Sustainability not just talk

Chico State University is backing up its promise to lessen the campus’ long-term impact on the environment by committing time and money to a variety of “sustainability” efforts.

On the heels of an extensive sustainability assessment and a conference on the topic, the university this week began advertising for a sustainability coordinator to tie its efforts together.

“The students, particularly in the Associated Students Environmental Council, have lots and lots of good ideas about sustainability projects,” said Scott McNall, provost and vice president of academic affairs. But most of the time, good ideas stay that way—just ideas. The efforts of a sustainability coordinator could change that.

“We wanted to have a person who would be able to help walk across the borders of the university and make things happen, instead of us just talking about them,” he said. “This is about doing.”

The paid position will help make that possible, following up on the sustainability assessment.

In 2005, McNall collaborated with Vice President for Business and Finance Dennis Graham and various students and faculty members to produce the assessment titled Decisions for a Sustainable Tomorrow.

The report emphasized the university’s interest in developing a long-term commitment to sustainability, and explored a host of topics aimed toward offering inspiration and concrete recommendations for a definitive new direction at Chico State.

For example, the university used 115,000 gallons of water a day in 2004—that’s 3.4 million gallons a month or 42.7 million gallons a year. It’s also almost 25 percent less water than the university used in 2001, but the school doesn’t want to stop there.

How much water would the university save if it installed water-efficient plumbing fixtures and landscape irrigation? Or even just by educating campus water users of the environmental effects of their choices?

Sustainability, the assessment reports, is the ability of natural resources to provide ecological, economic and social benefits for present and future generations.

“Generally, I think the campus has come out very well in different areas, like saving water and trying to recycle,” said Joe Wills, Chico State’s director of public affairs. “We’ve done very well compared to other campuses in our recycling program. But we certainly want to do better.”

The university has revised its Master Plan to include an emphasis on sustainability and created an ecoliteracy professorship to educate students of all majors about environmental issues.

Chico State has also made progress through small changes, like buying more post-consumer content products, and larger ones like achieving more efficient energy use. Though the university has grown over the last 20 years, total energy use has actually decreased by 11 percent. By retrofitting older buildings and using “green” construction for future buildings on campus, Chico State will cut consumption even more.

But the recent changes towards sustainability illuminate the progress still to be made. Many Chico State students, along with the faculty and staff, are realizing they have plenty more to do, but they are ready for the challenge. “We’re really committed to this,” McNall asserted.

“People were already doing a lot of these things,” he said. “So most of this is simply a focusing of the energies that were already present on the campus.”

The sustainability coordinator, who will be paid between $27,000 and $45,000 a year, will help the university initiate changes in the report’s six recommended areas: energy, water, transportation and planning, materials and waste, purchasing, learning and governance. Essentially, the coordinator will turn sustainability ideas into campus realities.

Chico State will hold its second sustainability conference March 7-9 to help the university focus on efforts to remain an environmental leader.