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A magazine from California State University, Chico -- On-line Edition  
Fall 2005
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A view of the campus through a fish-eye lens, looking east down First Street toward Taylor Hall and Laxson Auditorium. Photo by Bret Bosma.

Creating a More Sustainable Campus

Campus collaboration makes Chico a leader in sustainable practices

Each person in the industrialized world uses as much commercial energy as 10 people in the developing world. And, while Americans constitute only 5 percent of the world’s population, they consume 24 percent of the world’s energy. On average, one American consumes as much energy as 2 Japanese, 13 Chinese, 31 Indians, 128 Bangladeshis, or 370 Ethiopians. The average American generates 52 tons of garbage by age 75. Statistics such as these, from Paul Ehrlich’s classic book on the effects of population, The Population Bomb, have motivated many to think more about sustainability.

“In the span of my lifetime, society has found itself suddenly confronting daunting and complex environmental issues,” says James Pushnik, Rawlins Endowed Professor of Environmental Literacy at California State University, Chico. “In the past 50 years, the human population has doubled from 3 billion to more than 6 billion. Our fundamental natural resources—productive land, fisheries, old-growth forests, and biodiversity—have come under increasing rates of extraction. This extraction is fueled by the cultural ethos of consumption and pushes the limits of the Earth’s ecosystems beyond their capacities of regeneration.”

This leaves the human population facing serious tradeoffs between some of its activities and most important ideals, says Pushnik. Will our generation consume so much that our grandchildren will be unable to sustain a comfortable, or even a livable, lifestyle? This is the central question posed by proponents of sustainability, a movement that is increasingly gaining momentum around the world.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has named 2005–2014 the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. “One of the central challenges of the decade is how to translate this complex vision into textbooks, curricula, teaching and learning methods, and national education policies,” says Aline Bory-Adams of UNESCO Paris.

In the past few years, faculty, students, staff, and administrators at CSU, Chico have taken up this challenge, making sustainability the focus of a campuswide dialogue—and real changes at the University. They are engaging in teaching and learning, research, and activities that work toward creating a more sustainable campus and, in the process, a more engaged and prepared citizenry.

Last spring, CSU, Chico completed its first sustainability assessment, the culmination of a year-long course for graduate and undergraduate students. CSU, Chico is the first university in the nation to do a sustainability assessment as a service-learning project. Also the first of its kind in the CSU system, the assessment was a major step for the campus in addressing the challenge of managing its resources wisely today while leaving enough for tomorrow, the main tenet of sustainability.

More than just examining energy savings and waste recycling, the assessment has helped lay the foundation for students, faculty, and staff to become actively engaged in shaping the campus’s future. CSU, Chico is making sustainability a top priority, committing its resources long term and integrating sustainable practices into its long-range plans.

The University sees part of its obligation as involving students in shaping their future. “Our students come to us full of optimism and the belief that they can make a difference,” says Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Scott McNall. “We can and should provide them with real and significant opportunities to do so. Expanding student opportunities to be actively engaged in issues related to the environment not only increases deep learning of subject matter, it also allows us to achieve a goal that every single university in this country should embrace: to train democratic citizens.”

Students have been increasingly active in this movement, says Pushnik. “There has been an awareness, a consciousness, on the students’ part,” he notes. “They’re really the principal players here. It’s their world; they know they’re inheriting it, and they want to make sure it’s a livable world.”

Leading the way to sustainability

CSU, Chico has earned a reputation for innovative sustainable practices, not only in California but internationally as well. “I would say that Chico is leading the way,” says Pushnik. “I’ve been to a number of conferences around the world, some sponsored by the UN, and I sit and listen to people from big-name institutions—MIT, Yale, Harvard, and the like. But, in many ways, the movement is by small colleges. Small institutions like Chico have taken the initiative to move in this direction.”

Adds Greg Francis, executive dean and director of facilities planning: “One of the things that Jim has identified at these worldwide gatherings that is not common at other institutions is the overall involvement of administration, faculty, students, and staff.”

