Nevada System of Higher Education Regent Jason Geddes can remember a different culture of environmentalism on the University of Nevada, Reno campus than what exists today.
"There was very little on campus when I was a student," remembered Geddes, who graduated from Nevada in 1990 with a degree in biochemistry. "We did have a class project to get the blue recycling bins on campus and to help craft the recycling legislation that a state assembly member took and made into state law."
Fast-forward to 2007. Much has changed.
With the opening of the Joe Crowley Student Union on Nov. 15, the University, which has been actively engaged in several notable "green" initiatives over the past few years, will enter a new era.
Call it the "greening" of Nevada blue as the University works to create a more eco-friendly environment. From green-certified new buildings to projects that will engage the student body and others in efforts for sustainable development, it's an exciting time to be environmentally conscious on the Nevada campus.
"We're starting to nudge in the right direction," said Kendra Zamzow, a doctoral degree candidate in the University's environmental sciences and health program, and one of the founders of the environmental organization, Students and Educators for Environmental Development and Sustainability (SEEDS). "It's good to hear that our administration wants to go that way.
"If we can take our master plan and start to put more LEED- (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified buildings in, if we look at landscaping and how to properly handle storm water runoff, if we strive to make our campus more biker- and walker-friendly, if we stress water conservation, the campus will become an even better place for all of those who work, study or visit."
The Crowley Student Union, even before it officially opens its doors, is already ushering in an exciting new era for the University.
The new union is an environmentally sustainable building with several "green" aspects. Many of its green features came from student input from groups such as SEEDS. Its green features include:
A day lighting system to reduce artificial-light use and minimize energy consumption;
Bathroom fixtures that operate with very low water use, and reduction of potable water use;
High-efficiency, fritted window glass;
An on-site cistern containing water from the building's cooling towers for irrigation;
Pervious pavers to help capture and infiltrate storm water back into the ground (eliminating one storm drain and proportionally reducing water flow to the storm water system).
"The green features are great and every single new building should be built to the Crowley Union's standards or higher," said Geddes, who in addition to serving in the Nevada State Assembly in 2002 was also the University's environmental affairs manager. "It is entirely feasible."
"When the students first started pushing to make the union green, we sat down with (University) Facilities staff and asked them to score a new building on the LEED score sheet using all of their design standards," Geddes remembered, noting that Facilities has traditionally done well in energy conservation, thanks to a performance-contracting policy in the mid-1990s that led to several, on-campus energy-efficient upgrades. The upgrades included indoor/outdoor lighting, lighting controls, automatic faucets and chiller upgrades. "Their emphasis on energy conservation and water conservation combined with a few other elements showed that the building was close to having enough points to be certified."
"We presented what we'd like to see and why it would be an economic benefit," Zamzow said, adding that Chuck Price, the union's director, and John Walsh, director of construction services in Facilities, were supporters of the student's efforts from the beginning. "As much as we believe in green issues, an argument that I make all the time is this: We are a capitalistic society, and nothing will move forward significantly unless there is an economic benefit somewhere."
Since 2002, the University has followed a green policy in several other areas, including the use of biodiesel in the campus shuttle and vehicle fleet, the purchase of hybrid/electric cars, alternative transportation through Sierra Spirit buses, hazardous waste reduction, campus recycling and the integration of green themes, issues or subjects into academic programs with the creation of the Academy for the Environment.
"(The University is) doing the right thing for campus and the community, and saving money in doing so," Geddes said.
Zamzow, who noted with a hopeful chuckle that she will be moving on in December 2007 once she receives her doctor of philosophy degree, says the roots for continued green awareness remain strong on campus. The SEEDS organization has an e-mail list of more than 100 students.
"So there is a lot of interest," she said. "Some are graduate students, some are undergraduates, some are faculty. Most of us who formed SEEDS were older students (Zamzow, for example, graduated from high school in 1980, and after working as a commercial fisherman in Alaska, came to Nevada to finish her education). I think many of us thought that (environmental awareness would take hold) in the 1970s, and then when it didn't, many of us wondered, 'What the heck happened?'
"We felt that this is our generation's responsibility. But it's more than that. It's the younger generation's responsibility as much as it is ours. That's why we want to try to involve more undergraduate students. In many ways, the United States has fallen backward in the world economy, and green initiatives are a place where we can really move the country to the front again.
"The future of our students, the future of our country ... the future of the world depends on it."