Trend Five: The world is reaching a point of diminishing returns regarding resource utilization.
Food, water, and energy. These are among the defining elements of survival on our planet. How well we manage these resources as well as their distribution to needed areas will determine our fate. Yet the world’s rapidly growing population is outrunning the supply of these critical resources, while our use of fossil fuels threatens to change our climate and put millions at risk. Trends to consider as SRU prepares for this challenge include:
Poor land management and the overuse of fertilizers are causing land degradation, soil erosion and desertification on a massive scale in agricultural areas from the Amazon Basin to the Yangtze River.
By 2025, an estimated 3.5 billion people, or nearly half of the world’s population, will face serious constraints on their capacity to meet water demands. Water scarcity and quality will be a prime determinant of expanding current food production. By 2020, India’s demand for water will exceed all sources of supply.
By 2025, OPEC will account for up to 50 percent of the world supply of oil. Skyrocketing demand—primarily in Asia—will drive this trend. The number of cars in China could rise from 12 million in 2004 to 500 million by 2050. In India, the number of cars could increase even faster, from 5 million to 600 million. The impact of this rise in consumption is startling in terms of potential geopolitical conflict and environmental consequences. (1)
Aggregate increases in other sources of energy will be overshadowed by the exponential consumption of coal, oil, and natural gas in the decades ahead.
Current trends are not sustainable and resource availability and demand will impact political stability throughout the world.
These trends suggest that students graduating from SRU will face a very different world within the next few decades as our resources dwindle. As cultural anthropologist Catherine Bateson has noted, “Teaching students today is like teaching them to live on a planet we have never seen.” To meet these challenges, we must prepare our graduates to be engaged citizens and problem solvers.
SRU is not alone in recognizing the need for better engaging its students, faculty and staff in efforts to reduce their ecological footprint. Universities across North America are switching to renewable energy sources, developing sustainability courses and programs, opening sustainability offices, conducting greenhouse gas emissions inventories, and initiating sustainability audits. Membership in the Association for the Advancement of Higher Education 3
(AASHE) has grown to more than 830 colleges and universities since 2001. Students are leading many of these efforts to increase sustainability on their campuses, and also looking at potential universities with a critical eye when making admission decisions.
In addition to the environmental and educational benefits of initiating more sustainable practices, universities are also witnessing significant financial gains. In a 2005 survey of universities with sustainability programs conducted by Cornell University, annual savings ranged from $750,000 to several million dollars, easily covering the expenses of sustainability offices and staff members hired to coordinate efforts on those campuses. For SRU, the sustainability measures detailed below would also help the university achieve state system accountability measures, including efforts to reduce institutional cost, increase private support, and increase student internships.
Engaging our Students
To produce graduates with the skills needed to excel in a world of diminishing resources, SRU must lead by example, making a commitment to sustainable practices throughout every level of its operations, and becoming a leader in sustainability within the region.
By the time they graduate our students will be able to:
Recognize how their day-to-day activities impact both global society and the natural environment.
Use natural resources efficiently and understand methods to reduce their ecological footprint.
Identify environmental problems and work within their professions and communities to find creative and equitable solutions.
Understand the energy-environment connection, as well as underlying economic and political considerations, so they can be more effective agents of change for practical, long-term sustainability.
Our goal is that sustainable practices will eventually become ingrained in our campus culture. We will assess our progress through a number of different efforts noted below, including student surveys, tracking of student involvement in campus events, annual sustainability audits, and monitoring our success in balancing our desire to reduce campus energy use and greenhouse gas emissions while still providing our students with affordable education opportunities. To achieve this goal we have divided campus sustainability efforts into the categories of Education and Research, Administration and Finance, and Operations, and we have developed objectives and action steps for each. These categories were chosen because they are used by the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Ratings System (STARS), an assessment instrument that allows universities to benchmark their sustainability progress over time.
Education and Research
SRU made a commitment to sustainability long before the current ground swell of support we are witnessing in 2010. In 1990 the university founded two groundbreaking sustainability 4 programs, which continue to evolve and be successful. The first was the 83-acre Robert A. Macoskey Center for Sustainable Systems Education and Research, created to promote sustainability leadership through demonstration, education and research. The second was the Masters of Science in Sustainable Systems (MS3), a unique graduate program designed to prepare students to face the pressing environmental challenges of the future by considering sustainability as the underlying framework for action. At the undergraduate level, students have the opportunity to encounter issues of sustainability in a number of different courses offered within biology, chemistry, environmental studies, environmental science, geography and geology, and parks and resource management.
Although there are currently opportunities for students to engage in sustainability, there is no mechanism for introducing concepts of sustainable practices to a broad cross-section of SRU students. There needs to be a sustainability component within SRU’s core curriculum. Charting a sustainable future is also something that cannot be accomplished in a vacuum, and this means increasing students’ interaction with surrounding communities and building new partnerships. These efforts will require that we first build greater awareness on campus through demonstration projects and issue-driven, experiential learning.
