A New Kind Of Green

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Author: Eric Kleinsasser

In a time when pollution, fossil fuels, and mass consumption threaten the world, Occidental College, along with other campuses across the country, has taken action to promote sustainability and protect the environment. Students and faculty members have collaborated in an effort to make the campus “environmentally friendly” and reduce human impact on the planet. In their efforts, they have engaged in the school’s sustainability fund, facilitated by the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute. The UEP fund has put Oxy on the map as one of the Nation’s most ecologically conscious campuses.

Occidental’s sustainability fund is the driving force that has made possible many of the ecological practices already embraced on campus, and leading figures dedicated to promotion of the fund have indicated that it creates definite potential to green the campus significantly, and very quickly. “The fund has played an important role in advancing sustainability at the college,” said UEP professor Mark Vallianatos in a statement. “It has contributed to campus greening by helping pay for environmental projects. Equally importantly, by bringing student money to the table, the fund has demonstrated student commitment to sustainability at Oxy.”

Originally, students were charged twenty dollars to contribute to the fund unless they consciously declined, an approach Vallianatos called an “opt-out fee.” Administrators became concerned, though, that this method might yield negative reactions from students and parents who did not initially notice the charge. Consequently, the decision was made for the spring semester of 2008 to change to an “opt-in fee,” requiring individual students to indicate a willingness to contribute to the fund.

Accompanying this change was an offer by the administration to match half the value of total student donations. With between 300 and 400 students, this approach generated 12,000 dollars to use. “To make it easier for students to donate in the future-it takes a lot of effort to get students to sign on to a computer and find a separate donation page at the business site-the Fund will ask that a donation check-off be placed on Clearance forms so all students have to indicate one way or another whether they want to give money,” Vallianatos said.

Student commitment has been apparent additionally in the form of student leadership on the committee that manages the sustainability fund. “Applications were released [last spring] for student membership on the committee overseeing the fund,” Vallianatos said. “Three professors reviewed applications and chose eleven students to serve.” Vallianatos, with Facilities energy manager James Hartley, also make up part of the committee.

The committee and fund were originally created to meet goals set out by a resolution passed by the Associated Students of Occidental College in the fall of 2006. Aiming to establish more campus practices that address anthropogenic contributions to global climate, and embrace alternative energy sources, the resolution sought to “help launch the Occidental College Climate Change and Renewable Energy Initiative.”

A number of specific goals were laid out by the resolution. It requested that “the administration place solar panels on an appropriate location on campus, such as the roof of a major building or a parking lot.” To establish an assessment of the current state of the college, it also resolved to “request that the administration prepare and audit of Occidental’s greenhouse gas emissions, with, where appropriate, student research assistance.” A target for emissions reduction, the resolution said, should be subsequently declared by the college, and plans should be made to reach such a target.

It was this resolution by the ASOC that also established the sustainability fund, and the committee to manage it. Proposals were taken by the committee during the fall semester 2008 for implementation over the fall and into spring. Three proposals were accepted and funded.

One was for the purchase and installation of between ten and twelve bike racks. “Facilities [donated] the labor to install them,” Vallianatos said. Bike racks have been bought by the school, and so far there have been installations near the Library, the Samuelson Pavilion, and outside two residence halls-Chilcott and Bell-Young. Plans have also been made to install plaques alongside the racks, which will attribute their construction to the Oxy sustainability fund. In addition to the installation of bike racks and plaques on campus, there is a bike ride on Earth Day that will celebrate and promote the use of bikes as a mode of transportation. There will also be further discussions concerning a bike-repair program on campus, a “bike-share” program to offer more students access to bikes on campus, and a possible fee or subsidy concerning parking. This is especially important on a campus that relies heavily on cars for travel.

In addition to bicycle policy on campus, another proposal was submitted by a student and involved the college organizing and hosting three events themed around environmental education and awareness. A “Green Dance,” an environmental summit, and a recycling contest among residence halls were all planned. “The Green Dance was held in collaboration with a sorority,” Vallianiatos said. “The environmental summit was also held. The recycling competition will probably not be able to be held because of the way trash is collected from dorms by a contractor, making it difficult to measure recycling rates between dorms.”

As sustainable food is recognized as a large contributer to sustainable living, Campus Dining offered a third proposal to the UEP committee. Its goal was to promote awareness through environmental education in the Marketplace dining hall, and to provide additional silverware to reduce the consumption of plastic ware by students and staff. “The committee decided to fund . . . the cafeteria education but not the silverware purchases component,” Vallianatos said. This would help to promote an environmentally friendly lifestyle in the marketplace, but would also raise awareness as to what students can do in everyday life to protect the planet.

FEAST-the Food Energy and Sustainability Team-recently succeeded in allocating some of the sustainability fund to establishing an organic garden in the front of the Urban and Environmental Policy Building on campus. “[There is also] the possibility of moving to a larger site if it is successful,” Vallianatos said.

Vallianatos declared that reports outlining the use of the fund on the various projects will be released and made obtainable to students. “These reports will be made available, possibly on the web, so that there is transparency and students can see how their donations are being used,” he said.

Opportunities for involvement with the fund and committee will also soon be available. Because there are a number of seniors currently working the committee who will be graduating, Vallianatos and Hartley are seeking out new applicants from any students, as well any other current member of the committee. Accepted students can be a part of the sustainability fund management for the next academic year.

Interested students who make it on to the committee will have an opportunity to engage in discussions concerning the environment and will manage how Occidental works toward becoming a more ecologically conscious and environmentally sustainable institution.

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