Unless you live in a submarine, you’ve probably noticed that everyone is going green. SUVs are out, composting is in — and your kids are embarrassed every time you forget the eco-friendly bag at the grocery store.
This movement has been working its way through the Seattle Pacific University campus for quite some time, as both a grassroots and an institutional effort. Students fix bikes for free, create energy-efficient projects, and research solar panels and other technologies. Meanwhile, the University recycles, subsidizes bus passes for students and employees, and is committed to building green.
Now, with the hire of 2008 graduate Bethany Walrad as its sustainability coordinator, SPU is creating a unified movement. A music major, Walrad started working with Facility and Project Management part time last year. This June, she was hired for a full-time position.
“Until recently, we haven’t thought about how paying attention to the environment makes us a good neighbor, a good citizen, and a good global citizen,” she says. “Being an environmental steward is part of that.”
Along with SPU’s increased efforts, SPU President Philip Eaton recently signed the President’s Climate Commitment, which states that the University will spend two years developing a plan and will set a date to be completely carbon neutral.
“If we can’t be on the side of protecting the earth’s resources, that’s a very dismal witness,” says Don Mortenson, SPU’s vice president of business and financial planning.
Additionally, SPU has committed to using energy-efficient technologies, buying electric cars, and offering an innovative degree in sustainable and appropriate engineering. And that’s just the beginning.
“A lot of these things we’ve been doing all along,” Mortenson says. “But we really need a focused effort. At the end of the day, it needs to become a way of life for the people of the institution.”
At the same time, Mortenson makes sure that SPU’s sustainability efforts are carefully reviewed to ensure they don’t drive up tuition costs just so the institution can claim it’s green.
“Everything has to be judged in light of its cost effectiveness,” he states. “For instance, we won’t knock down a building that still has years of useful life left in it, just to make it more sustainable. Our students could not afford that. But, when we do major renovations we always look to find ways to make it more green.”
A big part of Walrad’s job involves these kinds of assessments. She’s been working with the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education to test a program that would rate a school’s sustainability effort.
“It will help me know what to focus on most,” Walrad says.
One thing that neither Mortenson nor Walrad is focusing on is opportunistic publicity. In an age when even ExxonMobil is trying to convince people that it cares about the environment, SPU’s initiatives are about more than politics.
“We’re not going to do this to get a headline somewhere,” Mortenson says. “We’re stewards of this place, and we’re going to do this because it’s important.”