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