CSU professors bring sustainability awareness to Fort Collins

CSU+professors+bring+sustainability+awareness+to+Fort+Collins

Collegian | Chloe Leline

Taylor Paumen, Content Managing Editor

On Sept. 21, a group of Colorado State University professors came together to inform the Fort Collins community about “the overconsumption of natural resources,” as stated on the CSU School of Global Environmental Sustainability website

Avogadro’s Number, a bar and restaurant near campus, hosted the “Managing the Planet: Over Consumption What Can We Do?” event. The panel was composed of experienced professors, including Susan Golicic, management department chair and professor; Joe Scalia, civil and environmental engineering associate professor; Meagan Schipanski, soil and crop sciences associate professor; Terry Yan, design and merchandising professor; and Gene Kelly, moderator and SoGES faculty research liaison and deputy director of the Agricultural Experiment Station and associate dean of CSU Extension. 

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Questions came from a few of the audience members, starting with a professor of environmental economics at Front Range Community College, who asked how changing manufacturing processes could lessen impact on the environment.

“Anywhere from 30-35% of all our waste is packaging,” Golicic said, but there are a few companies that are working hard to convert to being more efficient and sustainable. 

This first question essentially sparked a core idea that it “comes down to the orientation and the belief system of the upper management of the individual companies,” Golicic said. Companies that recognize their impact on the environment tend to fall under merchandising and the food industry, like Patagonia, which was mentioned several times throughout the panel on their success in sustainability.

Patagonia allows customers to send back some of their products to get them repaired if needed to reduce the act of overconsumption. However, industries like oil and mining that can have a harsh effect on surrounding ecosystems tend to turn their heads. 

“A good grade of copper today is 3%, which means we’re generating 97% waste,” Scalia said pertaining to the mining of copper being an unfortunate culprit in adding to waste.

“To get to a circular economy, we need to be really critically thinking about what we’re consuming,” Scalia said in his support of increased mining. “I would hope that we see a flurry of … effectively mining, … and then we stop needing more inputs.”

“If we can get away from the overproduction mindset, I think we’ll be better on conservation.” –Meagan Schipanski, soil and crop sciences associate professor

An additional action that has been practiced to help the movement of sustainability has been in textile science, which “is very innovative … by really focusing on how they can utilize more natural fiber or how they can recycle more polyester or to really bring the next level of the materials to use that could be more sustainable,” Yan said.

The downside of these practices is companies might also have to use unsustainable chemicals within their products to keep up with demand of the consumers. Corporations like Ball work diligently to replace plastic cups with aluminum but “can’t produce their products fast enough,” Golicic said.

A common issue in remaining sustainable is the consumer’s demand. To close out the event, Kelly asked the question, “If there was one thing in your discipline that you think is sort of the biggest lever that could be changed, … what would it be?”

“In managing the supply chain, the biggest issue is transportation,” Golicic said. “Transportation is really expensive, and it’s gotten more expensive because of the delays in the supply chain.”

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“What we really need is more mining in the U.S. that’s local — that’s not requiring us to transport commodities all over the world,” Scalia said, adding to the transportation issue discussion.

There are many factors to consider with overproduction and waste, like global food insecurity from an agricultural perspective. 

“I think we need to be more humble and realize it’s many levers,” Schipanski said. “If we can get away from the overproduction mindset, I think we’ll be better on conservation.”

But there are local practices individuals can slowly try to apply to their daily lives as consumers in any industry.

“Buy better, buy less and also buy secondhand if you can,” Yan said, taking the approach of advice around the overconsumption of clothing.

Overall, the battle for global sustainability will become more of an apparent issue than ever before if consumers don’t change their demand habits, in addition to companies’ upper management considering putting more sustainable practices in place.

Reach Taylor Paumen at life@collegian.com or on Twitter @TayTayPau.