Send your question to Umbra!

Q. Dear Umbra,

My school orchestra, choir, and band do a lot of fundraising for trips and things like that, but the only really successful one was one-dollar chocolate bars. Do you know of any other fundraising options that are fairly cheap, eco-friendly, and that kids would want to buy? (Sorry that I have to be so specific.) Thanks!

Nora L.
Ithaca, NY

Band campBand camp couldn’t last forever.Photo: Music Man5A. Dearest Nora,

Chocolate bars are often a golden ticket for school fundraising. But your quest to find more sustainable (and healthy) sources of revenue is music to my ears.

One of the greenest ways to make green is to provide a service or experience. Trumpet-o-grams, anyone? Your musically inclined students could be in the business of providing orchestral or choral birthday greetings for a few dollars? Or perhaps you could take up busking on campus — that is, playing in public for money. Imagine the bills people would gladly part with as your orchestra plays Lady Gaga on the quad …

Have you thought about a bake sale? Your orchestra could make some dough selling something tasty like these DIY organic Twinkies!

On another note, it is that time of year when people are in search of cool school supplies. You and your fellow musicians could be the purveyors of fine, eco-friendlier items that every student can use — like greener pencils and pens, and recycled notebooks. You could even fundraise (or shall I say, “Fun-raise!”) by producing school supplies like these notebooks made from free and used photocopy and printer paper. They’re easy to make and they make a statement too.

If none of these ideas sounds as money-making as your chocolate bars, consider selling only the organic, fair trade chocolate variety.

Have fun and be creative, Nora. And get out there and shake your melodious moneymakers!

Band-tastically,
Umbra

Q. Dear Umbra,

I wonder what sustainable tips you might have for a college student living in a 7×14 dorm room. It sometimes seems impossible to live a green life on a college campus. Beer cans and liquor bottles littered on the quad … Composting is nearly impossible because it isn’t regularly available in dining halls. Eating natural and local food on a college budget is next to impossible. HELP ME! I do believe it will be my generation that will be the first to fully move the green movement, but not without proper instruction, of course.

Conor M.
Rochester, NY

A. Dearest Conor,

One doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that your generation is going to take sustainability into the stratosphere. And does the world ever need it! It’s great that you’re thinking about all these big green ideas and I want to help give you the tools you need to get there.

The fact is, Conor, you’ve already got what it takes. Your letter to such a wizened advice columnist shows that you care and are resourceful, two of the most important traits for sustainable success.

Now let’s look at other resources for you to tap into. Is there a sustainability organization on campus? If not, perhaps you’re just the person to start one. An organization can bring people together and create momentum. As a group, you can have goals and get things done.

Here are a few ideas for projects you and your sustainability group may want to tackle.

With beer bottles strewn about your school, it sounds like a Recycling Incentives Program (RIP) is in order. That way, students can get ripped and RIP’d. Does your campus recycle? If not, that’s a bigger conversation to have with a dean of students. If your campus does recycle, consider working with the maintenance staff at your campus to create ample receptacles, put them everywhere so that recycling is convenient, and then make it fun. How? Well, what do you kids do for fun these days? Maybe name a dance move after the winning recycling team? Reward devoted recyclers with a keg of organic beer? Maybe lower their tuition?

As for composting, you say it’s not regularly available in dining halls. Does that mean it’s occasionally available? If so, can they expand the demand? If not, let’s think about parts of campus that could use some black gold. Ah, yes! Your friends in campus maintenance come to mind once again. What could be better for the giant shrub cut in the shape of your campus mascot than some campus-made compost? All it takes is creativity, communication, and a compost master to get something like this going.

Eating local food is good for your brain. It’s such a smart idea, your college may want to make it a part of the curriculum and partner with a local farm to serve healthy, sustainable food on campus. If you’re cooking in your dorm, check to see if there’s a farmer’s market near you. I’ve often found fresh veggies can be less expensive than processed, “cheap” foods. (Though, truth be told, nothing remains cheaper than the college cuisine classic: 14 cent Ramen noodles. So full of sodium. So delicious.)

Is the energy-intensive hum of mini fridges keeping you up at night, Conor? The sustainability squad at College of the Atlantic went as far as doing campus-wide energy audits to find out how efficient campus buildings are and how to make theirs more so. These students installed energy-saving compact fluorescent lighting, programmable thermostats, and even insulation. The point is, the sustainability sky is the limit, Conor. Check out this video from the COA campus for inspiration and to see what your compatriots on another campuses are up to.

In summary of this sustainability 101 course: It’s going to take people like you to speak up and convince university administrators to take sustainability seriously. And I say that while wearing a sweater with elbow patches.

If you try all these things and find you still aren’t getting enough green in your education, you may want to consider transferring … to a Top 20 green college.

Strive for excellence, Conor. You’ll make the grade.

Higher learningly,
Umbra