I was elated to see articles about two of SRU’s sustainability initiatives on the front page of The Rocket last week (“Energy dashboards to save SRU millions” and the article about reusable water bottle filling stations that help minimize the use of plastic bottles on campus). Even though two opinion pieces, the “Our View” editorial and the commentary “Campus is not living up to its own environmental standards” were critical of our efforts to make SRU more sustainable, it was heartening to hear from students with a passion about this extremely important topic. We need more of these conversations, and we need more young people pushing for the kind of change that will protect our environment and leave the world a better place for future generations.
If SRU has a major failing in the sustainability area, it’s in not “tooting our own horn” loudly enough about our long history of being leaders in the sustainability movement. Not only did SRU develop one of the first academic sustainability programs in the nation, it also founded the Robert A. Macoskey Center in 1990 (home to the LEED Silver-certified Harmony House and more than 60 acres where our students research and demonstrate sustainable agriculture and sustainable living principles).
In the last decade, we’ve improved campus energy efficiency by 47 percent. Between 2003 and 2012, we’ve cut our use of coal in the central plant by 66 percent. We’ve cut our CO2 emissions by 27 percent and were recently acknowledged in The Princeton Review’s Guide to 322 Green Colleges: 2013 Edition. We should take pride in what we’ve accomplished, but recognize that we still have much more to do, and the sooner the better.
Our new provost, Dr. Way, has already begun encouraging our faculty to insert even more sustainability components into our academic programs. One of the first things President Norton did upon landing at SRU was to approve our Climate Action Plan (CAP), which lays out the steps by which we plan to go carbon neutral. Among other things, the plan includes continuing our very successful energy conservation efforts, replacing coal with biomass, using natural gas to cogenerate heat and electricity at the central plant, investing in large-scale solar photovoltaic systems, and investing in our students – teaching them energy-conserving behaviors and sustainable living principles that will help them land better jobs and will also serve them well in their future family and business lives.
All of the elements of the CAP have been incorporated into the University’s Strategic Plan, which included the creation of an “Office of Sustainability” and staff who are, as of this year, responsible for coordinating all our efforts and leveraging the tremendous talent found on campus and in our community. We’ve begun helping to coordinate and promote Earth Days 2013 this year, and are adding much more content and resource links to our website – go to www.sru.edu/sustainability and you can view the master schedule of events for Earth Days 2013, the Climate Action Plan, Trend Five of SRU’s Strategic Plan, our Greenhouse Gas Inventories, energy conservation tips, recycling procedures, and much more. You can also “like” our new Facebook page www.facebook.com/SRUsustainability and add your voice to the conversation.
Ask your professors to take your class on a tour of the Macoskey Center as a class assignment. Don’t miss the featured speaker J. David Hughes of the Post-Carbon Institute on Earth Day, Monday April 22 at 7 p.m. in the ATSH – he’ll provide great insights into how our energy use and choices impact Climate Change, why we need to speed up our transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, and the socio-economic-political challenges we face in making that transition.
Take personal responsibility for your actions, small steps by large numbers can add up! But most importantly, keep talking. Keep questioning. Change won’t happen, or at least not as quickly as it needs to, unless we all pitch in and raise the level of discourse. After all, we’re all in this together.
Paul W. Scanlon, PE, LEED AP
SRU Office of Sustainability