Pushnik traveled to Russia in January on a Fulbright senior fellowship to lecture at the Institute on Sustainable Development. “Those kinds of opportunities just keep putting us in the light, and it’s not just a one-way transmission,” he says. “I hope to bring back their ideas to Chico.”

CSU, Chico is uniquely situated to embrace a leadership role in the sustainability movement, not only because of the campus’s 4,000 acres of nature reserves, but also because of its long-time reputation for teaching and practicing collaboration to get results. The atmosphere on campus breeds in-depth, results-producing communication among students, faculty, and staff, and this is evident in the campuswide conversation about sustainability.

“ We have a university president whose North State initiative is moving us forward, who sees the need that we be acting now,” says James Houpis, dean of the College of Natural Sciences. “From the top on down, we’re all on the same page, and so I think it’s a unique opportunity in the institution’s history to make a large-scale change for the benefit of the public good.”

The campus sustainability assessment (found at is a good example of the cooperation among the University’s various constituents. Led by geography professor and environmental studies coordinator Mark Stemen, 60 students worked with campus administrators and the assessment firm Good Company to gather information and write a report that covered administration, academics, and facilities. “What we have going more than anything else is our culture,” says Stemen. “Students, staff, faculty, and administration are all working together, sitting down and tackling problems, and we’re seeing a huge transformation here.”

The assessment is not the first time the campus has examined its progress in this way; in 1999, students and faculty conducted an environmental audit. In the ensuing half decade, the new assessment found that the state of campus sustainability has evolved considerably. For example, total campus water use has declined by almost 25 percent since 2001, due to efficiency measures in campus buildings and landscape maintenance. From 1973 to 2000, the campus decreased its energy use by 11 percent, even though total square footage increased by 58 percent, and it has added many energy-using devices such as computers and printers.

While the recent assessment concludes that the University still faces daunting challenges, the report states that “people at Chico understand the challenges and are willing to take action.” Among its recommendations for the future are encouraging sustainability-related service-learning courses, where experiential learning contributes to the community beyond the campus, and creating a governing board that monitors and supports all sustainability courses.

Walking the walk

The sustainability movement is more than just talk at CSU, Chico. A full-time sustainability coordinator is being hired to support projects such as the Green Dorm Demonstration Program, which was begun this semester. The coordinator will also hold conferences and meetings involving constituents from the University and local community.

“CSU, Chico is well positioned to respond to environmental issues and offer real solutions to real problems,” says McNall. “Our colleges of agriculture, business, engineering, and natural sciences have a long history of engaging students in applied research projects: building bridges, designing green buildings, finding solutions to problems of the waste stream, designing irrigation systems—the list goes on.”

Becca Schwalm, member of the Green Campus student program, believes that there has to be a common understanding toward making everything as sustainable as possible. “If we’re going to become a sustainable campus or a sustainable state, nation, or planet, we all have to work together,” she says. “It’s not going to be one group of environmentalists that come out and save the day—it just won’t work that way.”

McNall agrees, saying that on a college campus, every faculty, staff member, and student has a role to play in creating a more prosperous and sustainable society. “The training of people to be good stewards of the planet must be interdisciplinary and holistic, embedded throughout the curriculum, drawing on different disciplines and pedagogies. Think about it: if every university in the country did this, now, we could turn history around.”

In 2002, the Bidwell Environmental Institute (BEI) was established to help develop an enriched curriculum and to enhance grant and contract activity related to the environment, essentially putting under one roof all the campus activities related to the natural environment: reserve management, education, and research. Among its sustainability efforts this semester, the BEI is co-hosting an environmental film series, has launched the Environmental Research and Creativity Grants, and is developing a campus Web site for sustainability.

“The campus community has had a heightened interest in the topic of sustainability over the past couple years,” says Jennifer Rotnem, BEI’s director of environmental programs. “The most significant change is the interest and support of key players on campus merging over the issue of sustainability. We have had a history of student activism on this campus in environmental affairs. We have had faculty engaged in environmental research and academics. We have had the administration open to ideas of environmental stewardship.

“In the past two years, there has been an increase in financial support, resources, participation, and dialogue from across campus. The next step will be to catalyze that interest into effective change and action.”

