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Students Unite to Protect the Environment

Winston Looking at Winston Vaughan, you might not know that he is a leader in the student environmental movement. Vaughan looks like any other 20-year-old raised on computers and a healthy economy. Yet, as a junior at Oberlin College, Vaughan has organized campaigns to stop sprawl and protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska from oil drilling, lobbied on Capitol Hill to clean up coal-fired power plants, and is currently serving as the Chair for the National Student Forum for the Student Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs), as well as Chairman of the Board for the Ohio Public Interest Research Group. Recently, Vaughan addressed 1500 of his peers who came together at ECOnference2001 in Washington, D.C. to educate, activate, and mobilize on critical environmental issues, including protecting the Arctic Refuge.
"The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of our last pristine areas. Drilling there will not solve our nation's energy problems," stated Vaughan, who in his efforts with the Student PIRGs, has worked to promote renewable energy such as wind and solar power.
Vaughn has good grades, high test scores, and heavy involvement in extracurricular activities, and would be an ideal candidate for so many of the companies recruiting on college campuses every year. Vaughan, however, has signed the ecopledge, saying he will not work for, buy from, or invest in specific companies if they refuse to take simple, sensible steps to lessen their impact on the environment. Since the campaign's launch two years ago, ecopledge.com staff successfully persuaded both Ford and General Motors to withdraw from the Global Climate Coalition, a group that lobbies against measures to stop global warming. General Electric, another campaign target, recently agreed to make their washer machines 30% more energy efficient. Vaughan and 50,000 others across the country have pledged to not work for BP Amoco if the company does not make a commitment to cancel all future drilling plans in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge.
"We are saying that it takes more than a big salary and benefits package to employ the best and the brightest. In this increasingly global economy, companies need to take the lead in protecting the environment," said Vaughan.
Conference
Vaughan is not alone in his actions to change corporate behavior. From October 19th through 21st, ECOnference attendees traveled from over 40 states to the nation's capitol to take positive action to protect the environment. Armed with laptops and cell phones, the students arrived at the George Washington University campus from schools like Yale, Georgetown, University of Wisconsin, Rice University, and UC Berkeley to learn more about campaigns like ecopledge.com and bring the issues back to their campuses for more student involvement.
ECOnference 2001, organized by a collaborative of groups including Free the Planet!, Sierra Student Coalition, the Student PIRGs, Green Corps, and ecopledge.com, was sponsored by over 50 environmental, public interest, and religious organizations. The conference featured keynote speakers and national environmental leaders Carl Pope, Executive Director of the Sierra Club; John Passacantando, Executive Director of Greenpeace USA; and Wendy Wendlandt, Political Director for the National Association of State PIRGs.
Students spent the weekend in workshops to gain skills necessary to run effective campaigns, learning how to lobby decision makers and how to change corporate behavior. The students also attended panels on issues such as the future of the nation's energy sources. The conference concluded with a rally led by Lois Gibbs at the Washington Monument. Gibbs, the Executive Director for the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice and Love Canal organizer led the rally and asked students to remain committed and keep working on campaigns like ecopledge.
At the end of the conference, instead of touring the Smithsonian museums or the national monuments, a group of college students visited the corporate offices of ecopedge.com targets

"This weekend gave me incredible hope for the future," said Vanessa Pierce, a Grinnell College senior and co-founder of IowaSTEP, a statewide student environmental network. "To be joined by 1,500 of my peers in calling on our government and businesses to take necessary steps to stop the destruction of our environment was incredible. I am thrilled to know that this weekend was only the beginning. This is our time and we are going to act," concluded Pierce.
At the end of the conference instead of touring the Smithsonian museums or the national monuments, a group of college students visited the corporate offices of ecopedge targets BP Amoco, Dell Computers, and PricewaterhouseCoopers while in Washington, D.C. on Monday. The students brought embargoed resumes to show executives the commitment college students are making to the environment and to changing the ways companies treat the environment. ecopledge campaign participants made the following requests to the companies:
1) BP Amoco -- Cancel plans to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
2) Dell -- Offer a "take back" program to dispose of obsolete PCs in an environmentally responsible manner for U.S. consumers. Many PC monitors are made with toxic components, including cathode ray tubes containing large amounts of lead.
3) PricewaterhouseCoopers -- Withdraw membership from the National Mining Association. The National Mining Association has lobbied against environmental standards in federal mining laws. "We hope the companies we are asking to change their behavior will want to discuss simple steps that would translate into positive environmental action," said Rebecca O'Malley, Program Advocate for ecopledge.com.
Rachel Helller is the director of Earthday Resources for Living Green

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