Atop the Seaver Campus sits a quiet vegetable garden. Small square plots hold leafy lettuces and sprouting stalks, rustling in the wind. Outside the enclosure, a mound of dirt has recently appeared, ready to be added to the plants’ foundations. As mute as the garden is, it is evidence of a vivacious student effort to get in touch with the Earth. The GreenTeam, a club devoted to “loving, nurturing and respecting God’s Creation” through a hands-on approach to sustainability, led students in the construction and planting of the garden in recent weeks; vegetables are now ready to be reaped.
The GreenTeam’s other environmental efforts include promoting ways that Pepperdine can reduce its use of harmful pesticides and conserve natural resources. Yet for many people, environmentalism doesn’t look like an organic garden or a matter of small community decisions. It looks more like a daunting beast. “Environmentalism” can seem both impersonal and overly broad. After all, the environment is a very big place. Protecting the ozone layer, reducing fuel use and saving the whales can seem both irrelevant to our lives and out of our control anyway. Environmental initiatives tend to involve many smaller inconveniences too, like shortening the bliss of a hot shower, picking up others’ litter or even giving up meat. Thus, it can be tempting to forget about environmentalism altogether if it is going to be so onerous.
It is this detachment from the positive side of environmentalism that the GreenTeam seeks to reduce. It does so by exposing students to the tangible opportunities afforded by natural and sustainable living. It’s not just about long-term, global goals. It is also about the opportunity to experience a better relationship with oneself, with others and with God. For example, after switching to organic foods and products, GreenTeam co-leader Matt Schiller quickly experienced a reduction in his allergies and an improvement in his quality of sleep. Also, he has grown from the experience of planting and harvesting food. “You develop a better connection with both the effort that goes into producing food, as well as the beauty and spirituality of the process,” Schiller said.
In describing the source of her passion for a sustainable and safe lifestyle, GreenTeam co-leader Emily Reeder described how she experiences the environment in real, even emotional terms. She loves the beautiful landscape of the outdoors in Nebraska, and she loves her family members and friends. As a result, she wants to do what it takes to keep all of these people and surroundings healthy. They motivate her to pursue sustainability.
When we connect how we treat the environment with our ability to enjoy health, the company of loved ones and the beauty of our surroundings, it can easily become a priority in our lives. We can see it not as an insurmountable chore, but rather as a tool to live more fully. We’re more willing to expend our time and energy to develop solutions that provide more advantages rather than just convenience and convention.
Pepperdine’s sustainability policy defines its philosophy well; it calls its approach to sustainability a way not only to keep its actions from affecting future generations, but also to maintain a “triple bottom line” of economic, social and environmental interests. In designing systems that affect the Pepperdine community, leaders must consider all three aspects of any given decision. In general, the idea is to more inclusively consider policy outcomes.
Further, Reeder sees environmentalism as a way to serve and minister to other people. By preserving precious people, animals and places by nourishing and caring for them, it allows them to live better and to feel God’s presence. “Nature is our link to God, and it is our responsibility to do our best with what He has entrusted to us,” Reeder said.
As she gave me a tour of the GreenTeam organic garden, Reeder brought me over to one of the thriving patches and pointed at a short leafy plant. “See this? This is kale. Have you had it? It’s my favorite vegetable,” she said. I nodded inquiringly, and she continued. “It’s one of the most nutrient-dense foods there is,” she explained. I thought, that’s an interesting way to define “favorite.” But after she explained how to make it into a delicious dish, it seemed to me like the best definition of favorite. If you want to make a wise decision about something, you have to look at all the sides. If you can find a way to make something simultaneously enjoyable, beneficial and available, it has every reason to be considered the best. It’s even worth some effort to seek it out.