SU Takes Steps to Reduce Carbon Footprint

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To balance leadership with realistic expectations, Susquehanna’s pledge does not call for carbon neutrality, as does the ACUPCC document. Instead, it pledges to develop “a comprehensive plan that will lower total carbon emissions.” In addition, the commitment calls for implementing “tangible actions” to reduce GHG emissions while the comprehensive plan is being developed over the next year. These actions include everything from adopting an energy-efficient appliance purchasing policy, to developing environmental guidelines for campus renovation projects, to establishing a policy that all new campus construction will be built to at least the U.S. Green Building Council’s standards for Silver LEED certification, the same level as the new science building.

Moreover, Susquehanna’s pledge encourages individuals to take personal responsibility for finding sustainable solutions to the environmental problems facing the world and recognizes that it will take both institutional and individual commitments to make a substantial impact. Mike Coyne, vice president of finance and treasurer, calls Susquehanna’s climate commitment “something we can all sign with a straight face.” As he explains it, Susquehanna’s leadership would rather under-promise and over-deliver than shoot for what seems like an unrealistic goal.

“The confounding thing is that coal is cheap—and natural gas is going to be very cheap, but there are environmental problems with that, too,” Coyne says. These energy sources—coal, which fires the central plant and supports 60 percent of campus, and natural gas, piped directly to the rest of campus—are used for Susquehanna’s heating and air conditioning needs and yet are widely recognized as unsustainable solutions.

Susquehanna has explored a variety of alternatives, including biomass fuel, solar panels and wind power. However, the land and capital needed to install enough solar panels or windmills make these alternatives unrealistic. Biomass is a viable option and may very well become part of Susquehanna’s solution. Coyne and Bailey are investigating the use of hybrid willow trees as a biofuel alternative. Should the university go this route, the hybrid willows, which will grow quickly and on marginal land, could be a boon for local farmers while also contributing to better air quality.

Another possibility has emerged from the entrepreneurial spirit of Trustee Emeritus Richard Caruso ’65. Caruso has brought the idea of an experimental carbon-extraction technique to the attention of SU leaders. The Board of Trustees’ Property and Finance Committee recently approved continued investigation of this technology. If it proves feasible, Susquehanna may serve as a pilot site for this new “clean coal” technology, which would allow the university to continue burning coal without emitting carbon into the air, Coyne says. “We’re small enough that it’s economically feasible to use our plant as a kind of proving ground.”

While both the willow trees and the carbon-extraction technology sound promising, all agree that Susquehanna’s best solution will probably be a combination of fuel sources. “Our solution is going to be a mosaic,” Bailey says. “There is no one silver bullet for us.”

Victoria Kidd is assistant director of advancement communications and editor of Susquehanna Currents.


What is sustainability? The concept has no universally accepted definition, but what it is not, according to Emily Bowling ’06, is “glorified environmentalism.”

However, “the belief that modern industrial society is not sustainable is widely held,” says Bowling, EcoHouse Program coordinator at the University of Connecticut. Following a two-year AmeriCorps assignment as the coordinator of volunteer programs at Susquehanna, Bowling earned a master’s degree in educational leadership and policy with specialization in leadership in ecology, culture and learning from Portland State University. Her graduate studies wedded her undergraduate education in the sciences and the influence cross-cultural civic engagement has had on her life.

“I went to New Orleans in my senior year [as part of Susquehanna’s first Hurricane Relief Team], and it essentially turned my world upside down,” Bowling says.

Now Bowling is trying to turn education upside down by promoting a paradigm shift in which sustainability and community-based learning take center stage across a broad spectrum of disciplines. She brought her message to Susquehanna in October when she presented a seminar on this transformative approach to education, which challenges students to examine sustainability as an interdisciplinary concept, explore societal issues representing obstacles in achieving sustainability, and find or create solutions through the practices they undertake in their daily lives and the choices they make for their future.

“We are all world changers,” Bowling says. “The choice is not whether, but how we change the world.”

Such messages are reverberating throughout the Susquehanna campus this year as the 2010–11 University Theme, “A Sustainable Future,” manifests itself in classrooms and lecture halls. The theme and its corresponding common reading address the complexity of the problem, including resource use, population growth and protection of biodiversity, as well as issues of health, food production and consumption, social justice and consumerism.

The campus is examining these concerns through a 13-part film series focused on sustainable living, and with renowned guest lecturers such as Penn State Professor of Biology Christopher Uhl; Pulitzer Prize–winning author and Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson; and Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow Anthony Cortese. Cortese is principal founder and president of Second Nature, a nonprofit organization committed to making healthy, just and sustainable action a foundation of all higher education learning and practice—a mission that Bowling would certainly support.

She believes that institutions of higher education have a moral obligation to address sustainability. But to do so requires an understanding of this elusive term. So what is sustainability?

“To me,” Bowling says, “sustainability means transformation: seeing ourselves as part of the web of life and transforming just about everything in our lives.”

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