Yale Bulletin and Calendar

May 4, 2001Volume 29, Number 29

Andrew Klaber

Freshman receives EPA Youth Award

Yale freshman Andrew Klaber has never thought of himself as an environmentalist per se.

Yet on April 24, Klaber was feted at the White House by President George W. Bush and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Christine Todd Whitman for being just that.

Klaber was one of 19 American students honored that day with President's Environmental Youth Awards, which are presented annually to youngsters who have promoted environmental awareness and positive community involvement. This year marks the first time in eight years that the awards, which are sponsored by the EPA, were given at the White House.

Klaber was recognized for his successful efforts to persuade his Illinois high school, as well as other schools in that state, to buy recycled paper.

During his junior year at Stevenson High in Lincolnshire, Klaber, who was student body president, joined forces with classmate Lauren Goldberg -- who also received the national award -- after discovering that the school was receiving $30,000 annually for its recyclables (cans, bottles and paper) but was not purchasing recycled paper. Administrators told the pair that the school was not buying recycled paper because it was more expensive than virgin paper, and that its quality was inferior. Its lower quality, the administrators claimed, would lead to frequent jams in school copy machines.

Klaber and Goldberg also learned that their school was part of a paper-procuring co-operative that purchased 150 million sheets of paper a year without giving national recycled paper companies the opportunity to bid as vendors.

The two students began investigating the matter. They contacted the National Wildlife Foundation and the EPA and asked about the school administrators' claims regarding the price and quality of recycled paper. They were told that although recycled paper did cost more when the industry began nearly a decade ago, there was no longer much of a price gap. In that time, the quality of the paper had also improved.

"Obviously, there was a stigma attached to recycled paper -- that it was too pulpy, resulting in jammed copy machines, and that it was much more expensive," says Klaber. "But in addition to finding out that the quality had improved and the price had fallen, we also learned that in 1993 President Clinton passed an executive order mandating that all branches of the federal government buy recycled paper. We thought, 'If the federal government is using recycled paper and still functioning quite well, our school ought to be able to also.'"

Calling their effort the Recycled Paper Procurement Initiative, the two students eagerly sought additional information that would help them in their cause. They contacted recycled paper distributors in their area, and these conversations confirmed what the federal agencies had told them: The paper was no longer the thick-pulp variety that once wreaked havoc on copiers, and its price was generally equivalent to virgin paper.

Armed with these facts, the students presented to their school's business manager a detailed, documented report on their findings, which included their assessment of the environmental impact of changing the school's paper-buying policy. Their research showed that by buying recycled paper, the 30-school paper-purchasing co-op to which Stevenson High School belonged could save $16,000 a year and "150 million paper sheets worth of trees," says Klaber.

Impressed with Klaber's and Goldberg's diligence and research, the business manager promised to present their findings to the paper-purchasing co-op. In Klaber's senior year, Stevenson High agreed to purchase a certain amount of recycled paper for the 2000-2001 school year as part of a year-long pilot project.

Not satisfied to rest on their laurels, the students also sent out letters to the other members of the co-op, urging them to change their paper-buying policies. Once Stevenson High agreed to try out the recycled paper, other schools in the co-op followed suit. In addition, Klaber and Goldberg also developed a website to assist others in their advocacy of recycled paper (buyrecycledpaper.hypermart.net).

While flattered by the recognition he has received for the accomplishment, Klaber says that his project "was relatively simple," in terms of research. The real challenge, he says, was convincing others of its value.

"It was very difficult getting the adult administrators to take us seriously," he explains. "They didn't think we understood the finances. There were times when we considered giving up. But in the end our perseverance paid off."

At the White House ceremony honoring the President's Environmental Youth Award-winners, Christine Todd Whitman said of Klaber and Goldberg: "As a result of their efforts, Stevenson High is now a model of how minor changes in existing operations can provide major environmental benefits."

Other winners of the award include a group of first- and second-graders from Massachusetts who founded a club to beautify their school grounds; a Tennessee youth who created a wetland nature trail through a city park; and a trio of Texan students who established the first crude oil recycling proj-ect in the country.

The award winners had their photographs taken with President Bush, who also presented them with the Presidential Environmental Youth Award plaque. In addition, during the two-hour ceremony they attended an important environmental policy speech given by the president in the State Dining Room. Klaber says he was impressed with the amount of time the president devoted to the award recipients and their family members, and was honored to have a couple of brief conversations with Bush.

"The president talked to me about what a fine school Yale is and mentioned that his parents had a nice time when they visited during the University's Alumni Leadership Weekend," Klaber says. "He asked me how I liked being at Yale and talked about his time in Davenport College." During their conversation, the Yale student was also able to ask the president about his stance on a couple of environmental issues.

At Yale, Klaber is a member of the lightweight crew team and is vice chair of the Freshman Class Council. This summer, he will participate in a 4,021-mile New Haven-to-San Francisco bicycle trip to benefit the Elm City chapter of Habitat for Humanity. In addition to cycling some 80 miles a day, he and the other participants in the nine-week bike tour will also give community presentations about the Habitat for Humanity organization.

Klaber is interested in economics and international studies, and discovered while doing his high school project that economic benefit and concern for the environmental need not be at odds, as they are "stereotypically perceived," he comments.

"I have realized that being an environmentalist doesn't necessarily mean you are just out hugging trees," Klaber says. "We all have a responsibility to the environment and we must work toward solutions that make economic sense and augment sustainability."

-- By Susan Gonzalez


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