J500 Media and the Environment

I’m Tired of Being Pleasant by mackenzies09

Diarrhea is never a pleasant subject. For those of us with access to clean water supplies and basic medications, it’s usually nothing more than unpleasant. But for the more than 2 million children who will die of diarrhea and related diseases this year, it is much more than unpleasant.

I will never get over the fact that so many children die from something that is so easily preventable and treatable. I want to scream! Why is this happening? The two maps shown below represent the areas of the world with the poorest water sources and the most cases of childhood diarrhea. They look awful similar to me.

Poor Water

Poor Water

Childhood Diarrhea

Childhood Diarrhea

Diarrhea is most often caused by a lack of clean drinking water and poor personal and food hygiene. It can easily be treated with a re-hydration solution with sugar and salt additives. But families must have access to the solution and they must understand how to use it as it can take up to 24 hours of constant use to work.

Breastfeeding can be one of the easiest ways to prevent diarrhea in babies. Unfortunately, companies like Gerber and Nestle have been pushing expensive formula in underdeveloped nations for decades. Mothers often mix contaminated water into the formula making every meal a toxic one for their infants. The viral, bacterial and parasitic causes of diarrhea have now become a major ingredient of baby’s meal.

Systematic waste removal is another solution to the messy situation. Doctors studied the epidemiological effect of a public service project that increased household access to city-run sanitation in Salvador, Brazil. The goal of the project was to increase sewer coverage from 26 percent to 80 percent. After comparing the number of diarrhea incidents in 1997 to those in 2004, it was found that cases were reduced by 22 percent.

Warning: bad pun here: It’s time to sh*t or get off the pot. I do not want to make light of such a serious issue, but now is when we need to put pleasantries aside and do something. There are a lot of ways to get involved.

You can join the Nestle Boycott (they might make more products than you imagine), you can donate to Engineers in Action, or even join Engineers Without Borders-University of Kansas (KU students of all majors are welcome).


maps courtesy of worldmapper.org



I recently returned from the Engineers Without Borders conference on “Sustainable Engineering and Global Health” in Seattle. The flight on Southwest was disappointing to say the least, from an environmental perspective, but the conference was a green dream come true, thanks to a “sustainability coordinator” in charge of making the conference itself as sustainable and carbon neutral as possible.

The first thing that I noticed was the in-room recycle bin at the hotel, shortly followed by the Project Planet door-hanging in the bathroom encouraging me to conserve water and use my towels more than once.

The next morning I discovered it was a mere 10-minute stroll from the hotel to the conference venue on the University of Washington campus. Cool, I thought, no need to waste money on a taxi.

Once at the conference hall, I lost myself in the fairyland of recycle and compost bins, zero paper handouts, and fully compostable beverage cups and napkins. It only got better as I picked up my t-shirt made from 100% fair-trade organic cotton and water-based ink. Lunch came and I found myself relishing the local, organic fare pre-boxed in compostable packaging. I had never been to a conference planned quite like this before – it was exciting!

To top it all off, EWB gave each of us a “Carbon Offset Care Package” complete with two hybrid Poplar tree cuttings to plant when we got home. After all, flying the 3,105 miles from Kansas City to Seattle I had emitted approximately 1,400 lbs. of CO2. I planted them as soon as I got home, because it was going to take the two of them together almost 20 years to offset my emissions from this single trip.

(My cute little Poplar trees are already growing after 1 week!)

The whole experience made me feel good. Sometimes, I feel as if I’m one of only a handful of people recycling or bringing my own cup to the coffee place, but at the conference, there were hundreds of us walking, recycling, composting, and maybe even planting all those trees. I felt like I was a part of something bigger than me and that that something was making a real difference in just one weekend. It was a real green dream come true!

Curious about how you might create a green dream for attendees at your next conference or meeting? See my next post: Wow your stakeholders (AND please eco-critics) with your next business conference.

~ Sarah H

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