Representatives from the University of California, California State University and California Community Colleges gathered in San Louis Obispo at the beginning of August for the seventh annual California University Sustainability Conference.
Over 850 students, faculty, staff and administrators attended the four-day conference to discuss energy-efficient, cost-efficient and environmentally sustainable solutions for the future of California higher education under the theme “Putting sustainability to work.“
The conference included 13 different topic tracks – including energy, food systems, transportation, waste-reduction and recycling, as well as water, agriculture and landscaping, said Katie Maynard, a conference organizer.
Sessions on the food systems track, for example, focused on such issues as what it really means to be organic and local, looking for pesticide-free food and how to create a sustainable food system like those of UC Davis and UC Santa Cruz.
“There are different things to consider when talking about food on campus,” Maynard said.
The conference was purely peer-to-peer and focused on bringing real solutions, she said.
“It’s entirely peer-to-peer,” Maynard said. “That means that the manager of an organic farm can come and show us that everything they do is possible, that it actually works. We present solutions, not ideas.“
Maynard emphasized that conference organizers tried to bring in people who have been actively working sustainable solutions to show others that sustainability is possible.
Keynote speakers included Lieutenant Governor and UC Regent John Garamendi, President of the Apollo Alliance Jerome Ringo and President of the U.S. Partnership for Education and Sustainable Development Debra Rowe.
Representatives from over 30 community colleges, 20 out of the 23 CSUs, all the UCs and some private California colleges attended the conference.
“I think that the UC has laid out very aggressive sustainability goals,” said Sid England, environmental planner for the Office of Resource Management and Planning at UC Davis who attended the conference. “Meeting those goals is going to be challenging, and getting people to learn and strategize those goals are the most important aspects in participation in the conference.“
Networking with other universities and meeting different people for possible future resources was an important aspect of the conference, England said.
“To learn about the ideas of people and know that there are a whole network of people working on these things made me come back to Davis recharged and motivated,” he said. “It’s good to step back and instead of being caught up in the details, think about why we are working on these issues.“
UC Davis won an overall sustainable design award for the Tahoe Center for Environmental Sciences, a research building in Incline Village, Nevada completed in 2006.
Bill Starr, the project manager for the Tahoe center, hopes the building will serve as an example for others.
“I think it’s always great to be able to show what you can do because it changes the goal sets for other campuses,” Starr said.
One of the key challenges designers of the Tahoe center faced was making a lab building – which typically uses four to six times more energy than an office building of the same size – environmentally friendly.
The building that resulted uses 60 percent less energy and 66 percent less water than a traditional structure of the same function. It features a system that uses rainwater collected on the roof to flush toilets in the building.
“I hope to see all our projects get better and better as we move along,” Starr said.
ANGELA RUGGIERO can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.