When advice is needed, ask an expert.
That’s what several Cal Poly students and faculty are doing to launch the Campus Sustainability Initiative, a movement to make the university campus more green and environmentally responsible.
The students involved are not asking just any expert for advice on starting the initiative: They will get guidance from one of the world’s leading experts on sustainable technology and energy efficiency.
Amory Lovins, chief executive officer of the Aspen-based think tank Rocky Mountain Institute, will give a free lecture on Friday night about environmental sustainability.
Sustainability is the concept of living within the limits of the natural resources without harming the environment, for example, harnessing the sun’s energy to heat a home or recycling household water for use on outdoor gardens.
During Lovins’ visit on Friday, students and faculty will present the Campus Sustainability Initiative, which organizers hope will become an integral part of campus life over the next few years.
“Eventually we want to have legislation on campus to promote sustainability, and hopefully other campuses will catch on,” said Pablo Paster, a fourth-year manufacturing engineering major at Cal Poly and one of the initiative’s organizers.
The group hopes to promote everything environmentally sound — from encouraging university departments to use eco-friendly paper products to developing guidelines that advocate energy- and water-efficient planning and building.
“These are no-brainer topics,” said Cal Poly professor and CSI member Steven Marx. “There’s not a lot of controversy for what the commitment needs to be, and there’re so many ways that we can reverse the course of waste. We need to focus on our agreements and move on those.”
Already there are several programs at Cal Poly that promote sustainable practices.
For example, the university’s dairy unit uses methane produced from cow manure to generate electricity, the College of Architecture and Environmental Design issues grants for research on renewable energy through the Renewable Energy Institute, and Cal Poly’s master plan requires environmental review of a project before planning even begins.
According to Lovins, a university is the ideal place to promote sustainable practices.
“A university has the knowledge to figure out how to do new things,” Lovins said in a phone interview from the Esalen Institute in Big Sur. “It has students who have the energy and enthusiasm to do most of the work.”
At Cal Poly, with its focus on science, architecture and business programs, it is especially important to send students into the working world with an understanding and appreciation of sustainability, Marx said.
“Everything our graduates learn to do is either going to contribute to sustainability or detract from it, so we’re the place,” Marx said.
One of the first things members of the initiative want to do is get Cal Poly President Warren Baker to sign the Talloires Declaration, already endorsed by 275 universities in 40 countries. The declaration commits the institutions to incorporating sustainability and environmental literacy into teaching, research, operations and outreach.
Marx said signers of the declaration regularly report on things like recycling, energy conservation, building, land stewardship and environmental education programs.
Lovins said sustainability can be profitable for private businesses, universities and homeowners.
“For new construction, we find not only large energy savings, but we also find typically reduced construction costs,” Lovins said.
For example, building a passive-solar structure reduces or even eliminates the need for heating and cooling equipment. The less energy used means a healthier environment for those who occupy the building — and for a university, that equals more productive workers and students, Lovins said.
Travis Hamera, an architecture major at Cal Poly and another of the initiative’s organizers, said the group is working with campus planners to draft guidelines for sustainable building.
“We want to make every future building that goes up as sustainable as possible,” Hamera said.
Through the Campus Sustainability Initiative, he hopes to bring the issues to the administration’s attention.
“We’re making it a prime issue for them,” Hamera said.
Currently, several groups on campus are working on issues related to sustainable building and development, like the Cal Poly Lands Project and the Sustainable Environment Emphasis Group. Hamera said the initiative will bring together the various groups in pursuit of a common goal.