The Greening of CLU
Class projects teach sustainability
By Karin Grennan
The sustainability revolution in higher education started with recycling programs and green buildings. But, at CLU, it is now reaching beyond campus operations into the real business of the University — teaching.
Instructing students on green issues is not new at CLU. The Religion Department has taught an Environmental Ethics class for two decades. The University has offered an environmental studies minor for 16 years and the increasingly popular environmental science major for six years.
But now, driven by a changing world and eco-minded students and professors in all disciplines, the University is increasingly incorporating sustainability issues into classes throughout all programs, from business to mathematics to sociology.
"The University's greatest impact on the world is the students it sends forth," says President Chris Kimball. "We want everyone who comes here, whether they are studying art or education or finance, to leave with an appreciation for the world's resources and a vision for how they can contribute to sustainability."
The movement reflects CLU's mission to educate leaders for a global society who are strong in character and judgment and committed to service and justice, explains Sam Thomas, a religion professor and co-chair of the CLU Sustainability Task Force. But part of the motivation is also strictly practical. The University needs to train its graduates to address sustainability issues because an increasing number of jobs in many fields require these skills.
"These are issues that are global and they require seriousness and judgment. They call for skill to find ways for living better without compromising future generations," Thomas says. "I think we are in the business of helping students navigate difficult situations like this."
Research for Change
Professor Grady Hanrahan has integrated three different subject areas into a single research project designed to address social, economic and environmental issues. Hanrahan, who holds the John Stauffer Endowed Chair of Analytical Chemistry, is working with chemistry, mathematics and social science students on a yearlong study of water quality along the Ventura River with help from a $10,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency. The P3: People, Planet and Prosperity Phase I grant enables college students to research, develop and design sustainable solutions to environmental challenges.
Working with Ventura County Public Works Agency's Stormwater Quality Division, including Water Quality Analyst Tommy Liddell '95, Hanrahan and the students began collecting samples at several sites this summer. They have spent hours wading through mud and muck to draw water from the river and testing the samples to determine whether pollution levels differ in low-income areas and more affluent neighborhoods.
With the help of sociology professor Adina Nack, students are also surveying and interviewing residents to discern how their perceived risk from environmental pollutants compares to their actual risk. Hanrahan also wants to determine whether there is a correlation between pollution levels and health disparities among the communities.
When the study is complete, the researchers will share the data with the public and lawmakers. In spring, the team will compete in Washington, D.C., for the P3 Award, which could bring additional funding up to $75,000 to allow the students to further develop their design for sustainability, implement it and move it into the marketplace.
"I hope the students get a better understanding of research and learn how to think critically, respect the environment they live in and respect varied populations within the community," says Hanrahan.
While advertising usually promotes consumerism rather than conservation, communication instructor Jean Kelso '84 Sandlin, M.P.A. '90, has found ways to incorporate sustainability issues into her Advertising Campaigns class. Last year she received a Department of Conservation grant that enabled her students to develop an advertising campaign called fillanthropy to encourage their peers to ditch bottled water in favor of reusable containers and filters. In spring, a new group of students developed a rEthink campaign funded by the city of Thousand Oaks that promoted the recycling of electronic waste.
In the fall, Sandlin began working on another project that gives students a leadership role in decreasing CLU's carbon footprint. Ryan Van Ommeren, Associate Vice President for Facility Operations and Planning, wanted to make two of the University's student houses greener so Sandlin put her "Business and Professional Communication" class on the job. The students learned about sustainability practices and costs and then, with the interviewing and other business communication skills they were learning, they surveyed the 11 residents about their living habits and their willingness to adopt more environmentally friendly measures.
The students then began developing initiatives to reduce waste and cut back on water and energy use that they thought the residents would be willing and able to follow. Using negotiation, consensus-building and presentation techniques, they took the plans for new practices and retrofitting to the residents and University administration. The changes were slated for implementation during the winter break with the help of a $4,000 grant from the University.
"It was a very practical application of communication theory, but they also had to learn all about sustainability issues," says Sandlin.
Thomas sees these projects as just the beginning. After a panel of administrators and faculty members discussed "The Greening Of Cal Lu" at a fall retreat, Thomas asked professors to brainstorm on new ways to integrate sustainability issues into their classes and work together on interdisciplinary projects.
"The only thing that limits us is our imagination," says Thomas.
University works to reduce its carbon footprint
Cal Lutheran got a jumpstart on today's sustainability revolution with changes it began making 15 years ago, which included solar water heating, a campus-wide energy management system and energy efficient windows. But in 2008, when sustainability became one of the hottest topics in higher education, CLU ramped up its efforts as well.
"I think universities need to take a leadership role in being good stewards of the earth," says Ryan Van Ommeren, Associate Vice President for Facility Operations and Planning.
In August, Van Ommeren and other eco-minded administrators and faculty members who had been meeting informally for more than a year officially formed the CLU Sustainability Task Force. They are now developing a comprehensive sustainability plan for the University that they will present to President Chris Kimball and the Strategic Planning Committee.
Staff also completed a greenhouse gas emissions survey that measured the University's carbon footprint, the amount of climate-changing greenhouse gases its activities produce. CLU produces just less than four tons of carbon emissions per student. On average, universities produce close to 10 tons per student, says Van Ommeren, Co-chair of the Sustainability Task Force. Colleges in Southern California that are similar to Cal Lutheran produce 75 percent more emissions than CLU.
While the findings were positive, staff looked for ways to improve. The University decided to make the Swenson Center for Academic Excellence the campus' first LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) building.
The lobby of the Swenson Center will be cooled using natural ventilation and other features rather than air-conditioning, explains Van Ommeren. The social and behavioral science building is being designed from the ground up to take advantage of natural airflow. Dampers will automatically open in the morning to bring in cool air and close when sensors detect the outside air is too warm. The rooflines, walls and windows were designed so that natural light will provide most of the illumination in corridors and offices.
Trinity Hall and the new facilities building, which are both already in construction, will also have sustainability features. Their parking lots will have a permeable paving system that allows storm water to filter through it, removing contaminates before they reach waterways.
The University also worked with other organizations on sustainability measures in 2008. In the fall, Sodexo, the campus' food service vendor, began using more biodegradable packaging and organically grown food and eliminated trays to save water and electricity and reduce food waste.
Through a program funded by Southern California Edison, student interns replaced standard light bulbs in the residence halls with more economical compact fluorescent light bulbs, or CFLs. The students determined that the changes will save CLU nearly $20,000 a year in energy costs and prevent nearly 63 tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.
"We're going to be a lower cost, healthier campus. We're going to use less energy and less water," says Van Ommeren. "By incorporating healthier products and natural light, we will affect the University for the better."