Green for growth or just the sake of green

posted in: Opinion | 0

Depending on whom you ask, “sustainability” and “sustainable development” can have contentious and contradictory meanings. The 1987 Brundtland Report defines sustainable development as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Economic growth, environmental responsibility, and social accountability come to equilibrium; where industrial growth and environmental degradation cancel out in a grand balance of complex and controversial issues. Coming off as progressive as it is profitable, “sustainable development” has also become a major marketing-scheme.

As President Hallick and the Board of Trustees enjoy group back rubs in Palm Springs—throwing our money in the air in giddish fits of happiness—it would be safe to assume that Pacific University is quite interested in profiting off the popularity of “sustainable development.” More environmentally friendly than conventional dorms, there is no doubt that sustainable development can have immediate economic impacts through green LEED certified buildings.

Author and investigative journalist Heather Rogers—who is coming to Pacific for the 5th annual In Your Face Lecture on March 15—notes that buildings (surprisingly) account for 40 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions in the United States. Powered by coal and other fossil fuels, the lighting, heating, and cooling of these archaic Clark-esque buildings are among top sources of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

When the LEED certified Burlingham Hall was built, its electricity use decreased by 28.9 percent more than was expected by simulated models. In terms of real monetary costs for energy today, this means that Burlingham Hall used $11,600 less electricity and gas than was originally forecast through Pacific’s energy simulations.

Newer green dorms would return even higher energy savings to the University and provide students with a higher standard of living. So what’s the catch?

Believers in “sustainability” will be quick to tell you that building LEED certified dorms allocates huge sums of money for pseudo-renewable technology that misses the core values of what “sustainability” actually means. Those values are knowledge and connection between community and the ecological world. More to the point, growth driven “sustainable development” on a planet with finite resources is not progressive toward any future of holistic “sustainability”—it a progression towards profit and our greenwashed consumption.

As LEED certified dorms are built over the smoldering ashes of Clark Hall, space that could be used for valuable community agriculture is lost. Furthermore, the argument could be made that B-Street and the strengths of our small scale, community-based agriculture and multi-faceted community relationships have drawn just as much attention as our new LEED certified dorms.

Pacific University, ironically renowned for its optometry programs, seriously needs to improve its shortsighted vision of sustainability. Students must ask: what “sustainable” investments are being made during your college experience and what investments are being made for Pacific’s future?

Left to their own devices, President Hallick and the Board of Trustees won’t respond unless students become engaged and actively respond to these issues. Since the University Sustainability Committee has also openly admitted that “we just don’t have the time and in some cases we don’t have the skills,” the Pacific Index can easily do its job.

I am asking the student body and the administration to directly respond to these issues. Students and administrative officials should submit definitions of sustainability to the Pacific Index for its next publication to foster debate. By creating public discourse and involving students and administration together, we can clarify our long-term sustainable goals and fix this apathetic amblyopia that is causing such unsustainable shortsightedness.


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