The question posed to our editorial staff was: What should Lehigh do to become more sustainable?
Read their responses below.
Benjamin Mumma, Class of 2010
Lehigh should be factually and intellectually honest when it comes to sustainability. Currently, most of Lehigh’s efforts to become more sustainable revolve around small changes – things that cost little and accomplish even less. The one notable exception to this is the new Steps building, which is extremely costly and still does not accomplish much in terms of making Lehigh “greener.” Everything Lehigh does accomplish is made highly visible. Even Rauch’s test of a “new eco-friendly printer” received a feature length article in the Brown and White.
So Lehigh can keep making highly visible, cost-effective changes that have little effect on the environment or Lehigh’s carbon footprint. But that is the easy way out; it’s like turning in your younger brother’s algebra homework to your calculus professor and then patting yourself on the back. Certainly, we do not want Lehigh to be in that business. To be intellectually honest, Lehigh has two options: make transformational changes to Lehigh so that it truly is environmentally friendly, or admit that cost is what really drives their decisions and that it really does not matter how environmentally friendly campus facilities are.
Given that choice, Lehigh should do both, since the two philosophies do not contradict each other. Lehigh can look to be a leader in innovating sustainable products and systems. Doing so has several benefits. Lehigh can bring in research funding, researchers, institutional renown, and all of the things that Lehigh needs as an institution. It will provide students interested in such subjects the opportunity to be involved in research, and provide them with opportunities not otherwise available. Lastly, it has a chance to lead to a breakthrough that will lead to large advancements in sustainability in the future.
Going hand-in-hand with the aforementioned strategy for making real progress, Lehigh should come out and say that research and a high-quality education is Lehigh’s priority. In doing that, Lehigh should throw all of the silly token-environmentalist acts by the whey side. President Gast should be working to establish energy research here, not signing silly climate commitments. She should disband panels like LEAG, the Lehigh Environmental Advisory Group, and let these professors and administrators worry about – here is a thought – teaching and administrating. Instead of posting signs asking students to shower less, they could work on finding a better way to recycle the water that we do use.
According to the Lehigh’s strategic plan, Lehigh is looking to stand out. While some in academia may view this policy as hypocritical. However, some would appreciate the honesty in the statement. The only reason any school actually enacts green policies is a) save money or b) brag about being green. Lehigh should expose this policy, and reject it. Lehigh should work for big advancements and innovations, and not play the political correctness game of “my green is better than your green.” In the end, it will be a net positive for Lehigh, its students, and the environment.
Trevor Drummond, Class of 2010
Sustainability. It sounds good, doesn’t it? And it’s a win-win, too… or so they say. After all, what could be wrong with using less – waste not want not, and of course, we save money, which is good, right?
Give me a break. The single largest fallacy held by a mass of people in unison, aside from balloon boy, is the notion of environmental sustainability. Anyone who participates in the green movement at this moment, and believes that they are making any sort of difference because the university doesn’t turn a blind ear to their thoughts is deluded and ignorant.
This “movement” is a purely aesthetic concoction, bent on economic sustainability more so than environmental. And rightly so! Lehigh is competing (as staffer David Gritz, ’12 so acutely noted previously) with schools for research dollars, undergraduate (read: cash flow) students, and quality names for pie-in-the-sky academic movements that produce graduates who gross enough income to “sustain” the continued existence of this institution.
LEAG, STEPS, and Green Action are poster projects. And while I can’t deny that valuable biological and physical research will likely arise from the STEPS initiative, the new facility shares something in common with its grandfather, Iacocca Hall: both will transition into expensive architectural obsolescence. Back in ’59 when architectural powerhouse Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, conceived Iacocca it too featured innovative environmentally friendly notions like the reflecting pool, which was piped with condenser coils to exchange heat from the air conditioning system.
The problem was, this seemingly elegant system was both inefficient and costly to maintain. In 1986, when Lehigh acquired Iacocca (then called the Homer Research Labs) from the Bethlehem Steel Corp, one of the first things VP of Facilities Planning Anthony Corallo did was decouple the reflecting pool and install modern condensers, leaving an 8-foot deep, 1.5-million gallon pool full of rusty pipes. Sadly, even water-feature-friendly Lehigh couldn’t save the fountain (an insurance hazard), and in 2006 when the Alumni Memorial Parking Garage was constructed, much of the backfill from the excavation ended up in the fountain, filling it in and sealing its fate.
Sound familiar? STEPS is supposedly festooned with special “energy-saving” features like wind generators, electromechanical louvers to control natural light glare, and the famous grass roof (where no one can toss a Frisbee). I’d put money on it that in 25 years, when I come back for my class’s reunion, that roof will be leaking, the generators will be a giant ornament, and the louvers will have long-since been disabled due to scarcity of parts and repair talent.
It’s not an outright bad thing to care about the environment so much that you’d buy fair-trade products (which ironically carry a heavier carbon footprint than run-of-the-mill produce and coffee), compost in your back yard, sell your car, and bitch & moan to all of those who pass by (on Open House day, no less, Green Action!) with a half-hearted protest expressing your arrogant distaste for the university’s reluctance to capitulate to your every whim and will.
