Despite a healthy “green” glow, there are several holes in Colorado State University’s sustainability initiatives.
Internationally recognized for environmentally friendly efforts and research, CSU received the first platinum rating and the highest score ever submitted in the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System.
According to the Green Initiatives program at CSU, STARS is considered the most comprehensive sustainability assessment for colleges and universities, surveying over 700 institutions on six continents. It is provided by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education and ranks schools by levels of sustainability.
However, Dale Lockwood, a professor in the School of Global Environmental Sustainability, said true sustainability is black and white.
“Either you are using resources at a rate where they can be replenished, or you’re not,” Lockwood said. “We are not.”
Under the subheading “Sustainability Forever,” Green Initiatives lists the school’s single-stream recycling program and cites a “recycling rate” of 64.9 percent.
“We’re doing a pretty reasonable job at recycling,” Lockwood said. “There’s a trash and recycle bin in almost every room. But we do need to be asking the right questions.”
Lockwood questions whether or not the food court and dining halls are doing the best they can.
According to senior Michael Wriggly, construction management major and former Dining Services employee in the Corbett Residence Hall, recycling in dining halls is truly at the discretion of the students.
“There’s really no way to screen what is or isn’t going into recycling bins unless a staff member is standing right there,” Wriggly said.
Abigale Palmer, junior horticulture major, said during her time working in Dining Services at Durell Center, all trash and recycling bins were emptied into the same dumpster— the trash.
“People throw whatever they want into the bins and we don’t have time to sort it all out,” Palmer said. “We have to throw it all away.”
The current system calls for a lot of improvement, Palmer said.
“We need more publicity to encourage student recycling,” Palmer said. “This doesn’t really work. People need to understand where and why they should be (recycling).”
In addition, Lockwood said the single-stream method of recycling used is easy, but less efficient.
“Cross-contamination with food and other particles makes single-stream recycled matter less valuable,” Lockwood said.
Lockwood said with falling recycling industry prices, lower efficiency could harm a lot of recycling programs, including CSU’s.
“When it comes down to it, people don’t like to sort their recycling,” Lockwood said, “Any recycling program is only as good as the people participating.”
Bikes, buses and automobiles
Green Initiatives also lists CSU as one of the nation’s most “bicycle-friendly” campuses.
According to a 2008 CSU survey by the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, 31 percent of those surveyed (students, staff and faculty) reported biking as one of their modes of transportation to campus and 47 percent reported driving or carpooling exclusively.
CSU also tracks bike use via required bike registration, but that may not be meaningful, Lockwood said.
“We have to collect the right data,” Lockwood said. “Measuring registered bikes is not the same as counting the number of bikes actually coming onto campus, since many students have registered bikes but mostly drive.”
Lockwood said the key is disincentives to driving in order to encourage other, greener methods of transportation.
“The University seems to be discouraging cars by raising parking costs, but also plans on building new parking structures,” Lockwood said. “Bikes do matter on campus, but they could matter a lot more.”
City bus services, available free to CSU faculty and students, may significantly reduce commuter emissions, but only after some improvements, Lockwood said.
“We need to work with the city on transportation issues,” Lockwood said. “How do we get people to campus more efficiently? We need to optimize bus routes and make them more efficient.”
Energy production: The good, the bad…
Carol Dollard, energy engineer and co-chair of the President’s Sustainability Committee, said CSU’s climate action plan has been coming together for almost six years.
Initiatives include renewable energy sources through wind, solar and biomass boilers, according to Green Initiatives.
A current solar project involves generating 1,200 kilowatt of energy from on top of six campus buildings, according to Dollard. The Campus Recreation Center alone will support panels generating over 500 kw, a sizable dent in CSU’s 17 megawatt usage.
Another 5.3 mw are generated on the CSU Foothills Campus, making CSU the biggest solar panel system in the city.
However, the panels on the main CSU campus are technically owned by the city for another 20 years, Dollard said.
“We’re leasing out the roof space now and making money doing it,” Dollard said. “At the end of the third-party contract, we’ll own our own power.”
Lockwood said he sees solar power as a viable alternative energy source, especially in sunny Fort Collins.
“I’d love to see more solar,” Lockwood said. “I’d love to see solar become more efficient, too.”
Wind power, not currently in use at CSU, also has a lot of potential, Lockwood said.
“We have great wind here for wind turbines, not too strong,” Lockwood said. “We also own a ranch that would be perfect, but nearby residents objected to the turbines.”
Experimental biomass boilers on the CSU Foothills Campus get a less favorable review, according to Lockwood.
“We don’t really generate enough biomass for it to be useful,” Lockwood said, “Its really more experimental.”
…And the future
Lockwood said the source of power is less important than the amount of power used.
“Every form of energy has some cost,” Lockwood said. “We can do a lot by ‘going green’ in energy production, but can do a lot more good by simply reducing use.”
Dollard said she believes CSU has done a remarkable job in reducing energy consumption, and will continue to do so in the future.
“Cost for utility use on campus has not gone up in six years, despite all our new construction and increasing rates,” Dollard said, “And we’ve had decreasing energy usage for 10 years.”
According to Green Initiatives, other CSU sustainability projects include graywater research conducted from Aspen Residence Hall shower water and the Integrated Solid Waste Program, with more than 90 percent of the academic departments on campus engaged in sustainability research. An overview of Green Initiatives can be found on the website.
Despite these projects, Lockwood said he believes CSU has a lot of improvements to make.
“The sum of the whole process is what’s important,” Lockwood said. “We need to look at whether or not we’re moving forward.”
Collegian Senior Reporter Rachel Musselman can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @rmusselmann.