Committing to a sustainable future

In 2005, the University made sustainability one of the strategic objectives in its newly updated Master Plan, the future vision of the campus’s physical design and direction. The plan (found online at provides principles and guidelines for the physical development of the 119-acre main campus and the 800-acre University Farm for the next 20 years.

“ Above all, the Master Plan intentionally communicates values,” says President Paul Zingg. “We declare our commitment to environmental awareness and respect, and to sustainable building and living practices.”

The new Student Services building scheduled for completion in early 2008 will be one of the first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system) buildings in the CSU system. According to the new Master Plan for the campus, all future buildings will be designed and built as “high efficient” or “green” construction, based on the national standards of the United States Green Building Council, a nonprofit group promoting construction and designs that are “environmentally responsible, profitable, and healthy.”

“Each building will be more energy efficient, use less water, use fewer natural resources, make use of recycled materials, and send less waste to landfills,” says Vice President for Business and Finance Dennis Graham. “Each building will become both a service facility and also a ‘teaching/learning’ laboratory for everyone.”

Pushnik notes that the work by the facilities staff is a big part of the cultural transformation that’s taking place on campus. “There are all kinds of innovations that they are trying,” he says. “It’s exciting to sit in on conversations where they are talking about what they are doing. Their efforts also serve as an excellent example to the academic side of the house.”

While becoming more efficient and wasting less are important, economics also plays a vital role in developing sustainable practices. Explains Greg Francis: “By doing things that can be readily demonstrated to work and are not an economic drain—quite the opposite—and are ecologically sound, that’s a way for people to start saying, it’s not just because some ecologist says we need to deal with this; there are some good fundamental reasons why we should do this for our economic benefit.”

Francis, who is also the campus’s director of sustainability, likens the University to a minicity. “We’ve got people who live here and who eat here,” he notes. “We’ve got people who carry on their daily lives here. So we could make something really worthwhile here, where we are grossly reducing the amount of materials that go to the landfill, even take that material and run it through a process whereby we can actually generate electricity from it.”

Integrating sustainability

Along with the sustainability assessment, a major step in promoting the campus dialogue has been the creation of the Rawlins Endowed Professor of Environmental Literacy, one of the few such positions in the country. Started in 2001 with a gift from Chico businessman Jack Rawlins, who had attended CSU, Chico for two years, the main goal for the position is to “attempt to prepare all students of all majors, across all campus disciplines, for dealing with a world environment, which is being continually diminished by the loss of species, disappearance of habitat, and degradation of air, water, and soil.”

The endowed professorship is charged with the responsibility to promote programs that encourage students to seek solutions to problems rather than simply engaging in polarized debate. Pushnik, a biological sciences professor, was awarded the position in 2004.

Pushnik has created a class in environmental literacy, to which he brings guest speakers at least once a week. “Many of the faculty that have come in as guest lecturers have returned to hear other guest lectures,” he explains. “It’s a dialogue from differing points of view, and the students get to see that we’re talking about the same thing and we’re all connected and going in the same direction.”

Agriculture professor Lee Altier says that universities were designed to be a guiding light, to be asking questions, questioning society and social norms. “Our environmental literacy program is a great effort to inform people about the ecological services that we depend on,” says Altier. “What is it that naturally provides continual availability of clean water? What are the processes that allow a finite supply of nutrients to be recycled, renewed, regenerated? What is it about biodiversity that is so important for maintaining healthy communities? Everyone who graduates from a university should have an understanding of how human beings fit in with the rest of the biosphere.”

Keeping the momentum going

The campus has hosted an increasing number of events about sustainability. The Associated Students launched their first annual conference on sustainability in November, under the leadership of Courtney Voss, Mark Stemen, and the A.S. Environmental Affairs Council. The conference, attended by more than 250 people, addressed farming and food, student activism, and community sustainability. About 30 students from eight CSU and UC campuses attended, participating in an all-day leadership and training workshop.

