A sustainable future, beyond environmental concerns
The Susquehanna River is one area of focus in Bucknell University's sustainability efforts.
Posted: April 25, 2013
By Gigi Marino
Titled "Envisioning a Sustainable University," the daylong symposium brought together professors and experts from across disciplines to address sustainability and identify ways the liberal arts can take the lead in preparing for and managing global economic, social and environmental changes. Panel discussion revolved around concept, campus, curriculum and community.
"Major corporations worldwide are thinking about sustainability," Hendry said. "How can we use creativity and imagination to make a meaningful world? That's what social entrepreneurship is all about."
Panelists included Alf Siewers, associate professor of English, who focused on place and emphasized that frugality and thrift are at the heart of personal and global sustainability, and David Kristjanson-Gural, associate professor of economics, who stressed that equitable social systems are integral to sustainability as well.
Turning her focus locally, Michelle Oswald, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, said that the recently completed Buffalo Valley Rail Trail provides zero carbon-emission options for cyclists and pedestrians. Kevin Gilmore, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, added that Bucknell's two "green" roofs reduce heating use in winter and air conditioning in summer as well as cut atmospheric nitrogen. Students are using GIS-mapping software to identify additional campus buildings that might benefit from a green-roof retrofit.
Associate Vice President for Facilities and 1972 Bucknell alumnus Dennis Hawley said, although Bucknell is increasing the number of buildings on campus, it's decreasing energy — with an 11 percent reduction in electricity usage since 2007. All of the new campus constructions are LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).
The symposium grew out of a sustainability summit in February that was sponsored by the Bucknell Sustainability Working Group. During the summit, students, faculty and staff participated in roundtable discussions defining terms, exploring concerns and forecasting the economic, social, and environmental effects of living in a world with warmer temperatures, increasing populations and fewer resources.
The United Nations in its 1987 Brundtland Report defined sustainable development as meeting the "needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
Bucknell University President John Bravman expanded on this definition, saying the very life of the University is at stake. "We take it for granted that universities will be here for a very long time. But we may see many of them going out of business in the next 20 to 40 years," he said. "Technology is growing exponentially, and no one knows what it will really bring. We are going to be confronted with and need to be aware of how quickly technology is going to change sustainability for universities."
Keynote speaker David Orr discussed how sustainability projects can be not only earth-friendly, but profitable as well. Orr is director of the Oberlin Project, a partnership between the town of Oberlin, Ohio, and Oberlin College to confront global environmental threats in a way that is not only sustainable but also profitable for all. The project has created what Architect magazine calls the "most important green building in the last 30 years," and is working to revitalize downtown Oberlin with similar structures and practices — using more alternative energies, creating cleaner air, reducing carbon emissions and encouraging self-reliance.
Orr says that climate change is a problem of physics and mathematics. "An increase in temperature of 2 degrees centigrade is the point of no return," he said. "We're headed for an increase of 4 degrees, and this has barely been covered in the national media."
Orr said Superstorm Sandy was amplified by climate change — and "what came out of our tailpipes and smokestacks 30 years ago." He said that his grandchildren would not know the natural world in the same way he did because the climate has been so affected by increased carbon and methane emissions. In short, he said, "We are in a planetary emergency."
Orr believes universities can provide the necessary leadership to slow the rate of pollution, species loss and ecological degradation.
"The conversation is happening all over the world in higher education. We owe you a better future," he told students in the audience. Orr said that taking a position of either optimism or despair would not help. "You need to have hope and you need to take action."
Orr added that "education is not about making money" and encouraged students to pursue careers that encourage the social psychology of change, cultural adaptation, sustainable agriculture, law and policy reform and local-history preservation.
"If we move quickly with a sense of dispatch and we're smart," he said, "there's a good world to be saved."
Contact: Division of Communications
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