t’s not easy being green

DR. SUSTAINABLILITY Prof. Mark Stemens lectures his students about data gathering for the sustainability assessment at Chico State.

DR. SUSTAINABLILITY Prof. Mark Stemens lectures his students about data gathering for the sustainability assessment at Chico State.

Photo By Mark Lore

Going green may make Chico State University the envy of other schools in the nation, but right now it’s a complicated process to figure out just what should be done.

Over the course of the next two semesters, the university will be undergoing a campus sustainability assessment in an effort to establish Chico State as a “green” campus. What makes the project unique is that much of the work will be done by students.

Spearheaded by Mark Stemen, professor and coordinator of Environmental Studies, the university has contracted with Good Company, an assessment firm out of Oregon, to help with the project.

Chico State is the first university in the nation to perform the assessment as a service-learning project. While the firm provides guidance, students in Stemen’s Environmental Issues class will carry out the actual work.

“It’s not easy,” Stemen said. “This is a lot of work, but we’re thinking outside the box.”

The class has already divided into smaller groups and will gather data based on eight indicators of sustainability, including health and safety, energy use and purchasing practices. Good Company will then take the data and compare it to the practices from universities across the nation.

The project is in the early stages of Phase I, with students just beginning to establish contacts with various departments that can provide information on how effectively the university operates. By the end of the semester, the students will have collected and compiled the raw data to be used in making an assessment. The assessment process will then be carried out next semester as part of Phase II.

Jillian Buckholz, a master’s student in geography, is serving as the liaison—or “the filter,” as she referred to herself—between the students and Good Company. Buckholz is organizing contact information from Facilities Management, the Environmental Health and Safety Department, University Police and Recycling Services so students can begin the data collecting process.

“So far I think it’s going really well,” Buckholz said. “My main concern is the time frame. This isn’t [the students'] only class, and it’s a lot of work.”

Some students have conducted interviews and are finding some of the data to be pretty interesting.

Junior Jessica Runyon and her group are in charge of health and safety and are looking into issues having to do with indoor air quality. But in her interviews, Runyon said she discovered some other interesting facts about some of the older buildings.

“Holt is a huge energy sucker,” Runyon said of the building, which was designed in the ‘60s and built in the ‘70s.

She also found out that the Meriam Library accounts for 25 percent of Chico State’s total energy use.

However, not all of the data is coming back negative. Runyon said she was happy to find that thermostats in school buildings are hooked up to individual computers that regulate temperature and fan speed in order to save energy.

Some students are finding their subjects to be a bit daunting.

Natalie Robertson, a nutrition major, is in charge of examining university purchasing and said it’s a very broad subject because each facility has its own specific needs. Robertson said spending a little more money on products that are longer lasting and more easily recycled will pay off in the long run.

“Cheapness and convenience should not be a factor, because there are more important issues to deal with,” Robertson said.

About a third of Stemen’s current class will return next semester to participate in Phase II of the project. The release date for the sustainability assessment is set for late April, about the time ground is broken on the $33.3 million Student Services Center. The new center will meet “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” standards set by the U.S. Green Building Council.

As for the current project, Stemen said he is positive his students will be successful in their assessments. He also said that by getting 40 students involved in the project, it will make more people aware of important environmental issues concerning the university.

“I think that’s what is good about having a class do it," Stemen said. "Everybody knows."