Whitman students have shown an interest in the environmental policy of Whitman College in the past, and continue to do so. Last year, students signed a petition to change the academic philosophy of Whitman to include more environmentally sensitive principles, and this year Lea Redmond submitted a proposal to the college to hire a sustainability director which unfortunately will not be occurring in the near future due to the state of the stock-market. As of now, no one has conducted an environmental audit of the campus. My task was to conduct this audit, and make it available to the Whitman community so that anyone can use it as a resource. Some key areas the audit covered are campus energy use, hazardous wastes generation, recycling practices, business practices, water use, energy use, and environmental education and literacy. A copy of my report will be available on the internet and in the environmental studies room on campus. As a part of this internship I wrote an article for the Pioneer on paper-use issues and the need for campus-wide environmental discussion.
In order to begin my audit, it was first necessary to decide which information to include. I also had to determine if I was going to audit each building, or the campus as a whole. My decision was to audit the campus as a whole because data is not always kept for each building. For example, the data on energy use for each building is not always possible to gather because the central portion of campus is all on one meter, so it is divided by size and not always necessarily by actual energy use. It was difficult to decide what areas I was going to audit until I found the book Campus Ecology by April Smith. This book outlines how do perform a campus environmental audit, and which areas to cover. The discovery of this book, made it much easier to begin the actual auditing process.
I started my audit by distributing questionnaires about solid waste and recycling, hazardous waste, radioactive waste, food, air quality, energy use, water use and wastewater to various departments around campus and the physical plant. I received replies, in the form of email-responses to questions and personal interviews, about solid waste and recycling, hazardous waste and radioactive waste, water use, energy use, and campus design. Some people are difficult to contact because they do not respond to email. It was difficult to get in touch with some people, specifically Dan Park, but after I finally set up a meeting, I gathered a considerable amount of information both from his interview and the data that the physical plant gave me on energy and water use. One problem I had with the actual data was that it was difficult to interpret, and most of the data is kept in terms of cost rather than in units of actual energy or gas use. Most of these I could interpret by setting up a comparison or gathering an average cost per unit.
Though some people were slow to respond, others are very helpful, and contrary to what Bob Biles said to me, I have not run into anyone who has been hesitant to give me information. Even if the information that I am seeking requires people to do extra work, they still are more than willing to answer my questions and surveys, and prepare spreadsheets for me regarding energy use and waste generation.
After I finished gathering information about waste generation and energy use, I will begin to gather information on the business practices of the college, campus design and growth, and environmental education and literacy. This information is important because a campus can only really be a “green” campus if the practices and philosophies coincide. I found that Whitman could do much more in terms of environmental education and literacy just by encouraging more out-of-class discussion. The Outhouse has been a useful resource in the past, but I believe that it is time for the entire campus to be engaged in environmental outreach and discussion. The environmental studies program has done a very good job of encouraging local research both on campus and in the community, but I don’t believe that up to this point there has been a good way to distribute and publicize this information. Displaying the internship posters in the library is a good start, and putting all of the reports on the internet could be a very good resource, but unless they are readily accessible, no one will even know that they are on the internet. I am hoping that the campus ecology web site that an intern made this semester has the potential of being a good resource for both research and education.
The results of an environmental audit can be a useful tool. It can provide information to students who are concerned with conservation and serve as a resource for the campus. I mentioned earlier that it is necessary for philosophy and practice to coincide, and I have heard complaints that this is not true of Whitman. I read over Whitman’s environmental principles and compared them to the information that I gathered during the course of this internship and found that the principles do not even require action to be taken in making the campus greener. These principles only recognize that conservation and sustainability are important to “consider.” The principles are a good jumping-off point for a campus-greening movement, but they need to be strengthened and acted upon in order for them to have any meaning.
I know that currently many students are working on the issue of creating a more environmentally conscious campus, and trying to start what is in essence a campus greening movement. This audit should provide some essential information for students to work from if they choose to continue this movement. As I was doing research about other colleges and universities and their environmental practices, I found that students spearheaded many campus greening movements. I do not see why Whitman has to be any different. Whitman already has a strong base to become an environmentally conscious campus that acts accordance with strong principles, but students and faculty alike need to become engaged in a deliberate movement. We need to start open campus-wide discussion about environmental issues at Whitman because there are many environmentally concerned people who have no opportunity to discuss issues outside of classes. Because believe that Whitman needs an open forum like this, I plan to start a campus ecology discussion group/club next semester. Beginning this group and working with it would be a good internship project for future environmental studies interns. I looked through the list of student organizations on the Whitman website earlier in the semester, and none are environmental groups except Environmental Education for Kids which does not focus on campus-wide environmental issues that, in my opinion, need to be discussed. Certain groups do bring environmental issues up every so often, but there is no permanent ongoing discussion.
Throughout this internship process, I have been questioning the scientific and political importance of the green campus. Of course it looks progressive if a college or university can claim state of the art environmental practices, a responsible curriculum, and dedication to conservation, but in real terms, what does it mean? Whitman is not one of the top 50 colleges with green campuses, but does this really matter? It seems to be the trend for colleges to be adopting highly involved conservation programs and environmental studies facilities. I began thinking about why this trend is occurring and why it is important. Colleges and universities, as educational institutions, should be experimenting with new sustainability and conservation theories to see if they are viable for the rest of society as well as to educate the public about environmental solutions. Whitman sometimes seems to claim to be dedicated to environmental awareness and then disregards the formation of new programs to improve conservation practices on campus? Why is no one starting a campus-wide composting program? Is the conservation committee successful, or does it need improvement? These things all take time and considerable effort, but they can be accomplished. Increased support from all sides is needed, if Whitman is to become a greener institution and more dedicated to its environmental principles. Future interns should research the possibility of starting a campus composting program, discuss it with students and the conservation committee, and submit a proposal to the college. If enough people want change, it will eventually happen.
By completing a preliminary environmental audit of the campus, I am hopefully starting a trend that will continue on into the future. Eventually, a complete, professional, environmental audit should be performed. This would be a valuable resource for the environmental studies department, building and planning committees, prospective students, and the administration. Many schools are beginning to pride themselves on their environmental awareness and strong emphasis on sustainability, and Whitman should not be left behind. In the near future, several student interns should go into more depth than I was able to and compile a detailed audit of each department and building on campus. This audit would be helpful to renew Whitman’s Green Seal as well as providing information that would be helpful in conservation efforts. More campus education needs to be undertaken, and this audit is a perfect way to start. If we evaluate where Whitman is in terms of sustainability and conservation, then we can determine which steps we must take in order to make Whitman a green campus and improve conservation efforts.
Bob Biles- Physical plant. Grounds-keeping , waste, and recycling.
Dan Park- Energy and water use
Gayle Worthington- Energy and water use
Kathy Rogers- Hazardous Wastes
Pat Spencer- Radioactive safety officer
L.G. Wade- Chemistry department
Shirley Jacobsen- Health center
Roger Edens- Bon Appetit
Tova Cochrane- Green Seal
Lea Redmond- Campus Ecology resources
Bob Carson- Environmental studies department, campus design and growth.