Sustainability update: Refill those new dry-erase markers in Olin-Rice

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Being concerned about the environment is only natural, but it’s one thing to talk about it and another to take action.
As a response, our society often chooses to “buy green,” be “sustainable consumers,” and adopt other monikers that cause many to raise an eyebrow. Simply buying products that are “eco-friendly” or replacing energy-inefficient appliances does not make a person an environmental steward. To truly champion the cause, we must change habits, radically rethink and redo how we consume, and change our daily patterns so that these consumer “solutions” are true solutions, not just slightly better problems.

Schools are perhaps the best place to consider this topic, as places where everyone is eager to learn, teach, share and collaborate. Should the week’s reading be online or printed? Can we bring laptops to class? Do you bike or drive to campus? What’s the impact our food is having on the larger economy and environment? Macalester is an institution that both poses and answers these questions in a variety of ways. Whether or not we actually respond is up to those who get involved, participate in the discussion, and change some ways we go about our daily lives here on campus.

These changes can start many places, but let’s start with the classroom. Specifically, we’re talking about the year-long effort to outfit every Macalester classroom with refillable, non-toxic whiteboard markers. Seems like a small change, but not when we think about how many markers are wasted every day. Science professors in particular note how many they throw in the trash. Instead of buying a whole new marker (which has so many implications!), why can’t we just refill the old one? That’s exactly what AusPens are aiming to do, by creating a marker that doesn’t source a large amount of raw materials, and by eliminating the need for sourcing more in the future by making the markers refillable.
They also get rid of the need for toxic cleaners, which is safer and less costly.

So what will this transition look like at Macalester? Right now, the entirety of Olin-Rice is piloting the switch. Professors, students and facilities staff have all given immense positive feedback, often noting the quality of erasing, the ease of refilling, the teaching opportunities around sustainability, and the practicality of less waste.
While sustainability can be conceived as simply a box to check or a list of things we must accomplish in order to be environmentally friendly, let the story of the AusPens be a lesson that sustainability is not just a goal but a process. When you see your professor using a refillable marker, let them know it is appreciated. If you have a great idea that you think will save Facilities energy and money, let them know. This began as, and has continued as, a student-led project made possible by the students working in the Sustainability Office as well as Procurement. But you don’t have to have any job title to have a great idea—just a keen eye and a creative mindset.