At many colleges and universities, students have been the leading force behind sustainable water and energy use, waste generation and disposal, ecosystem conservation, sustainable food practices and many other examples of sustainable, ecologically-minded lifestyle. The philosophy of sustainability on campus has been constantly redefined and newly emerging notions are starting to embrace sustainability courses and environmental justice issues.
How sustainable is your campus or school?
Here are some credible questions you can ask your campus administrators. Some aspects of sustainability you can easily observe for yourself.
How Sustainable are the Buildings?
Are campus buildings LEED certified? Are buildings certified by the Green Building Council? Do campus buildings have compact fluorescent bulbs, high-efficiency fans, motion light sensors or similar energy-saving devices? Do we have energy efficient single-pane or double-pane windows? Could some structures (especially, the older ones) benefit from being weatherized? Do we have green roofs? Are lights turned off when classrooms and offices aren’t in use? At what temperatures are classrooms, offices, and dorms maintained (hot and cold seasons)? Who is in charge of this decision? Could we open a window in warm weather? Does the school perform a regular energy audit? If not, why? Are any new buildings being planned? Will they be certified as green and eco-friendly? If not, why?
How Sustainable are the Transportation Choices?
Does my school own any fuel-efficient vehicles (hybrid models, etc.)? If not, why? How many students commute to campus? Are they encouraged to carpool or use public transportation? Are employees and teachers encouraged to carpool or use public transportation as well? Are employees and teachers encouraged to set limits to their annual air-travel footprint (i.e. conference-related travel)? How might we promote more efficient transportation? How much total space on my campus is dedicated to parking? How else could the university funds be spent to promote more sustainable transportation? Are students encouraged to cycle to campus? If not, why? Where does runoff from parking lots and streets go and what are its ecological impacts?
How Sustainable is the Energy Use?
Does my school have an energy conservation policy? How much total energy does my school use each year? How much energy comes from renewable sources? How does my school energy use compare to that of a town with the same population? How does our school energy use compare to other schools of similar size? Could we switch to sustainable and renewable sources or energy? How much would that cost? How long would the pay off time be for different renewable sources? What would it take to launch a campaign for using resources efficiently?
How Sustainable is the Food Strategy?
What’s the source of food served in campus dining rooms? Is it organic and/or locally grown? How much fast food is consumed annually? What are the obstacles to introducing locally grown, organic, fair-trade and free-range foods on campus? Does our campus grow any of its own fruits and vegetables? Would that be feasible?
How Sustainable is the Water Use?
Does my school have a water conservation strategy? If not, why? What’s the source of our drinking water? How much water does our campus use? How many toilets are on the campus? How much water does each use for every flush? Where does wastewater go? How much would it cost to change to low-flow water appliances? How much could we save in terms of water use and cost?
How Sustainable are the Ecosystems at or Near my Campus?
What are the past, current and planned projects for reforestation, wetland improvements and other ecological restoration projects on our campus? Is the vegetation on campus native? If not, can we replace the non-native species with native species? Have gardeners considered planting species that provide food and shelter for wildlife?
How Sustainable is the Waste Strategy?
How much waste does our campus generate and what is the composition of that waste? How does our school/university compare to other institutions? Where does the campus waste go? How much waste recycled, incinerated or composted? Does our school have a recycling program? What are the campus administrators doing to reduce waste generation? Are waste audits performed at campus and dorms? If not, why?
The items above are good starting points that you and your fellow students can use to start a dialogue with your campus administrators.
The campus with strong sustainability credentials benefits environmental sustainability and the student well-being as well. Importantly, taking a role of sustainability leaders is a very valuable learning tool for students and a reminder that everyone can do something to create a difference.