To increase the opportunities for students to learn about sustainability and get involved in sustainability efforts on campus and in the surrounding communities.
- ACTION Increase the number of sustainability components within goal courses in the Liberal Studies Program
- MEASURE Review of components added to goal courses
- ACTION Develop Sustainable Living Learning communities within the residential halls.
- MEASURE Review of learning communities
ACTION Make sustainable education a part of the "Week of Welcome" MEASURE Implementation
- ACTION Incorporate sustainability talking points into campus tours
- MEASURE Implementation
- ACTION Engage students in sustainability projects on campus and in the surrounding communities
- MEASURE Participation tracked using computerized co-curricular experience transcript
- ACTION Increase faculty and staff awareness and participation in sustainability projects through various dissemination efforts, including web pages, informational pieces, etc.
- MEASURE Tracked through poll
- ACTION Develop sustainability workshops as a service to the surrounding communities.
- MEASURE Review of workshops offered and number of attendees
- ACTION Conduct pre-and-post assessment of student attitudes on sustainability
- MEASURE Assessment results
- ACTION Document the results of campus sustainability efforts and share those results locally, regionally, and nationally
- MEASURE Public relations materials produced
Administration and Finance
SRU’s administration has demonstrated a long history of supporting efforts to promote sustainable practices. The most recent example was President Robert Smith signing the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment in November of 2009. By signing the agreement, the university has committed to neutralize greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, and to accelerate its research and educational efforts in an effort to equip society to re-stabilize the earth's climate. Existing administrative programs and committees on campus also demonstrate SRU’s efforts to promote sustainable practices. Foremost among these have been the student-initiated Green Fund Advisory Board, which has awarded $75,000 each year in sustainability grants, and the Green Bike Initiative, which provides free bike checkouts to reduce automobile use. Two additional committees on campus promoting sustainability are the Energy Conservation Committee, and the Environmental Zoning Committee.
While various departments, committees, and individuals on campus have been making progress toward adopting sustainable practices, there is a lack of campus wide coordination and communication that would make these efforts more successful. Much of the sustainability work currently being accomplished is not the direct responsibility of any one individual or group, and so does not get the priority that these issues demand. What is needed is a commitment to fund and staff an Office of Sustainability that would drive these efforts and engage the entire campus community. As mentioned above, the savings from reduced energy use, reduced paper and other supplies, and reductions in both landfill and water fees have the potential to more than offset the additional costs of establishing a sustainability office. Responding to the 2005 Cornell survey, the University of British Columbia reported total annual savings of $2.6 million due to its sustainability programs, and that energy savings alone fund that school’s sustainability office. 6
Other schools reported similar savings. Although SRU does not operate at the same scale as UBC, there remains a strong potential for the sustainability office to be self supportive through energy savings and obtaining grants.
SRU will shift toward a more sustainable model by using a systems approach that coordinates and engages all aspects of campus operations.
- ACTION SRU will continue to fully support the Green Fund to encourage participation by students, faculty and staff
- MEASURE Number of grants and projects completed
- ACTION Create incentives for students, faculty, and staff to reduce automobile use
- MEASURE Automobile use on campus and Happy Bus usage
- ACTION SRU will create a new Office of Sustainability in a highly visible location as space becomes available by Fall 2012.
- MEASURE Implementation
- ACTION The University will create the position of Campus Sustainability Officer – a full-time position reporting to the President, with adequate office support staff, including a full-time graduate assistant position.
- MEASURE Appointment of position and staffing
Responsibilities of the Office of Sustainability will include:
- Work in concert with and coordinate the existing environmentally related SRU committees, including the President’s Commission on Sustainability, the Environmental Zoning Committee; the Institute for Community Service-Learning and Nonprofit Leadership; the Green Fund, the Macoskey Center, and the Energy Conservation Committee.
- Produce the annual SRU Sustainability Report – published online and otherwise.
- Collect and coordinate the data and reporting necessary to meet the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment.
- Oversee environmental conservation efforts of “natural and educationally relevant” areas on SRU campus. Design and manage development of access to these areas: educational/curricular access; public access; and natural resource management.
- Work with SRU stakeholders to manage and provide oversight for campus ecology projects.
- Oversee the development of a series of educational components that can be presented by a variety of staff, faculty and graduate students to ensure that incoming students have multiple opportunities to learn about campus sustainability. This might include student competitions to increase recycling or reduce energy use, events to check automobile tire pressure, or complete bicycle maintenance, etc.
- Create a sustainability awards program.
- Oversee the expansion and management of sustainability-themed workshops and programs through the Macoskey Center and the Pennsylvania Center for Environmental Education (i.e. workshops for local contractors and engineers, Organic Certification Workshops, Sustainability Education Teacher Training Workshops, etc…)
- Act as the SRU clearinghouse for campus sustainability resources to help administration, academics, athletics, campus recreation, facilities, custodians, food services and other departments’ transition to more sustainable practices.
- Provide interpretation of campus sustainability projects to the campus community and beyond through media coverage, demonstration projects, and web-based publications.
