UNR should get off its ass

Kurt Unger is president of UNR SEEDS, a Ph.D. student and a lawyer.

UNR, like the rest of Nevada, is experiencing rapid growth. Over the next few years, UNR will christen a new Knowledge Center, Life Sciences building and Student Union. Such expansion will become the norm, as UNR estimates its enrollment will more than double in coming decades. Such growth provides the opportunity to teach about sustainable development, as much of what is taught does not occur in class but passively, via a “shadow curriculum.”

Unfortunately, UNR is shadow teaching the wrong message. By constructing buildings that don’t have energy/water efficiency, by irrigating large swaths of unused grass during the heat of the day, and by failing to incorporate renewable energy into its portfolio, UNR is cultivating unsustainable attitudes towards energy and water.

The new student-funded Student Union is acase in point. At meetings UNR held to get feedback on Student Union attributes, environmental impact/green building factors consistently topped the list of student concerns.

Nonetheless, UNR is sticking to a design from the Nevada Public Works Board that’s based on minimizing upfront costs, not maximizing long-term economic savings of energy/water efficiency. UNR claims it can’t afford green construction. This prevailing attitude spawned the formation of UNR SEEDS (Students and Educators for Environmental Development and Sustainability).

SEEDS met with administrators to try to communicate the benefits of green building and LEED (Leadership in Energy Efficiency and Design) certification, a nationally recognized green rating system. SEEDS explained that if the Student Union were built to a LEED silver rating and followed national averages for the rating, it would likely cost 2 percent more, but energy bills would be 30 percent less.

So the upfront costs would pay for themselves in a few years, with more savings piling up for decades thereafter. But while some administrators appear genuinely interested in green building, there is no commitment by UNR to mandate sustainable practices, despite economic and environmental benefits.

While UNR and the state are not committed to change, the public should be. Nevada taxpayers and UNR students are subsidizing, via unnecessarily high taxes and tuition, UNR and the state’s failure to reign in high energy/water bills. It wouldn’t be hard for Nevada and UNR to change; they could simply draw from other university and state sustainability policies.

UNR could start with the new Student Union. The next legislature could mandate that state buildings obtain an annually increasing share of their energy from renewables, and that the Public Works Board formula for new development be changed to reflect sustainability, using LEED for third party certification. With green practices in place for state buildings, industry would move in that direction and students could learn by example. Just what exactly are UNR and Nevada waiting for?