Monday, March 9, 2009

To be or not to be

The past year has not been an impressive for sustainability at Lewis and Clark College. Only two initiatives really stand out of the school fighting to become more sustainable. We increased in financial aid and the bookstore adopted a “sweatshop free” clothing policy. The school has also decided to turn down the heat in all building to save money.

While all of these advances should be applauded in many regards we have moved backwards. While the cutting of the shuttle service will save the school money, the costs will just be paid by the community, as we have to pay more money for cars, parking, and time spent driving around. The campus farm project, which was covered here the other week, failed to get off the ground and has been shelved because no department was excited enough to take charge of it. The school bike loan library program was a failure.

LC used to be at the forefront of sustainable leadership but over the last few years we are quickly being passed by. If we are ever going to return to being competitive with other schools we must ask ourselves why LC is at a stand still. Here are a small fraction of the exciting things going on at other schools and not at LC. The question is why?

-PSU got a $25 million grant from the Miller Foundation (the same people who our Miller Hall is named after) for sustainability. PSU must match the grant in 10 years, this means that at PSU in the next 10 years $50 million is going to be spent on sustainability.

-Oberlin College has agreed to provide $40,000 to fund a “sustainable house” on campus for students to live at. The renovated house is part of an eco-design class. The class will continue to work with the house after the renovation is complete.

-Oregon State University retrofitted 22 elliptical machines to generate electricity back into the power grid. This will produce an estimated 3,500 KWH every year.

-The University of Washington has begun using goats to eat english ivy and mow its lawn on their Bothell campus.

-The University of Delaware has a hydrogen powered bus

-Following a nine day hunger strike by students, Stanford University is expanding its living wage policy. This policy has now been expanded to include contracted workers. The reason we contract out all of our services is because LC has a similar living wage policy and contracting out allows us to avoid paying living wages. Where are the LC kids going on hunger strikes for our cleaning ladies?

-The Oregon Institute of Technology installed a 150-foot-tall drilling tower to eventually power its entire campus by geothermal energy. The heat trapping plant has a initial price tag of $4.5 million but will result in the school never having to pay for electricity again.

-Construction has begun at California State University, Fresno on a solar panel-topped parking structure system. 1 MW of photovoltaic panels are being installed atop 10 metal shelters that will shade more than 700 parking spaces. The panels will provide about 20 percent of the university's base electricity demand, which is equivalent to the power needs of 1,000 homes. The installation will cost about $11.9 million. LC just finished installing solar panels on top of the gym, which supplies .67% of our energy. And our micro turbine is broken.

-New Hampshire College, which like many other colleges (not LC), already has a full-time paid Sustainability Coordinator. However to show how much they value that position they moved that office along side the Office of the Provost.

All of these things have been dreamed up by someone at LC but those dreams have all lacked support to become realities. Instead every year we spend several hundreds of thousands of dollars on football which benefits a very limited number of students. At LC there has been no creative action to change the priorities of our school to promote sustainability. What are our school's priorities and how do we see those priorities receive the resources they require?

“To be or not to be” was the question Shakespeare once poised to us. We have the ideas to become a more sustainable campus, we have the desire, we definitely already have the words, but we lack action. If we as a community are going to become more sustainable it is going to require people taking action, getting involved, and fighting to make it a priority within our community. If a liberal arts college can't become sustainable then who can?

We should have a hydrogen bus instead of canceling buses. We have the same resources and similar opportunities as these other schools. The reason we are not on that list is that we put our resources elsewhere. Whether it is the football team or not (I think that would be a start) we need to look at that list and think about why we aren't on it and what needs to change to get us on it. Most importantly we need to act. Change requires action. I choose to be.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Taking The Road Less Travelled

By Sarah Bobertz

Somewhere on South Campus, there is a garden. It went mostly unnoticed by students, until Alex Johnson (’09) wrote a proposal last fall to institutionalize the garden and take advantage of a great opportunity to bring sustainability home to Lewis & Clark. The dream? An organic, sustainable farm project that could employ work-study students and give the Lewis & Clark community an amazing resource: truly local produce. The produce grown on the farm could supply produce to students, professors and neighbors in the Lewis & Clark community.

“This is about making the best use of our resources,” said Johnson, whose advocacy for this project has pushed it closer to reality than ever before. A Lewis & Clark farm would be the first college farm in Portland. The farm would also be a part of the growing CSA community. CSA stands for Community-Sustained Agriculture, and there are about a dozen member farms in the Portland area. It is a trend in local, sustainable agriculture, bringing local produce to a community level.

Lewis & Clark is the perfect place for a community farm. Its students are passionate about organic, local food and outdoor activities of any variety. The chance to learn about sustainable agriculture is a great educational opportunity, equal to any that could be found in a classroom, and there is a lot of interest and support on campus for the idea.

“The project grew really quickly and interest grew really quickly and before I knew it, it was like a wildfire,” said Johnson. Student, faculty, and staff support for a project proposal is not enough on its own to make projects a reality. Funding problems put the farm proposal on the proverbial back burner, presumably to be revisited in better economic times. After much budget trimming, operating costs for the first year of the farm are estimated to be about $15,000, and the profits from the first year would cover the operating budget for subsequent years. However, funding is not currently available from any Lewis & Clark source. Discretionary budgets of various departments have been cut, and there is no ASLC avenue to fund this type of project. Like with so many environmental initiatives, cash flow problems ultimately shelved the proposal.

The moral of the story is one of missed opportunity. The path to sustainability is about taking advantage of opportunities that present themselves to us, no matter what the cost. Energy efficient and environmentally friendly options are most often those that cost the most or are the least convenient in our current system. Organic produce is more expensive than non-organic, solar and wind energy is more expensive than oil and coal, and toxic materials are cheaper than biodegradable options

The opportunity for Lewis & Clark to run its own organic, sustainable farm is expensive, yes, but it is ultimately the best use of campus resources. Lewis & Clark’s commitment to organic, local food has earned the school notoriety among private liberal arts colleges. The chance to launch the first college farm in Portland, maintained by its own students, would create opportunities for both education and experience in sustainable agriculture, an increasingly important industry in the 21st century. Like solar power and biodegradable chemicals, a campus farm is not the easiest option to pursue, but it is the best one in our search for sustainability.