Building Sustainable Solutions
“With the encouragement of faculty and staff, our students are exceptionally passionate about sustainability. We have the oldest student-run recycling program in the CSU and the largest student-run sustainability conference in the country.” —President Paul J. Zingg
In spring 2011, 14 CSU, Chico students each got the opportunity—and the funding—to implement something big. Their proposals, driven by a personal passion for sustainability, were as unique as the students themselves. The projects ranged from a worm bin for composting food scraps after Adventure Outings trips to a LEED Gold home built in partnership with Habitat for Humanity.
These kinds of student-driven projects are made possible each year by the AS Sustainability Fund, created in 2006 by a student vote.
“The Sustainability Fund provides resources to students, allowing them to bring creative and impactful projects into fruition,” says Eli Goodsell, Associated Students program coordinator for sustainability. “The funding process creates partnerships between administrators, faculty, staff, and students as they collaborate in developing and implementing ambitious sustainable projects on and off campus. The ingenuity and passion demonstrated by students on this campus truly gives me hope for a sustainable future.”
A number of campus and community programs got their start through the fund, including the Gateway Sustainability Gardens (see video), retrofitted drinking fountains that allow students to fill their own reusable water bottles, and SCOOP, a student group specializing in office sustainability audits.
CSU, Chico has long been recognized for its sustainability efforts—and students have been the impetus behind many of them, notes James Pushnik, director of the Institute for Sustainable Development. In the 1980s, when the environmental movement on most college campuses was still nascent, CSU, Chico students pushed for a student government position on environmental affairs. “Our students think outside of the 'academic box' and sometimes get at some novel solutions,” says Pushnik. "And our goal is to model for them what the future could be."
CSU, Chico aims to be carbon neutral by the year 2030, reaching an interim target of 1990 emissions levels by 2020. As a founding signatory of the 2007 American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), President Zingg was on the forefront of the national push for lowering greenhouse gas emissions and galvanized campus efforts to meet the 2030 goal.
An important aspect of the ACUPCC is that signatories commit to taking “actions to make climate neutrality and sustainability a part of the curriculum and other educational experiences for all students.” The ACUPCC signatories are defining what is both necessary and possible to effectively fight climate change.
A Campus Sustainability Committee formed in 2011 by Executive Memorandum has been tasked with developing and implementing a program to comply with the climate commitment. The campus has developed a Climate Action Plan (pdf) to achieve climate neutrality and integrate sustainability concepts into all core functions of the University.
This is becoming second nature to the campus community, says Pushnik. “We were an early adopter of the ideas, and it has become part of our culture, which is reflected in the sixth strategic priority of our campus. It is something that faculty, staff, and students all have a stake in and all feel like they can contribute to.”
Other campus sustainability programs include reducing the number of dumpsters on the main campus, participating in the Chancellor's Office Buy Recycled Campaign, adopting the Zipcar car-sharing program and the Zimride rideshare network, and building new facilities to LEED standards. A project to retrofit lighting in all campus buildings is dramatically reducing energy use—the project has saved 889,060 kWh, or 324 metric tons of carbon, annually in Meriam Library alone.
The Associated Students has committed to diverting 90 percent of its waste by 2015 and expects to reach 75 percent waste diversion by the end of 2012. And soon, students will be able to choose a General Education pathway in sustainability, “a really good introduction to a multidisciplinary perspective on sustainability,” says Pushnik. “We crafted courses that give students the analytic skills to work their way through those kinds of issues.
“Within a decade, these people will be running the world. We can provide them with tools to analyze the challenges they'll face holistically and make those decisions in an enlightened way.”