SRU’s president’s commission stresses sustainable practices for Earth Days and beyond

Solar Panles at the McKosky Center

The President’s Commission on Sustainability advocates for sustainability-related initiatives, strategies and policies for Slippery Rock University, like the use of solar panels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The commission also sponsors annual educational programming like the Earth Day Carnival on the Quad.

March 22, 2018

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - The President's Commission on Sustainability at Slippery Rock University has plans for both the month of April and the year 2037. This type of short- and long-term thinking helps the University community meet environmental challenges now and in the future.

Paul Scanlon

   SCANLON

The PCS is sponsoring "Earth Days" programming in April, which includes recycling, sustainability programs and educational activities for adults and children. The commission also has an eye on meeting the sustainability goals set forth in the University's Climate Action Plan to achieve carbon neutrality by the year 2037, 25 years from the time the plan was submitted to the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment in 2012.

"Carbon neutrality is the point at which the University is no longer emitting greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, which slows down global warming and climate change," said Paul Scanlon, SRU director of sustainability and co-chair of the PCS, which was created in 2010, shortly after SRU signed the Climate Commitment in 2009. "One of the first steps you take is to create a commission to focus on net climate neutrality, but we're also trying to build programs to raise awareness and get students more interested in the environmental sciences."

The 20-plus members of the PCS, which includes students, faculty, staff and community members, advise the SRU president on recommended sustainability initiatives, strategies and policies for the University.

SRU has been recognized as one of the country's foremost "green" colleges, including one of 375 cited by The Princeton Review in 2017, but having leadership recognize the importance of sustainability doesn't mean simply talking about change.

By entering into a guaranteed energy savings agreement with Honeywell Industries in 2016, SRU is fast-tracking deferred maintenance and energy savings projects for its facilities. By investing $14 million for projects during the next two years, SRU will reduce a cumulative 800,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions during the next 20 years, rather than the 40,000 it would reduce under its "business as usual" annual investments of $2 million per year. Excess energy savings will be used to fund additional deferred maintenance projects, further compounding emission reductions and allowing SRU to make significant impact on its deferred maintenance backlog.

"There are a lot of benefits to it," Scanlon said. "Not only are we saving energy and reducing our emissions, we're improving our buildings."

The PCS also advises SRU leadership by developing a Resource Conservation Policy that establishes energy-related standards to reduce energy usage and costs through the adoption of best practice energy and water conservation strategies, including set points for building temperatures and the purchase of energy-efficient appliances and computer hardware.

Another purpose of the PCS is to advocate policy changes on behalf of campus stakeholders. For example, 49 students from the Principles of Sustainability course recently proposed a ban on the use of plastic bags on campus.

By administering surveys on campus in spring 2017, the class found that 77 percent of University students would support the total removal of plastic bags from campus and 85 percent would support the change to reusable bags if they could purchase them with their meal cards. So far, the effort has resulted in the removal of plastic bags from the Boozel Express dining facility and the Campus Grille food truck, which previously distributed 60 plastic bags during a lunch hour, as observed by the class.

"It's really empowering to see students take on something they feel passionate about and work to create a change on campus," said Julie Snow, professor of geography, geology and environment, who teaches the 300-level course that includes students from across all majors who are pursuing a certificate in sustainability. "I'm hoping that the course can serve as a sustainability push for the campus."

A complete ban on using plastic bags on campus is being considered by the PCS as a potential recommendation for policy change.

"Every year that goes by I see students putting sustainability higher and higher on their list of priorities and things that they feel are important," Snow added. "They are willing to go out of their way to make change."

Programming is also an important function of the PCS. Highlighting the "Earth Days" are two annual events: The Earth Day Carnival on the Quad, 12:30-1:30 p.m., April 17 on the SRU Quad (Smith Student Center Ballroom is the designated rain location); and the Children's Earth Day Celebration, noon to 4 p.m., April 21 at the Macoskey Center.

The Carnival on the Quad features prizes, games and educational activities, including solar-powered spin-art where participants can make their own paintings on a Frisbee. The Children's Earth Day Celebration, staged in conjunction with the Macoskey Center EarthFest and the Kaleidoscope Arts Festival, will include performances for children with an educational message related to the environment. The event is free and open to the public.

There are other Earth Days activities planned in April, including the popular e-waste collection, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., April 28 at the SRU Recycling Center at Stores 2 on Keister Road. For more information about sustainability at SRU, including updates and a forthcoming list of all Earth Days events, visit: http://www.sru.edu/sustainability.

MEDIA CONTACT: Justin Zackal | 724.738.4854 | justin.zackal@sru.edu