SRU has been steadily reducing its use of energy and natural resources, despite the addition of new buildings. While the campus square footage has increased from 1.9 million in 2003-04, to 2.26 million in 2008-09, total energy use has decreased primarily through the replacement of older, less efficient buildings at the end of their useful service lives with new, energy efficient buildings, increases in the efficiency of mechanical, electrical, and controls systems, and improved building shells (better insulated roofs and walls, and energy-efficient windows) in an aggressive building renovation program, and the use of ESCO (Energy Service Company) contracts to improve lighting systems in existing buildings. The six new residence halls are LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified and the University has declared that all future construction and renovation projects must meet LEED standards. The new halls include motion detectors that provide lighting on demand, as well as computer-controlled heating and cooling systems that monitor outside air temperature and optimize systems operations in order to more efficiently provide the heating or cooling as needed within the halls. One of the environmental benefits of these decreases in energy consumption, coupled with the installation of a flexible fuel system provided in the central heating plant, was a reduction of almost 50% in the amount of coal burned in the last five years without a significant increase in energy costs. The installation of a $4 million baghouse and flue gas heat recovery system at the central heating plant, to be completed by 2011, will provide further opportunities to both increase plant efficiency and greatly decrease local emissions.8
Water-conserving sink faucets and automatic flush toilets have been installed where feasible and are helping the University conserve water and money. A massive office and classroom lighting retrofit was completed in 2002 and is showing considerable electrical energy saving for the campus. The University has an active recycling program and annually recycles more than 273,000 tons of material that would have been sent to landfills. In addition, 16 tons of pre-consumer food scraps are taken from campus dining halls and combined with leaves collected on campus and from the community to make compost that is then used for campus beautification projects. SRU also recycles its electronics (computers and televisions) through the state prison system, which dismantles the units and makes parts and other components available for reuse, and has implemented a green cleaning program.
With more than 600 acres, and more than 8,600 students supported by more than 1,000 faculty and staff, the SRU campus is the size of a small city and has a similar environmental impact. As with cities, universities across the country have the responsibility to find ways to help reduce their impact on the environment. To that end, we must continue to explore and implement opportunities to reduce greenhouse gasses, reduce and recycle waste and improve efficiencies that lead to a reduction in the University's overall environmental impact.
Slippery Rock University will strive to become a living laboratory where sustainability is knit into the fabric of the institution. The operation of the entire campus becomes a classroom in this model.
- ACTION Conduct a sustainability assessment to document SRU’s efforts, and pursue STARS (an evaluation created by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education) certification
- MEASURE STARS evaluation
- BASELINE STARS evaluation began in Spring 2010 . . .
- ACTION Implement a campus energy policy designed to achieve carbon neutrality as soon as possible to meet the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment
- MEASURE Compliance with Climate Commitment
- ACTION Reduce campus waste and increase campus recycling to ultimately become a zero-waste community
- MEASURE Recycling and waste volume
- ACTION Ensure that by 2015 the entire campus meets the requirements of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)
- MEASURE Review of campus buildings and grounds
ACTION Increase purchase of green/renewable energy and pursue renewable energy demonstration projects whenever possible
- MEASURE Energy purchases and number of demonstration projects
- ACTION Implement maximum and minimum temperature set points for heating and cooling within all buildings and educate building occupants about those set points
- MEASURE Implementation
- BASELINE Set points established during Summer 2010 . . .
- ACTION Consolidate use of classrooms to fewer buildings at night and in the summer.
- MEASURE Classroom use
- BASELINE Consolidation began during the summer 2010 . . .
- ACTION Move toward a 4-day workweek to reduce the use of energy and the environmental impact of commuter transportation
- MEASURE Work schedules
ACTION Revise the Facilities Master Plan to better define responsible growth and include:
- A campus grounds component that incorporates sustainability concepts and practices, and identifies permanent green spaces, wetlands, environmentally sensitive areas, and areas of academic interest/training.
- An updated campus transportation component that when implemented will optimize the use of the Happy Bus, and encourage bicycles, walking, and other alternative modes of transportation.
- MEASURE Revised plan
- ACTION Meter and display utility usage in campus buildings and connect all buildings to an automated energy monitoring system so that educated choices can be made about building utilizations
- MEASURE Implementation
- ACTION Encourage food vendors to utilize certified products, such as fair trade coffee, seafood certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, and locally grown products
- MEASURE Vendor compliance
- ACTION Implement a purchasing policy that stimulates purchasing of environmentally friendly, cost-competitive products and services. This would require recycled content and minimal packaging.
- MEASURE Review of policy10
- ACTION Encourage reduction of fossil fuels used in the motor pool by moving to alternative energy sources as they develop
- MEASURE Vehicle energy use
- ACTION Minimize exposure to toxic chemicals and pesticides by implementing least-toxic building and grounds management policies. This will require using only no/low VOC paint, stains and adhesives.
- MEASURE Policy adoption
1 Data quoted in this section are from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “Revolution Two: Resource Management,” gsi.csis.org