However, know that you have become a PR tool for the university to use in marketing its campus to other students who think they have found their cause. Know that the “no tray” policy was a cost-saver for Sodexo/ Wood Dining (hence why they didn’t eliminate it in the a-la-carte Upper UC café), and that neither Dining Services, nor the University truly deeply cares about your cause.
This movement, much like actual real global climate change (a natural, cyclic occurrence) happens in cycles. In the 1970s, so-called “global cooling” and an abundance of yuppies with disposable income created the first green movement; this is no different. Many so-called “green” products and ideas are less than such– like washing glasses rather than using disposable paper cups. I will never pay some sketch “fund” to “offset” my carbon, I do not support cap and trade (read: anti-capitalist) bills, and I am not so naïve as to think that this university, nee, the thinking, air-breathing public gives a damn about sustainability.
Alyssa Gerety, Class of 2013
Lehigh needs to move incrementally in order to become more sustainable. The STEPS building is a huge investment in sustainability, however it reflects the university’s reluctance to disturb the status quo. Students and faculty alike will be pleased with a shiny new building – as the administration opts to construct sustainability rather than curb the habits of faculty and students.
It is possible, however, for the administration to implement changes that will be small enough not to disturb students, as well as, foster sustainable habits. First off, the printers in every building and dorm should be calibrated for automatic double-sided printing. Students and faculty should have to seek out settings for single-sided printing, not the other way around. When replacing water fixtures in any building the university should consider low flow options. While evaluating transportation options available to students, the university should not only look for the most efficient routes, but also consider replacing old vehicles with alternative fuel transportation. In the dining halls, locally grown or organic food options are not only environmentally friendly, but also delicious. These are all relatively minor changes that the administration should look to implement in the near future.
Though there are much more drastic measures that could be taken, small incremental actions such as these will create a more sustainable university without too much disruption to, or outcry from, students or faculty.
David Gritz, Class of 2012
Lehigh can increase its sustainability and decrease its carbon footprint by abiding two principles of leadership:
(1) Don’t Micromanage – Contrary to the lessons of big bureaucracy, finding small problems and supporting the average student at the cost of the overachiever is not a goal of sustainability. Instead of focusing on individual energy consumers like students or charging for printing privileges, administrators and policy-makers should look at the entire system.
Starting with a systems map of all power consumption, GHG production, and resource use will allow the University to see what is happening. Using this map, a Pareto chart should be created to find the largest consumers. The chart will identify how the university can make large-scale changes and large-scale impacts. Instead of spending money on building “greener” individual specifications for the STEPS building, Lehigh might be better off building a geothermal cooling system for the buildings like Yale.
Furthermore, less time can be wasted and less people can be upset if we consult sustainability professionals. These professionals will focus on implementation of changes and not university politics. For example hiring a professional like Andrea Wittchen of iSpring Associates, sustainability group, would be more effective than tasking a group of volunteer professors in a green group.
(2) Think big – In order to substantially effect the course of sustainability on a national or global scale, Lehigh cannot limit its thinking to internal causes. If we want to make an impact, we have to help other people that are major consumers of energy and producers of toxins. Expansive change can be executed through centers of excellence and student support.
By supporting the Enterprise Systems Center’s creation of a National Center for Sustainable Manufacturing, Lehigh can make a large step towards setting national standards and providing applied research to the biggest users, companies and governmental organizations. Lehigh should not take an ad-hoc approach of a council here or a department there. We should make a unified approach that is connect to real world problems.
Similarly, students should be given the authority and legitimacy to act along with faculty as partners and not subjects. Student organizations should rise to the occasion of national action. By partnering with larger organizations like EcoEarth or Second Nature, students can cause changes nationally. Students could offer free education seminars to the residents on how to reduce energy costs or help local business with their sustainability efforts.
Brandon Sherman, Class of 2010
The sustainability movement must first be realistic about its goals. Opponents justifiably bristle at the suggestion that we can save the environment, lower tuition and overtake the Ivy League just by switching to fluorescent light bulbs. In this regard, Professor Dork Sahagian was wrong when he told the Brown and White, “It’s our impact on the world that matters.” Steps that make our campus more sustainable or climate-friendly have no global consequences. We should be instrumentalists regarding the environment – seizing the mantle of sustainability to enhance student experience.
Thus far, the administration’s approach to this issue has been utterly incoherent. There are at least three campus environmental groups, including the Lehigh Environmental Advisory Group, the Environmental Coalition and the Environmental Initiative. All of these efforts fly under the radar at best, or worse, they make the University look ineffectual and incompetent. High profile projects, like the STEPS building, are far more effective. If the University takes the lead and puts its money where its mouth is, students will be far more responsive.
Put sustainability in terms that Lehigh students will understand. Don’t tell us we can save the environment by walking instead of driving to class. Remind us that we can be the billionaires of tomorrow if we invent, engineer, or finance green technology. Recruit professors who are passionate about finding practical solutions to the energy crisis – not professors who are going to rant about how we’re all going to drown when the sea levels rise.
Piecemeal steps like those currently being peddled as a sustainability strategy won’t result in any progress. Big ideas and the execution of those ideas will be necessary to bring about the systemic changes that will define our future. If Lehigh is serious about contending in the global marketplace, we must realize that sustainability begins at Lehigh, but the focus should be on the bigger picture.