A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
December 8, 2005 Volume 36 / Number 4


Sustainability Conference Leaves Footprint

In one of the 40 sessions of the recent “This Way to Sustainability” conference on campus, professors Lee Altier, Agriculture, and Kirk Monfort, Philosophy, led participants in analyzing their own living requirements through an ecological footprint quiz. The 14-question quiz, from the Web site www.myfoot print.org, includes such questions as “Compared to other people in your neighborhood, how much waste do you generate?” and “On average, how far do you travel on public transportation each week?”

After leading several participants through the quiz online, they received estimates for how much productive land and water they need to support what they use and what they discard—their ecological footprint. In order for the planet to be currently sustainable, there exist only 4.5 biologically productive acres per person (16% of the planet is biologically productive, 71% is ocean, 13% is nonproductive land), according to the Web site. The average ecological footprint in the United States, however, is 24 acres per person (the largest of any country), which means we need more than five planets to sustain us.

“We’ve clearly outgrown the capability of the planet,” said Altier. “The challenge is to make satisfying lives possible for all, within the available limit.”

The four-day conference, held Nov. 10–13, engaged students, faculty, staff, and community members in exploring different ways they can leave a smaller footprint. On Friday and Saturday, more than 250 people attended sessions at the conference, sponsored by the Associated Students, the Chico Food Network, and CSU, Chico. Other highlighted events were the keynote speech by environmental writer Richard Manning Thursday evening, slow food dinners Friday and Saturday, and an all-day leadership and training workshop for students from eight CSU and UC campuses on Sunday.

Organized and run by students and combined with the Third Annual Organic Farming and Food Conference, “This Way to Sustainability” offered attendees an opportunity to network, discuss, and become more aware about pertinent environmental and social issues.

“Everyone seemed to walk away more passionate and more educated about issues of sustainability,” said Courtney Voss, A.S. commissioner of environmental affairs and co-chair of the conference planning committee. “I think the conference was really eye-opening for a lot of students and community members, and it was an amazing opportunity for people to see that they aren’t the only ones interested in these issues.”

Different tracks, such as farming and food, student activism, and community sustainability, made up the conference. Sessions ran the gamut from discussing local and regional water and transportation issues to exploring eco-feminism and sustainable elementary classrooms. Along with students and faculty leading sessions, city councilmembers, former city staff, and local community leaders participated in panels.

The four sessions led by the relatively new Chico Sustainability Group focused on actions that community members can take, such as hiring local builders who use green building techniques, and discussed what a sustainable future for Butte County could look like. “We had two goals for the conference: to educate ourselves and to educate and involve the community in what we are doing,” said program co-chair Mark Stemen, Geography, and coordinator of environmental studies. “There is a lot of knowledge to be gained from community members that is just as valuable as anything we can learn from books and in classrooms. I think the students agreed with that after the conference.”

The student-run conference will now be an annual event. “Next year, I want to focus even more on issues that people would not expect to be sustainability issues,” said Vox. “For example, I would like to see more sessions on sustainable politics, law, and religion.”

A spring sustainability conference hosted by Regional and Continuing Education will be held March 7–9 and will target a wider audience, including other western states, said Stemen. It will feature four tracks: integration of sustainability concepts across the curriculum, building industry sustainable practices and resources, renewable energy, and student life.

—Marion Harmon