Although the conversation has in some ways only just begun with the release of a campus sustainability report late last year, the report’s co-chairs are confident it is an important first step toward the University of Nevada, Reno becoming “a model for other college campuses, as well as our community.”
The 2009 Campus Sustainability Report, a 95-page document prepared by a 16-member Sustainability Committee, highlights the many sustainable successes that the University has realized over the past several years.
Just as importantly, however, the reports highlights areas where the University can and should do better.
The good news, according to both Mike Collopy, Assistant Vice President for Research and the University’s Environmental Affairs Manager, John Sagebiel – who together served as co-chairs of the Sustainability Committee – is that much of what is suggested in the report is attainable in the not-so-distant future.
“While some of the recommendations may require significant start-up costs not currently available, many simply involve changing individual behavior that can have a significant cumulative effect,” said Collopy, noting such specific actions as powering down all computers after work, increasing recycling and turning lights off when not in use already make the campus “green.”
“Educating faculty, staff and students about how they can make individual contributions to reducing the carbon footprint of our University is an important component of our sustainability plan,” Sagebiel added.
The plan’s beginnings can be traced to 2007, when University President Milton Glick signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. Today, more than 600 university and college presidents have signed the commitment.
“All universities,” Glick said, “strive to teach, discover and make a difference in the communities they serve. Providing leadership on sustainability is a natural extension of those core missions. One of our key contributions is the production of educated citizens in the form of our graduates. Our goal is to integrate sustainable practices into everything we do – from our energy usage to our curriculum.”
The campus sustainability plan is divided into and highlights accomplishments and next steps in four areas: energy, commuting and transportation, campus life, curriculum.
Here are brief synopses of each area:
The University has for many years incorporated energy conservation principles and upgrades to major systems that have drastically reduced the campus’ energy consumption through lighting efficiency, thermal systems efficiency and equipment efficiency. These efforts have saved enough energy to power some 2,000 homes per year.
Energy goals for the future include:
- Setting incentives for each building to reduce energy costs;
- Investigating third party financing for energy related upgrades;
- Reduce heat islands on campus to reduce summer cooling loads through the use of coatings that lower absorption of heat;
- Minimizing the number of buildings used during the evening to achieve greater energy reductions;
- Maximizing building utilization.
Regarding the buildings themselves, the report suggests that the University commit to achieving LEED 2.2 Silver standards or better in all new construction. The Marguerite Wattis Petersen Athletic Academic Center, opened in spring 2009, is the first LEED accredited building constructed on the University campus. The Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) certification is awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council and is based on a green building system established as the national standard for design, construction and operation of high performance “green” buildings.
Efforts by the Parking and Transportation Services Department to actively market its programs to students and faculty and staff between 2001-2008 have helped reduce the drive-alone rate to and from campus, from 58 to 43 percent. Subsidized bus passes made available through the Wolf Pack Bus Program, carpooling, motorcycle and bicycle programs, as well as a shuttle bus fleet that runs primarily on bio-diesels have all proven effective in this effort.
Transportation goals for the future include:
- Providing electric vehicle charging stations;
- Exploring the feasibility of a car share and/or bike share program;
- Continuing to work with the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) to provide inexpensive commuter options
- Improving movement on campus by providing separate bike and pedestrian lanes and increased special shuttle routes.
Faculty, staff and students can have a significant impact on the campus and in the community by making sustainable choices in their everyday activities, the report notes. To do this, the campus community needs resources and information to make informed sustainable choices.
Already the campus has an active and productive recycling and E-waste program in effect. Food Services has committed 1 percent of meal plan revenue to funding renewable initiatives on campus, and has partnered with a local grower, Nevada Naturals, to add locally produced products to its menu. The ASUN Bookstore and dorms now carry helpful bike supplies.
In addition, in an effort the shift the campus culture even more, the Sustainability Committee has launched a sustainability website, to highlight sustainability efforts on campus.
Campus life goals for the future include:
- Establishing an “Eco-Rep” (students employed by the University to educate and encourage students about living sustainably) program;
- Increasing energy awareness by installing energy monitors in residence halls;
- Engaging non-sustainability oriented groups and disciplines in campus sustainability initiatives;
- Creating an “Eco House” residence hall that would provide sustainable living options for energy conscious students on campus;
- Establishing a green fund from a small student fee for sustainable initiatives.
To be effective long-term, the curriculum must help students understand how information is acquired, assessed and applied to make decisions that lead to meaningful action, the report says. The students of tomorrow will meet challenges and address issues of sustainability with the heightened awareness that comes through education. A February 2009 survey of academic faculty found that 65 percent of the survey’s respondents rated their concern about sustainability as “high” or “very high,” and 45 percent reported that they already were integrating sustainability issues into the courses they were teaching. The report notes that one of the most far-reaching and effective ways of reaching students on topics of sustainability is through the Core Curriculum.
Curriculum goals for the future include:
- Incorporating sustainability into the strategic planning process;
- Providing information on sustainability to all new students;
- Addressing sustainability in the Core Curriculum by extending or creating new core classes that explicitly address sustainability;
- Facilitating faculty engagement by providing training and incentives to those willing to engage in the effort;
- Promoting the development of new approaches to the teaching of sustainability;
- Encouraging sustainability research, recognizing and rewarding sustainability research;
- Consider a focus on sustainability in hiring new faculty.
The effort in all areas, said Paul Starrs, Foundation Professor of Geography and a faculty member known for incorporating sustainability into much of his own teaching, is well worth it.
“Even defining ‘sustainability’ can engage a full-on battle, but that’s a form of combat that demands everyone’s serious attention and commitment,” Starrs said. “Sustainability is not only for us all, it’ll mean everything for our future.”