Earth Day happened — did you care?

Although one shouldn’t expect the Carnegie Mellon website to have Google-esque illustrations for each holiday, the home page included only one reference to Earth Day (which was Sunday, April 22), in the form of a School of Design poster competition. Its mention also was absent during Carnival.

Is Earth Day really that important? Originating in 1970, Earth Day aims to raise awareness of the plight of the world environment. Concerning many issues from human health to habitat destruction to the fashionable global warming, Earth Day remains a low-key event year after year. This is a long way from the original Earth Day 37 years ago, when 20 million demonstrators and thousands of schools and local communities participated. But with Al Gore winning the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature this year, one would expect that Earth Day would receive more attention.

Though Earth Day may not be overtly celebrated, the university does not fall flat on its face. In a study conducted by the Sustainable Endowments Institute, which releases reviews of campus and endowment policies at universities throughout the country, gave the university a C+ for its practices. However, the breakdown of results indicated that this less than stellar performance was largely due to issues of investing its limited endowment.

“Awareness on campus is growing through programs such as Eco-Reps” said Alexa Huth of the Green Practices Committee. Eco-Reps are students living in dorms who educate peers in their house community on how to live in a more sustainable way. The Green Practices Committee, which consists of faculty, staff, and students, oversees university environmental initiatives. All new university buildings, for example, are to be LEED-certified, a standard of building sustainability.

Green Practices was responsible for installing solar panels on South Craig Street. It has set a goal of providing 20 percent of the university’s electricity through renewable resources (largely wind and landfill gas) by 2008. The university also takes part in RecycleMania, a recycling competition among peer institutions. Still, Carnegie Mellon has yet to place in the top five in any of the categories.

Carnegie Mellon is also home to student organizations that support environmental practices. “I think people are aware of recycling, but that’s about it. People pay little attention to other things like their carbon footprint [how much carbon dioxide they emit through fossil fuels],” said Andy Stocchetti of Sustainable Earth, a student organization that works to raise awareness of environmental issues. Stocchetti continued, “People don’t care.”

But has Carnival brought attention to issues of the environment at all? “Earlier this week we had tree planting, where we gave away seedlings in plastic bottles. We used that to raise awareness,” Stocchetti said. “We put most of our focus [to raise awareness] on RecycleMania.”

Intervarsity Christian Fellowship invited Care for Creation, an evangelical group that focuses on environmental stewardship from a Christian viewpoint, to speak on campus. Ed Brown, executive director of Care for Creation will present a lecture “Jesus and the Environment,” which will take place in the UC Connan Room this Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. An urban farming lecture, with Penn State’s Bill Lamont is scheduled for the same day at 5:30 p.m. in UC Rangos.

There were several events off campus such as Saturday evening’s second annual Environmental Film Festival, presented by the Sierra Club in Phipps Conservatory’s Botany Hall. Several of the films related to food issues. The Carnegie Science Center had Drive Cleaner, Drive Greener for its annual Earth Day festival.

Academically, the university also offers a multitude of environmentally focused courses (over 100 in total across all university colleges), like the department of Engineering and Public Policy’s Energy and the Environment and Air Quality Engineering. New York Times columnist and author Thomas Friedman once called for every college engineering student to be required to take one course in green design; the university has taken steps in that direction.

Carnegie Mellon, along with the University of Texas at Austin and Arizona State University, established the Center for Sustainable Engineering in 2005. With the support of the National Science Foundation and the Environmental Protection Agency, the center promotes the incorporation of environmental considerations into engineering designs satisfying future demands (imagine the environmental impact if everyone around the world had American standards of living), while using the Earth’s resources more efficiently.

The university’s attention to environmental issues does not stop there. The Carnegie Mellon Green Design Institute is an interdisciplinary research effort focused on improving environmental quality through green design. The University of Pittburgh’s Mascaro Sustainability Initiative hosted Engineering Sustainability 2007: Innovations that Span Boundaries, on April 15 through 18, 2007 with Carnegie Mellon’s Steinbrenner Institute for Environmental Education and Research.

Is all this enough? “We can definitely improve [awareness], and that is my mission and that of Green Practices,” Huth concluded.