Courtesy of the UCR Office of Sustainability

In honor of Earth Week, UCR held an array of green events open to the public, with the Extreme Green Fest at the Family Housing Park kicking off the festivities. Community members were encouraged to join UCR in a number of engaging activities like bike and sustainability tours, a planting start-up at the Bell Tower, and, as a last splash, a “Dig N’ Dance” in the UCR Community Garden on Saturday, April 26.

While this is all exciting stuff, can we, as UCR students, do more to create and sustain a healthy environment for future students and even Riverside as a whole? Is it enough to throw a week-long promotion once a year? In short, the answer is no — it’s not enough. Promotions like these and even the recent policy change calling for a tobacco-free campus are excellent starts, but galaxies’ worth of room for improvement remains. UCR can and should commit itself to being a green university year-round, not just during Earth Week.

True, UCR already does quite a lot in the scheme of eco-friendliness. Silverware in the HUB is compostable and the recycling bins are separated by type to ensure the highest degrees of efficiency in recycling. Scotty’s even sells a few vegan snacking options — I just may be keeping that place in business with my kombucha and “Chocolate Chip Kale Krunch” consumption alone. This is all well and awesome, but I ask this: Why stop at pricey kale chips and forks that might come back in their next lives as tomato plants?

UC Riverside needs to begin making pragmatic changes in two places: specifically regarding its high levels of water consumption, and its levels of consumption overall. First, in the middle of a serious drought, it should begin by replacing its turf lawns, which undoubtedly require huge amounts of water. I’m not sure a lot of us realize this, but clean water is actually pretty hard to come by in Southern California, which is for the most part an arid desert. It takes teams of professionals to locate, clean and distribute said water, and most of California’s water comes from groundwater and the Colorado River. An article in the San Francisco Gate spotlights Andrew Fahlund, deputy director of the California Water Foundation. He compares groundwater to a savings account, saying, “We are in a situation in many places where it’s analogous to having overdrawn your savings account right before losing your job. We have this drought, and this is the time when you most need to rely on groundwater, but unfortunately our groundwater tables in many parts of the state have been overdrawn.”

This poses a problem, as Southern California does not enjoy enough rainfall to replenish these water tables. In fact, in January, San Jose Mercury News reported that in a meager 60 to 120 days, 17 communities are expected to simply run out of their water stores. The fact that even communities in Northern California are having to buckle down goes to show just how pressing this issue is. A photo taken in 2011 of Folsom Lake, a reservoir in Northern California, showed the lake at 97 percent capacity; another photo taken in January of this year pictures the same reservoir dramatically receded and at a stunning 17 percent of its capacity.

“Growers of almonds — a state crop valued at $5 billion in 2012 — have been pulling trees out of the ground while they’re still in their prime, in desperate actions driven by high water costs,” says one NPR article. Other California communities continue to join that list as we continue to find ourselves rather wanting. I personally am a CHASS major, so I won’t do that math here for you, but I do know that rain isn’t so common in Riverside after April. Removal of water-hungry grass has already been done with the medians in Lot 31, but to make significant dents in its consumption of water, UCR needs to replace the turf lawns with drought-resistant landscapes.

It doesn’t take much green to be green. In fact, in replacing the turf lawns, UCR could potentially get money back in the long run by spending less on water. Riverside citizens also have access to a program called SoCal Water$mart, the Metropolitan Water District is offering rebates to individual homeowners and commercial buildings who decide to do just this. Doing away with the lawns could leave a hefty impact on the community who might be encouraged to improve their own water consumption.

UCR should also take steps to reduce the number of goods we consume by pledging to abstain from the buying or selling of any products that are not Fair Trade. The label “Certified Fair Trade” is actually more than mere hipster jargon; it ensures that farmers in developing countries work under fair labor conditions and are offered better prices for their products, like fruits, vegetables, coffee, tea, sugar, beans and nuts. Currently, the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf admittedly “do not provide any Certified Fair Trade coffee” though they “foster long-term relationships with coffee growers directly.” In the same way that the label “organic,” without 100 percent as its qualifier, could mean that pesticides still come in contact with the product, would it be so far-fetched to imagine that a “long-term relationship with coffee growers” might also be more euphemistic than informational?

UCR could also take steps to install more vegan options in the dining halls and in the HUB to cut consumption of animal products. Choosing to lessen one’s intake of animal products is good for environmental sustainability. Aside from the ethical debates concerning factory farming, it has some substantially negative implications for the environment. Often, forests are clear-cut to grow grain to feed animals on said farms which largely contributes to increased greenhouse gas emissions. Runoff from farms often causes water pollution and severe degradation of coral reefs. Factory farming also contributes to land degradation and decreased biodiversity.

So let’s celebrate Earth Week. Let’s dance in the garden. Let’s sow spring seeds and ride our bicycles, but let’s expect more from our university. Let’s demand a greener campus that strives year-round to promote environmental sustainability.