“The Sunday workshop in Butte Hall enabled participants to visit the Environmental Action and Resource Center library,” says Stemen. “The best quote of the day was when a student from UCLA said, ‘Wow, we don’t have anything like this.’ Students from UCLA and UC Santa Barbara were just astonished at the stuff that we’re doing here at Chico.”

In March, another sustainability conference was sponsored by the University, focusing on the curriculum, sustainable building practices, sustainable energy, and student life. Once a month, the provost holds environmental summit meetings involving about 100 people from the campus and the community. Pushnik holds environmental literacy mixers, including people from all over campus. “We just come together and talk, share ideas,” says Pushnik.

Pushnik also has a citizen’s advisory committee, composed of business leaders and prominent people in the community to get input on how the community views sustainability, how the campus can foster business, and what role businesses can play.

While what leaders say and what happens in reality can often suffer a disconnect, the leadership at CSU, Chico is wholeheartedly embracing many of the ideas and efforts of its students to implement sustainable practices. “Greg Francis, Dennis Graham, Scott McNall, President Zingg, and all the professors have been very open with me and the students that I work with on sustainability issues,” says Voss, A.S. commissioner of environmental affairs. “They are very excited to get us involved. When I come to them with hair-brained ideas, which I do pretty much on a weekly basis, they are really enthusiastic in helping me be realistic and also helping me achieve what I want to achieve.”

In an effort to turn many of those ideas into reality, BEI in January hired an assistant director of environmental programs, CSU, Chico alum Jillian Buckholz (MA, Geography, ’05). Buckholz has been helping the University initiate changes in areas highlighted by the sustainability assessment: energy, water, transportation and planning, materials and waste, purchasing, and learning and governance.

With a BS in environmental geography from Ohio University, Buckholz came to Chico for her graduate work and was the teaching assistant for the campus sustainability assessment. For her thesis, she conducted a geographical analysis of policy regarding the energy usage of 19 of the 23 CSUs, going back to 1973. “I questioned whether one energy policy for 23 schools mandated by the Chancellor’s Office was working, since these schools are extremely diverse,” says Buckholz.

In September, the CSU approved a revised policy on energy conservation that calls for maintaining current practices of energy conservation and further reducing energy consumption by another 15 percent by the 2009–2010 fiscal year. The CSU will seek to double its self-generated energy supply during the next decade. It will pursue cost-effective projects utilizing technologies such as solar, wind, and biomass (wood, plant, organic waste), as well as clean cogeneration plants. The CSU is expanding the sustainability component of the policy, placing renewed focus on sustainable design, making buildings more energy efficient and more efficient in the use of natural resources.

The new energy goals give even further reason for CSU, Chico to focus on changing its practices. “Staff are really excited,” says Buckholz. “Faculty are really excited. Everybody wants to do all sorts of things, but it’s important to take on the projects that are feasible.”

Harnessing student energy

Students have long been involved with environmental programs at CSU, Chico. Along with taking classes in the Environmental Studies program, students can join one of the on-campus organizations that work on environmental issues. Internships in the Environmental Studies program are offered through the Environmental Action Resource Center, the A.S. Recycling Center, and the A.S. Environmental Affairs Council.

“Environmental Studies is very hands-on,” says Stemen. “The students in the program really want to make a difference. They want not to just learn something new; they want to change something. So we engage the students in a series of organizations and programs.”

Voss, who has made sustainability the main focus of her term as A.S. commissioner of environmental affairs, helped get a referendum on the 2006 A.S. elections ballot for a $5 increase in student union fees to fund student sustainability projects and create an A.S. sustainability coordinator position to promote sustainability.

The newest environmental group on campus is the Alliance to Save Energy’s Green Campus Pilot Program, sponsored by the California Public Utilities Commission and funded by California ratepayers. Green Campus schools work with their peers, campus administration, faculty, and staff on projects that reduce energy consumption and incorporate energy sustainability into the academic experience. Last fall, based on its excellent environmental program, CSU, Chico joined four other CSU campuses and four UC campuses in the Green Campus program.

“I was the only Chico student in Green Campus for the summer and was told to recruit people, and I thought, what if no one wants to do this,” says Becca Schwalm, the group’s treasurer and de facto leader. “I did a few talks in classrooms, and within three weeks, we had 11 people.”

