A Publication for the faculty, staff, administrators and friends of California State University, Chico
Feb. 10, 2005 Volume 35 / Number 5


A monthly commentary

We greet the New Year with sadness at the overwhelming disaster in Southeast Asia. The earthquake and resulting tsunami remind us of the frailty of humanity in the face of the awesome power of the natural world.

It is important to remember that natural power works slowly as well. While we hear much about the advances in the information age, the events of the past few years—record hurricanes, heat waves, and the like—point out that we are really entering the age of ecological consequences. Modern cultures are living beyond the limits of the earth, and the future ramifications are stark. Fortunately, we have the ability to act before the impacts become an environmental tidal wave. We, as a campus community, must lead the way for the citizens of California and future generations by implementing environmentally sustainable practices. There is nothing more true for the environment than the idea “what we do today decides tomorrow.”

As we have written about before, the campus is performing a sustainability assessment. At the halfway point, we have discovered some interesting facts. We have found that the difference in energy use between buildings is dramatic. Energy costs for our newest buildings range between $35–45 per day, while older ones are consuming energy that costs as much as $1,000 per day. Clearly we can make great strides by erecting energy efficient “green buildings,” but we need to move beyond the project scale. We need to establish university policy that promotes all buildings achieving LEED standards. The difference is that the former is a project success, while the latter is systematic transformation toward sustainability.

Transportation is another area we need to address if we are to become a sustainable campus. The movement of people to and from campus in fossil fuel burning vehicles is one of the largest impacts an educational institution has on the life support systems of a planet. Transportation accounts for 32 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions, and automobiles alone account for the bulk of that, about 25 percent. Furthermore, the travel options students adopt while in college are likely to remain with them long after graduation.

To be sustainable, our discussions need to move beyond bikes and onto issues of transportation management. Currently, we do not have enough parking spots for all the people who want to drive to campus. Parking structures, however, can be quite expensive to build, as much as $30,000 per parking space! So, rather than focus on providing more spots, we need to find other ways to get people to campus. Rather than increase the parking supply, we need to reduce parking demand. The concept is total demand management, and brings in a wide range of options, from mass transit, to making the city streets more bike friendly, to encouraging foot travel. The University of Colorado found reducing parking demand to be a third of the cost of increasing supply.

The sustainability assessment will highlight those areas where we are being successful, and identify those that need improvement. Once we have a clear picture, we need to move to action. In anticipation of that time, we propose the formation of a “President’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability.” Other campuses have found this to be the best way to implement findings of a sustainability assessment. Let us know if you are interested. Now is the time to act, before the waves appear on the horizon.

Sustainably yours,

Mark and Jim

— Mark Stemen, Coordinator of Environmental Studies, and Jim Pushnik, Rawlins Chair of Environmental Literacy



University Publications
California State University, Chico
400 West First Street
Chico, CA 95929-0040