Greening California's Colleges and Universities
July 18, 2011
By Erik Fallis
Students attending the California Higher Education Sustainability Conference are illuminated by a lit model of Earth during the reception at the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific.
Cal State Long Beach hosted this year's California Higher Education Sustainability Conference, which is celebrating a decade as one of the most attended gatherings of its kind and the only sustainability conference in California that brings together all three public higher education segments—the California State University, the University of California and the California Community Colleges. The conference lauded campuses for their sustainable practices, but also focused on how California’s higher education institutions can go greener.
Themes from the conference touched on a wide range of issues. Student service and leadership was a prominent topic, often highlighted by the work of the Green Campus Student Internship Program and various student government organizations. Faculty, students and industry leaders delivered presentations on incorporating sustainability into curriculum and workforce training. Campus facility and energy managers addressed the specific needs of campus infrastructure improvements. Additionally, issues of transportation, food sources and food waste gained increased attention this year.
Commitment from the Top
In the CSU Long Beach Walter Pyramid, campus and system leaders gathered to discuss their commitment to sustainability and the challenges colleges face. Associated Students President Jessica Jones shared her and her fellow students' efforts that led to Santa Rosa Junior College signing onto the international Talloires Declaration on Earth Day, 2011.
CSU Long Beach President F. King Alexander, who signed the President's Climate Commitment, spoke to the sustainability efforts and accomplishments of his campus. He also addressed the challenges that come from the ongoing failure of the state of California to prioritize higher education, including lack of state funds for sustainability initiatives and infrastructure.
Long Beach City College President-Superintendent Eloy Ortiz Oakley echoed Alexander's concerns about state priorities but also spoke to the partnership between his campus and CSU Long Beach in identifying sustainable solutions.
Every speaker on the president's panel spoke to the breadth of sustainability and about how a commitment to be sustainable encompasses academics, operations and service aspects of the university.
A Champion of Sustainability
Len Pettis, CSU chief of plant, energy and utilities, was recognized as one of three sustainability champions for the state. Pettis was honored for his work on CSU’s solar power portfolio, which has more than doubled the amount of on-campus renewable energy over a three year period. Pettis also championed demand response (lowering campus energy use when California's power grid is strained) and monitoring based commissioning (systems that continually track and address issues that impact buildings' energy efficiency). His efforts resulted in frameworks that allow the 23 CSU campuses to leverage their size and clout to ensure the best deal possible for students and the state.
Recognizing the Best
For the seventh year, the UC/CSU/IOU Energy Efficiency Partnership (the same organization that sponsors the conference) announced its best practice award winners. This year CSU Chico, CSU Long Beach, CSU Monterey Bay, CSU Fullerton and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo were each recognized with at least one award. In total, eight awards went to CSU campuses. Awardees had an opportunity to present at the conference and case studies were prepared so that other institutions can learn from their peers.
A new award this year was given in the category of Campus-Community Partnerships. CSUMB was one of three campuses recognized in this category. The campus was recognized for a comprehensive community-based revitalization effort in Salinas’s historic Chinatown neighborhood. Faculty and staff have worked with multiple community and religious organizations to provide service-learning opportunities for students in this economically depressed area. Through this program, students have been able to participate in a variety of projects including a community garden, oral history interviews, a green jobs training program, a silk screening co-operative for the homeless, a composting enterprise, and a computer-training lab.
Laying the Groundwork
Bringing faculty, staff and students together, the CSU was laying the groundwork for a new comprehensive sustainability policy. The new policy builds on many of the CSU's accomplishments and current practices, while seeking to push the system even further. In a session held during the sustainability conference, a diverse group of campus stakeholders discussed the progress made in drafting the policy and the core areas covered. An open discussion was held about what other items should be added to make sure the policy truly reflects the scope and unique capabilities of the university.