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President’s Letter: Orange-and-Black as the New Green

October 01, 2007

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You see them everywhere you go in Germany, the yellow bags and the green dots. But they don’t litter the landscape. They help sustain it.

When Marcia, our sons, and I lived in Bremen, it didn’t take long for us to become mindful about what we purchased, consumed, recycled, and threw away–before we bought, used, or discarded it. Credit yellow bags and green dots for heightening our awareness.

That’s because most German manufacturers proudly display a distinctive green dot on their products to certify they have paid a fee that covers the cost of collecting and recycling the product packaging. Der Grüne Punkt signifies that the material is meant to be recycled in a specific type of yellow bag. German households dutifully place the bags in front of their homes for collection once or twice each week.

Besides exemplifying national efficiency, yellow bags and green dots also hold financial incentives. Because the fee they pay is based on the amount of packaging, German manufacturers work to minimize excess before their product even goes to market. And German consumers pay a fine if they don’t recycle. The focus of the system, though, is partnership, not punishment. Government, businesses, and the public collectively manage the cycle of consumerism to diminish adverse impacts on the environment and sustain its capacity to generate future resources.

In Portland and at Lewis & Clark, yellow bags and green dots are not yet features of our recycling. But they do signify critical elements of our ethos of sustainability: it is both a relational value and an interactive practice. We hold sustainability to be a systemic way of thinking and acting that compels us not only to consider the here and now, but also to understand what came before and to account for what will come after.

This ethos is an extension of our core mission. As citizen-scholars we seek always to expand collegial learning and innovative scholarship across our three schools and across society, and to advance knowledge for its own sake and to the lasting benefit of the common good.

When I think about what we are doing now to live these values, I consider a range of programs and initiatives. I think of our role as host campus for Focus the Nation. Founded and directed by Professor of Economics Eban Goodstein, this extraordinary project is mobilizing hundreds of thousands of students, teachers, government leaders, environmental experts, and citizens from throughout the United States to examine the impact of climate change from multiple perspectives and to develop solutions to environmental degradation and global warming.

I think also of our initiative to enhance our approach to undergraduate environmental studies. Supported by a Mellon Foundation grant, we will cultivate better and more relevant interdisciplinary student research that explores important connections among the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities.

As a charter signatory of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, I take pride in our pledge to reduce carbon emissions, infuse climate neutrality and sustainability issues into our students’ curricular and extracurricular experiences, expand support for sustainability research, and track our progress.

I think of the collaborative leadership our Sustainability Council is undertaking to advance the health of our natural and built environments, our social interactions, and our economic stability.

I see in the work of our Graduate School of Education and Counseling compelling evidence that we are reenvisioning how students learn. We are teaching secondary teachers innovative ways to make math come alive for their students, even as our science education courses for teachers emphasize the value of field studies and actively engaging the natural world.

I also see graduate school faculty researching the intersections among psychology, ecology, and sustainability, the better to develop strategies that help people improve personal and public mental health by reconnecting with nature and their communities.

And I witness our law school students, faculty, staff, and alumni investing extraordinary talent, energy, and passion to focus the attention of public and private sectors on such complex issues as biological diversity, international trade in endangered species, animal rights, natural resource policies, water rights, and habitat preservation. I note, too, that our environmental law program, the nation’s first, is dedicating the current academic year to a full-scale examination of the impacts of climate change on environmental law and policy.

In all of this, I see our community living sustainability. And so most of all, I see hope–hope forged from our continuing quest for knowledge and our pledge to transform that knowledge into actions that reflect our deep relationship to the environment, each other, and generations still to come.

Thomas J. Hochstettler
President