Energy use is an important sustainability issue in the university system—the CSU is the nation’s largest university system, and the CSU and UC systems combined (they contract jointly for energy) are the eighth largest institutional buyer of green power in the country. Energy efficiency has been a major focus in retrofitting old buildings and building new facilities. A 50 percent expansion of CSU, Chico’s Student Health Center in the late 1990s included installing a new air ventilation system that decreased the amount of energy needed to cool the building. Energy costs for the newest buildings range between $35 and $45 per day, while older buildings consume energy that costs as much as $1,000 per day. Even with such efficiencies, increased use of technology has caused a surge of electrical costs. Since 1999, there has been a 41 percent increase in computer use in the CSU system.

“The plug load continues to increase, and campus awareness is the best defense on usage of daily consumption of power,” says Mike Bates, energy manager for CSU, Chico. “Turning off lights, printers, scanners, and other auxiliary pieces of equipment when not in use helps decrease load.”

Among the projects that Facilities Management Services is working on is a self-generation program through a grant from the Public Utilities Commission and PG&E that will rebate money for installation of a 300-kw array of solar panels on the roofs of Yolo Hall and Acker Gym. Other projects include retrocommissioning HVAC systems on campus and new lighting projects that will decrease power consumption.

Educating the campus community about ways to save energy is a key component of Green Campus’s program. In the first semester, they’ve begun a number of educational efforts, such as the energy competition between Lassen and Mechoopda residence halls, which are of identical size. Meters will be installed in the two halls to monitor energy use. Residents will be able to observe in real time the energy they are using on a Web site and two computer displays in the halls that will update the data every five seconds. Engineering students and Green Campus members Lance McMasters and Bret Bosma set up the Web site. The residents of the hall that wins the competition will be entered into a raffle to receive prizes.

Mark Stemen (top center) and Hemlata Jhaveri, associate director for University Housing and Food Service (lower left), with Green Campus members (clockwise from top left) Dallase Scott, Becca Schwalm, Bret Bosma, and Joanne Panchana in front of Honors House 2, the first Green Dorm in the CSU

Forming new habits

“If we can help change behavior habits at the University, these habits will be carried over to everyday life,” says Bosma, a graduate student in electrical engineering. “It is very easy to improve sustainability without inconvenience. In many instances, it is more convenient to do things in a sustainable way.”

One of the strengths of Green Campus is that they are “transboundary,” says Schwalm—they have students from different majors, including engineering, social science, environmental studies, and psychology, and they collaborate with faculty and staff on projects. “One of our goals is reaching out to faculty and staff,” says Schwalm. “We’ve done a lot of networking this semester and gotten a lot of support.”

In one semester, the group, with paid student staff and nonpaid interns, has accomplished much. The projects, developed by the group members, often involve collaborating with campus staff, such as the Green Cup Card, which the group worked on with A.S. Food Service. This card gets stamped each time someone fills a reusable cup with soda or coffee at any A.S. Food Service location. In addition to getting a free drink after earning six stamps, the cardholder is entered into a raffle for energy-saving prizes like a bike or an iPOD. In the first five weeks of the program, they collected 500 cards, which represent 3,000 paper cups that were not used.

Green Campus emphasizes combining fun with their programs, often involving food, prizes, and games. Other projects include Take the Stairs Day, an educational video series, and researching the installation of electronic light sensors in classrooms and hallways. Facilities Management staff have been instrumental in educating the group about campus structures and equipment. Green Campus invited facilities staff to one of their meetings last fall. “They were really responsive and encouraging,” says Schwalm. “They’re experts, so we really look to them for advice, and whether they’re meeting with us or taking us down to the elevators to measure energy, they show that they really do care about what we’re doing.”

