UNO Celebrates Earth Day by ‘Going Green’

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By Tim Kucera

The carbon imprint left by students commuting to school is increasing at an alarming rate – if one in 10 car commuters switched to manual transportation, carbon dioxide emissions would be reduced by 25.4 million tons annually, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.UNO’s fourth annual “Trek to Campus” event on April 22 aimed at raising awareness for this growing problem, coinciding with the Earth Day events being held on the south side of the Eppley Administration Building.

The event lasted from 9 a.m. until around 2 p.m. and was meant to showcase what area businesses, as well as the UNO campus, are trying to accomplish with their sustainability initiatives. The campus’ goal with “Trek to Campus” is “to enhance our community by cutting down traffic congestion and parking issues as well as, improving air quality and boosting personal health and fitness” according to the Trek to Campus Web site.

The campus event is meant to raise awareness among students about alternative modes of transportation while commuting to campus. Many students don’t think twice before getting in their cars and driving to school. This event was meant to plant a seed of interest that will hopefully grow into a desire for continued sustainable living.

Marshall Reilly, an organizer for the event, said he hoped the event raised students’ awareness about becoming more sustainable. Yellow bicycles are now available around campus for fast transportation.

“We are just trying to convince people to use alternative means, as much as possible, to come to campus,” Reilly said. “It’s really health for them to do it, first of all, and they’ll save a lot of money. Second, you feel better during exercise.”

A few of the businesses and groups that were represented included the Green Omaha Coalition, Re-power America, the Nebraska Solar Energy Society, Greenstreet Cycles and the Sierra Club.

One of the vendors that came to the Earth Day event was Greenstreet Cycles, a new bicycle shop that recently opened at 13th and Mike Fahey Streets.

Sarah Johnson, the general manager of Greenstreet Cycles, said she had some ideas with regards to bettering Omaha’s cycling community.

“We kind of focus on commuting, which is a little different than some other shops,” Johnson stated. “We also have a peda-cab service, which nobody else in town has. It’s a bike-taxi, essentially, and we are giving free rides around downtown Omaha.”

UNO is also is experimenting with new sustainability options, including to-go containers for various food products. A biodegradable, cornstarch-based container that breaks down much quicker is going to be implemented soon, according to Julie Hansen, marketing coordinator for the Milo Bail Student Center.

She said the shift from traditional Styrofoam containers to more sustainable alternatives will be taking place almost immediately at the food cafeterias.

“The more conscience we can be about saving the environment, the better,” Hansen said. “It’s kind of one of those things where you get pressure from the outside and you get pressure from the inside, because the students want it as well as the environmentalists. I think it really all comes down to money.”

While money is a driving cost behind many of the sustainability objectives, it isn’t what drives the motivation for everyone. The push for a more sustainable future is also directly correlated with how much money can be saved annually by using said methods.

UNO junior Ashleigh Kunkle said she found the event very helpful. She said that spreading information among students is the first step for future sustainability-aimed initiatives.

“I think it is raising awareness and that is very important,” Kunkle said. “As a college campus we leave a big carbon imprint, and we haven’t really been focusing on that for the past couple of years. Recycling on campus is just the first step, and this is just the start of what we are going to be doing in the future.

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