Story by Stephen Woolpert, Dean of Liberal Arts
Higher education is often a source of leadership in addressing world problems. One example is the rising tide of responses by colleges and universities to the challenge of global warming and other environmental problems. Hundreds of academic institutions in the United States and worldwide have formally committed themselves to confronting environmental problems, not only in their research and educational programs, but also by reducing the environmental "footprint" of their campuses. These campuses are fostering environmental literacy and enhancing the health of their ecosystems by integrating considerations of sustainability – such as conserving resources, preventing pollution, and reducing waste — into their operations and the design and maintenance of their built environments.
Saint Mary's is proud to be a part of this growing trend — not because it is trendy, but because teaching students about sustainability is emblematic of our distinctive educational mission. As a Catholic institution, Saint Mary's College affirms the moral obligation to care for God's creation. In 2002, Pope John Paul II stated that "Christians and all other believers have a specific role to play in educating people in ecological awareness." As a liberal arts institution, Saint Mary's is committed to nurturing responsible citizens who contribute to the common good. Teaching and modeling good environmental citizenship helps students understand their place in an increasingly interdependent world. As a Lasallian institution, Saint Mary's recognizes that the most devastating impacts of environmental degradation are visited upon the disadvantaged. The United States Conference of Bishops observes that "the ecological problem is intimately connected to justice for the poor."
Last spring, the Staff Council and Academic Senate approved resolutions supporting principles of sustainability for the College. In a letter to the College, Brother President Ronald Gallagher said "Sustainability ... is an important concern in our academic life, in the campus facilities and operations, and in our College outreach. I look forward to joining our community in exploring ways that we can incorporate principles of sustainability in our mission and activities."
All sectors of the College are actively engaged in making Saint Mary's "greener."
- The College recycles roughly 30 cubic yards of aluminum, plastic, glass and paper monthly. Used batteries and cardboard are recycled at the Physical Plant. On Oct. 27, 2005, a special electronic waste pick-up site collected 20 pallets of waste electronic equipment ("e-waste") from the College and local residents.
- In April, 2005, the College received more than $150,000 in utility rebates after installing energy and water conservation upgrades, such as high-efficiency lighting, plumbing retrofits, window film, vending machine controllers, sewage flow meters, ventilation improvements, and boiler controllers. These upgrades cut our annual energy use by 9%, peak demand by 500 kilowatts and water use by 4.3 million gallons in 2005. In September 2005, Vice President for Finance Peter Michell committed the College to helping California achieve a 20% reduction in energy consumption in nonresidential buildings by 2015, and to voluntary energy reduction when supplies are tight.
- Carpooling: A carpooling bulletin board on the College's website helps students, faculty, and staff alleviate parking problems on campus, reduce pollution, conserve energy — and save money.
- Students are engaged in a variety of sustainability projects. For example, service-learning courses in the Communication Department and the Liberal and Civic Studies Program provide opportunities for students to study the College's environmental impact and to explore more sustainable alternatives:
- Students discovered that harmful polystyrene products were used by Sodexho, the College food service. They persuaded Sodexho's director to use sugar cane-based alternatives when possible.
- A similar student project resulted in a switch to fair trade coffee at the student union.
- On Nov. 16, 2005, (National Recycling Day) students organized a buffet of fresh organic foods and distributed reusable drink mugs in Oliver Hall.
- The College's first "Bike-to-School Day" took place April 27, 2006. A similar event is scheduled for April 2007.
- Students organized a recycling contest in Augustine Hall, awarding a prize to the floor that recycled the most glass, paper and plastic. Over eight weeks, the winning floor averaged nearly 10 pounds of recyclable material per student.
- "Project Green" is a new initiative this semester involving more than two dozen students in plans to expand recycling to other residence halls, work with Sodexho to reduce waste, and provide more locally grown, organic food in the dining hall.
The College sustainability website is at sustainsmc.stmarys-ca.edu