April 22, 2033—we are pleased to announce the installation of seven new solar panels at RPI, making RPI completely carbon-neutral. Twenty years ago, there were only a few solar panels, mostly by the East Campus Athletic Village. Many buildings, particularly the residence halls and older classrooms, have been retrofitted to use less energy. With a far smaller need for energy, it has been easier for the Institute to supply its own energy using solar, wind, and green credits. Residence halls have solar panels on top of them. Gardens are grown on what used to be lawns.
The environmental community at RPI is thriving as students are realizing the potential effects of climate change and environmental destruction. “This is the planet we are going to have to live in until we die,” a sophomore student active in environmental clubs said. He added, “I’d rather live in a place with a better environment, but we can’t, so we have to make this one better.” Students have taken it upon themselves to expand the EcoHall Challenge, which pitted the freshman residence halls against each other for six weeks to see who could use the least energy, to a full-year challenge with sophomore halls also participating. Many students are vegetarian; those that aren’t insist on free-range meat. The dining halls are careful to offer a healthy variety of sustainable food.
Environmentalism at RPI goes further than just the students and energy savings though. All of the curriculum incorporates sustainability into classes. “Engineers are designing tomorrow’s world,” one of the professors said. “They need to be able to make a world that won’t become polluted and unlivable. After all, our motto is ‘Why not change the world?’” As a result of this focus on sustainability, RPI is known as a college where innovation happens in terms of sustainability. New, incredibly efficient solar panels that use common materials that are easily found just beneath the surface. Wind turbines that are quiet. Plastics made from agriculture waste that are just as good as the old petroleum-derived plastics. The list of RPI’s accomplishments for sustainability go on and on.
Is this just a dream? Possibly. Does it have to be? Perhaps not. There is definitely a lot more that RPI could do for sustainability. Sure, LEED-certified buildings like EMPAC are nice, but wouldn’t it be better to have retrofitted current buildings first and then built less-used luxury buildings? Supporting even more sustainability research than is being done (and quite a bit is, from LEDs to the environmental and community issues of hydrofracking) is another step that RPI could certainly take. Ecovative, a company started by RPI grads, was featured in Scientific American’s “9 Materials That Will Change the Future of Manufacturing.” Encouraging even more design and execution of products like packaging made from mushrooms will be a huge step towards a more sustainable planet.
Most of us students are in our late teens or early twenties. There is a high likelihood that environmental damage, including climate change, will become unstoppable if we don’t act now. There is the possibility that we’re too late, but we cannot focus on that. Let’s all build a better future right now—because why not change the world?