A violent wind sweeps across Concordia College’s campus on February 24, causing students to shiver and slip as they rushed indoors. The wind pelts the panes of Old Main, where a classroom has been converted into a temporary meditation retreat.
Most of the tables and chairs in the room have all been piled against the far wall to make room for a set of yoga mats on the ground. At the foot of each yoga mat is a poster with question prompts for a “Green Washing Meditation,” the emphasis of tonight’s event.
Three tables have been left out, with six chairs to each table. Of these eighteen seats, only two are filled.
“Please make sure to take extra snacks, it looks like we aren’t gonna be running out,” said Ashley Olson-Enamorado, one of the two organizers for the nights’ activities. She gestures to a table in the corner of the room where three large chip bags and a coffee dispenser filled with hot chocolate sit largely untouched.
Olson-Enamorado and Diarra Sadji are both EcoReps, students on campus whose duty it is to host events and make displays centered on topics of sustainability. The event the two had planned for the night was a discussion on greenwashing followed by a guided meditation.
The two wait expectantly, checking the time on their phones. 6:15. The event was scheduled to begin at 6:00 on the dot. A quarter of an hour later, it’s become clear – nobody else is showing up. It’s time to begin.
“We don’t really have enough people to do a discussion, so if you’d like to all make your way to the yoga mats we can begin our guided meditation,” said Olson-Enamorado.
The clack of a keyboard brings up a five-minute video urging the two attendees to close their eyes and steady their breath as the lights in the room dim. An awkward silence fills the room, expanding like a balloon until it simply cannot go on. The silence breaks as everyone bursts into giggles.
After a few more minutes of meditation, the video stops, and everyone makes their way to the tables. Everyone in attendance can fit around just one of them.
The conversation begins with a definition of greenwashing, a practice in which businesses make unsupported claims towards the sustainability of their products. It quickly builds, with a unanimous confession towards a sort of climate-induced paralysis, where the student attendees and EcoReps alike share sentiments of anxiety and indecisiveness.
“That’s the tricky thing. It’s like ‘Oh, we can’t trust companies that call themselves sustainable, so we’re not gonna try anymore. We’ll just go with the companies that are honest about being unsustainable.’ Because it’s true, we do depend on things like petroleum. So why not just continue living the way we were living?” said Sadji.
This pessimistic paralysis is palpable not only in discussion of global change, but the EcoReps have also found it difficult to affect change within their own small community of Concordia as well.
“Honestly, I became an EcoRep because I wanted to make a change, but sometimes I feel my hands are tied. Every time I want to do something I think ‘people won’t even care.’ I mean look at this event. There’s literally like three people,” said Sadji.
Not everything is quite so gloomy, however. Gendra-Marleen Aasmaa, one of the two attendees, turns the conversation towards possible sustainability initiatives in which Concordia might partake. Olson-Enamorado takes notes diligently, the pencil scratches underlying every word.
“When I imagine having more value for sustainability at Concordia, I imagine involvement from outside, too. Like there needs to be a reason for Concordia to care: more than just for sustainability itself, but for profit and for connecting to the community off campus,” said Aasmaa.
Some of the proposed ideas were an expanded vegetable garden to sell at the Red River Market and better compost policies to sell to local farms and gardens.
“We are on a small scale here. Like, what we’re doing right now won’t affect anyone on the top. Who’s gonna be like: ‘Okay, these four had an event about greenwashing, let’s stop using oil, let’s go all green!’ No, that’s never gonna happen,” said Sadji. “I do sometimes question if this makes sense. Like, trying to do something on a small scale. But at least we’re trying. We’re going somewhere, we’re not stagnant. Just the fact that we care matters.”