The statistics are worrisome: thousands of square kilometres of South American rainforest are logged or burned every year, resulting in the extinction of species of plants, animals and insects that haven’t even been discovered.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I travelled to the Peruvian Amazon in February as part of a trip organized by the U of T Alumni Travel Program. Would we be cruising past huge swaths of cleared land? In fact, the area we visited was relatively untouched by human industry. There were no roads, no power lines and no utility poles. The variety of wildlife was truly astonishing.
However, we did receive the occasional reminder that even remote areas of the Amazon rainforest cannot escape humanity’s long reach. A distant bright blue “bird” turned out to be a plastic bag caught on a log. An empty water bottle floated in the reeds. Upon returning to Canada, I’m sure I’m not the only one from our trip who resolved to consume less and recycle more.
Wildlife artist Robert Bateman is a longtime proponent of conservation and, as managing editor Stacey Gibson writes in her profile of Bateman (“The Nature of Things”), he believes we have lost our appreciation for nature. “We live in a world that is packaged, so there is no sense of community, and there’s no sense of place and there’s no sense of species,” he says.
At U of T Magazine, we’re trying to do more to conserve resources in recognition of this interconnectedness. About a year ago, we switched to a 10 per cent post-consumer recycled paper. Our goal was to gradually increase the content of recycled fibre over several years to 100 per cent as new paper stocks became available.
I’m pleased to report that we’ve already reached that goal. With the spring issue, we switched to a 100 per cent recycled paper stock certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, an international organization that supports environmentally sound forest management. From now on, no virgin fibre will be used to produce U of T Magazine. We’re not the first publication in Canada to make this undertaking, but we’re the largest so far. By using entirely post-consumer stock, we will save 2,000 trees a year, energy to heat 13 homes and enough solid waste to fill six garbage trucks.
The magazine is not the only U of T department looking for ways to improve its environmental record. U of T’s Sustainability Office is leading a number of projects aimed at reducing energy consumption and will soon begin an investigation into paper use. Vig Krishnamurthy, a third-year geography student, will conduct a study into reducing paper demand and purchasing more environmentally friendly paper products. Ultimately, the Sustainability Office hopes to develop a pilot project to reduce consumption within one department, before rolling it out to the larger university community.
Beth Savan, a professor at the Centre for the Environment and co-director of the Sustainability Office, says she relies heavily on students, who often take the lead in researching and implementing new programs. Savan says paper would not have been on the office’s agenda for this year if Krishnamurthy hadn’t come along. “Students are much more than our allies,” she says. “They are our leaders.”