Chico’s Green Campus group is also overseeing the implementation of the Green Dorm Demonstration Program, a pilot project sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and nonprofit energy consulting group Strategic Energy Innovations. Only the third campus to participate in this project (UC Berkeley and University of Hawaii are the other two), Chico is expanding from doing one room to an entire house, one of the honors houses. The work has already begun on Konkow Honors House 2 with the installation of Energy Star appliances and electronic equipment and other energy savers such as low-wattage fluorescent light bulbs. Local businesses are donating items, such as Greenfeet’s contributions of organic cotton sheets and natural skin care products.

“The connections we are making through this project are exactly what we wanted to see happen,” says Stemen. “It’s a great example of sustainable living and learning.”

Perhaps nothing captures CSU, Chico’s commitment to sustainability better than a message from President Zingg in his commentary in a local newspaper about the future of the University: “CSU, Chico has a commitment to elevate our collective consciousness about the environment, to embrace stewardship as an institutional value, to promote sustainability as a way of living, and to be a university of choice for all who share our deep respect for the natural environment.”

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

One of the older environmental programs on campus, A.S. Recycling celebrates a decade of accomplishments this May. Founded by former A.S. Environmental Affairs Council commissioner Barbara Kopicki in 1996, the program has grown to one of the most successful recycling programs in the CSU system, recycling more than 400,000 pounds each year. Kopicki (BA, Liberal Studies, ’97) went from student coordinator to full-time employee overseeing the program, starting an intern program that now provides up to 15 students with internships each year. In addition to collecting recyclables in 1,400 containers on campus, they plan compost workshops, participate in America Recycles Day and Earth Month activities, sponsor a recycling contest and various clean-up projects like Scour and Devour, bring in guest speakers, and write funding proposals.

“I think it’s really important for the campus to have this program,” says Gillian Goggin, last semester’s recycling education coordinator. “When I first started interning here, I didn’t even know that you could recycle so many things. Now, at home I take my trash out maybe once every three weeks compared to once a week because of everything I recycle. I think the more the University provides an example, the more students will implement that into their own lives.”

Kopicki resigned from her position in November to pursue waste management projects in San Francisco. Her replacement is a former intern in EAC, Robyn DiFalco, who helped start A.S. Recycling. After DiFalco graduated in 1999 with a BA in social science, she worked as a commercial recycling coordinator and recycling consultant in the Bay Area.

“A university generates so much waste, and so much of it is recyclable,” says DiFalco. “Because we are a place of higher education, we are a place of research and promoting future thinking. We are an ideal place to have a recycling program.”

CSU, Chico’s recycling program addresses both collections and education. “When we set the program up in ’96, we decided it was better to get the students involved in collections rather than have it happen in the middle of the night by the custodians, when nobody sees it,” she recalls. “When our students are out there interacting with people, they see that the students have to handle it, have to process it, so it becomes much more visible. And when somebody says, ‘Hey, is it possible to recycle overhead projector sheets?’ or, ‘Where can I recycle my batteries on campus?’ the students are able to address those questions.”

Back on campus, DiFalco has noticed how the program has continued to grow and expand. She’s also seen the implementation of some fairly progressive programs, something that she thinks Chico can be proud of. “When I speak with my colleagues at other universities, they say, ‘Wow, a lot of other colleges are not doing that,’ ” she reports. “One of those would be the composting program, which started before the recycling program was in place. In 1995, we were collecting food waste from Whitney dining hall and from Marketplace Café, and taking it out to the University Farm to be composted. That is something that a lot of other colleges still are not doing.”

Another program that is unique to Chico is the Diversion Excursion program, the residence hall move-out program during finals week, where about 10 tons of materials are diverted from the landfill. The student-driven project, with about 100 volunteers, picks up the materials, everything from furniture to clothes to food, and donates them to local charities.

Among the CSU and UC campuses, Chico is one of the top campuses in terms of recycling and composting, says DiFalco. “We’re doing a very good job,” she says. “But I would still say that we are not doing as well as we can. We can always to a better job.”

One of the biggest projects on the horizon for A.S. Recycling is expanding the food waste collection from the Food Service, which new technology will make more possible, says DiFalco. They’re also looking at the potential of introducing bioplastics into the Food Service. The bioplastics would potentially be manufactured on the campus, so that mechanical engineering students would learn how to make plastics from corn or potato starch.