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  • Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

We are not alone
July 29, 2008 - 1:20pm

When it comes time to create a campus sustainability plan, I'm not expecting to be able to limit my thinking to campus. It's not realistic to envision a sustainable campus amidst an unsustainable community, or an unsustainable region. (I had thought of titling this "no campus is an island", but there's currently an "X Files" movie in the theaters, and I don't think Hollywood's planning a remake of "For Whom the Bell Tolls" anytime soon. Want to stay culturally relevant, and all that.)

The SCUP conference, last week, had a lot of sustainability sessions; most of them focused on energy conservation in building operation, or energy efficiency in building design and construction. When it comes to reducing GHG emissions resulting from building operations, there are two ways to go about it: use less energy, and use cleaner energy. Using less energy can be addressed in a plan which doesn't look beyond the boundaries of campus. Using cleaner energy, however, really can't. At least, not 100%.

Unless you're going to take your campus totally off the grid (absolutely unrealistic for any land-based campus I can think of) or generate so much renewable energy on campus that you always have a net outflow (cost prohibitive for most of us), you're going to be pulling some significant portion of the electricity you use from the grid. So you're going to be subject to the cleanliness of the generating mix in your region of the world.

One of the slides presented last week was a comparison of the GHG emissions per kiloWatt-hour, broken out by Canadian province. There was at least a 10- or 12-to-one ratio between the cleanest (Quebec, where the vast majority of generation is hydro-powered) and the dirtiest (Alberta, as I recall). If I want the electricity Greenback purchases across the grid (almost all of it) to be as clean as possible, I need to do what I can to clean up all the electricity used in Backboro and environs.

Similarly, the energy used by our campus fleet is largely, but not totally, controllable on campus. Our trucks and other vehicles do venture off campus sometimes, and so our fueling choices are limited by what the regional fuel distribution network supports. We can run our forklifts (which never go off campus under their own power) on natural gas, but our pickups and vans (for example) still need to burn diesel or gasoline -- there are no natural gas filling stations around here. Making Greenback's campus fleet cleaner-burning may well require the creation of new fueling options for all the citizens of Backboro.

And the emissions created by our commuters: same deal, only more so. Enabling cleaner commuting options (whether it's a change in fuel or better public transport) means planning on a regional, not a campus-specific, basis.

Happily, some of the best sustainability planning tools I've found are focused on communities. While doing some research on The Natural Step (a framework I find interesting, but don't claim to fully understand, yet), I found some great planning tools. The one I'm currently absorbing was developed at Royal Roads University. Next, I hope to get into a seemingly comprehensive planning methodology published by the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association.

To the extent that Greenback is a community within a community, I expect these tool sets to be directly applicable to our situation. Since they were designed for use on democratic -- and thus almost chaotic -- population bases, they should fit our management structure pretty well. Worst case, I get a better feel for the challenges presented to the poor folks who have to plan for the surrounding region. (And I thought planning just for the campus was hard!)


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