As reported by Carolyn Simmons in this issue of the Review, the ASSU Undergraduate Senate has now begun considering the mandating of a set of “sustainable practices.” To receive student fees money, student groups would have to demonstrate compliance with these practices, which include use of compostable cups and purchases of food in bulk. Now, with sustainability as a seemingly untouchable political issue in the halls of Stanford, a bill instituting the mandate is expected to fly through the Senate upon its introduction.
That would be a mistake. Indeed, deeper investigation into the process by which these “green” policies have been created reveals the gross ineptitude of which government – at any level – can be capable. For example, consider this: the checklist that many senators are rushing to mandate for hundreds of student groups has never been used for any event.
Or, this: beyond the input of Students for a Sustainable Stanford, a group with a clear agenda and fewer programming responsibilities than many other VSOs, the Senate has not sought input from any major programming group on campus.
Or, this: the final draft of the Green Events Checklist that emerged from the Sustainability Subcommittee banned the use of meat at all events and mandated the use of locally-grown foods only, which includes fruits, vegetables, and little else.
The list of examples goes on and on and demonstrates an utter disconnect between the Undergraduate Senate and its constituents. And the rush to push through a bill that lacks any substantial student body input calls into question the very governing approach of this Senate.
But the incompetence does not stop there. Despite Senator Adam Creasman’s call for a thorough cost-benefit analysis, such research has yet to surface from the Senate. A mandate for the “green” policies would place an enormous financial burden on student groups at a time when the Senate, the main source of group funding, is already strapped for cash. Compostable and recyclable materials tend to be far more expensive, while requirements to provide recycling receptacles, water jugs, and other supplies impose further financial and planning burdens on groups. Further, limits on marketing strategies, such as limitation on the use of fliers, could imperil the success of events for groups across campus.
The costs to a mandate are clear, but the benefits still remain hazy. Although “sustainability” and “reducing our carbon footprint” seem to be buzz words that ring true with many, the exact impact of the checklist toward those ends remains in doubt. Has the Senate considered the fact that some compostable containers require *more *energy to produce than basic disposable cups? Or that the use of corn for cups – or fuel, for that matter – has the potential to raise food prices with detrimental effects on many in the developing world? These are but brief examples that demonstrate the uncertain outcome of the mandate of a checklist.
So the costs are significant and the benefits in doubt – what’s next? As Senator Creasman put it, if the cost to student organizations is “expensive and impedes people from throwing events, then we will have to reconsider [mandating the checklist].” The* Review* sincerely hopes that such reconsideration will occur. — Editorial Board