraged by the sincere efforts of the students.

“Mobilisation at the grassroots is the best way to impact individuals and I hope that your love for the environment will be transmitted to other students on campus,” he said in his speech during the official launch of Gah’stari, last Thursday.

He added that the students had gone an extra mile by partnering with Earthagain – a company which advocates a healthy and environmental friendly lifestyle by focusing on the protection of the environment.

“This event serves as a good training ground for students as they learnt how to manage events and communicate with outside companies,” added Assoc Prof Ramdzani.

“As for a campus-wide policy on the matter, the working paper has indeed been submitted and I believe that UPM’s top management will be receptive.”

Equally supportive was Earthagain project director Kenny Teoh who was elated with the burning desire of the students.

Partnering with the students, Earthagain offers green rewards – battery chargers, t-shirts, books on the environment and even an environmentally friendly fire extinguisher, among others – for recyclables.

“What they (UPM students) have done today is remarkable and it serves as a model for other campuses,” he said.

“The rewards system is in place to encourage recycling activities and although the students may not bring much, their efforts are appreciated.”

Commenting further, Ahmad Bukhari said that the students’ interaction with outside companies would enhance their communication skills, boosting their employability at the end of the day.

He added that the exposure would also empower students with entrepreneurial traits and some of them could even enter the recycling business in the future.

Further greening

UPM vice-chancellor Datuk Dr Radin Umar Radin Sohadi praised the “good efforts” of the students.

Pointing out that UPM has always been regarded as a green campus, Dr Radin Umar said that the students’ initiative was a welcome continuation of existing policy.

“In those days, people were referring to our many fields and green surroundings,” he said. “However, we have to move beyond that and policies related to sustainability must be in place to instil responsibility amongst our students.

“Apart from the Faculty of Environmental Studies, similar initiatives are also conducted by the varsity’s Agriculture and Forestry and Wildlife departments and it is heartening to see students internalising the values of conservation. “The Forestry department replants trees each year.”

Dr Radin Umar added that UPM was recently ranked sixth in the Green Metric Rankings which is conducted by Universitas Indonesia.

Commenting on the feasibility of a polystyrene ban on campus, Dr Radin Umar said that while UPM would move in that direction, change had to be gradual and a blanket ban on polystyrene was unlikely.

“Going green is just as complicated as road safety issues as things won’t change overnight,” he said. “In this light, it is heartening to see our students stepping forth as agents of change.”

Going further, Dr Radin Umar said that other measures to green up the varsity included the upcoming installation of meters which monitored the usage of electricity and water at each main building.

“The whole idea is to cascade accountability at every level in the university,” he mused. “Lights and air-conditioning should be turned off when they are not required as universities are spending public money.

“It’s all about value management and by cutting down on consumption, we reduce pollution in the process.”

Dr Radin Umar is right that a change of such magnitude has to be gradual. After all, UPM has 25,000 students.

With more individuals like Ahmad Bukhari, that change could come sooner than later.

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