U of C needs to look at environment

By Murray Birt

“There are not enough great things in our society because there are too many good things,” said President Harvey Weingarten to the Nov. 2002 graduates. Referring to society in general, but higher education specifically, Dr. Weingarten is working to make the University of Calgary a great university. That is to be applauded. However, one area that occasionally falls by the wayside when changing an organization is thinking about the ecological footprint of that institution.

Just as every household, company and institution in our modern society pollutes by way of its resource use, so does the U of C. The university is one of the largest users of electricity in Calgary, purchases countless amounts of paper, chemicals for labs, uses large amounts of water and produces lots of garbage.

What matters is that a university is educating tomorrow’s workforce, and if environmentally friendly policies are not practiced on campus, then we miss an opportunity to learn first hand how to make real the idea of sustainability. The Ivory Tower should be a place where environmental ideas are researched, taught, but also practiced. Universities have an obligation to the future because of its educational mandate. They also have an obligation to equip its students with the skills to pursue a just and sustainable world.

The last speaker in the Kyoto lecture series, Dr. David Schindler, said that more universities should be on the cutting edge of ecofriendly buildings, and that this does not have to cost more, and in fact can save money.

The U of C does have a successful lighting retrofit program that has saved several million dollars in utility bills, but we need more of this, including programs that focus on energy conservation, like turning the hundreds of computers on campus off at night.

In a study that surveyed the environmental performance of North American universities, the U of C was found to be an “Environmental Struggler” as opposed to an “Environmental Leader” (find it at www.ucalgary.ca/~uemc under Education and Training). The U of C has an Environment Policy demonstrating awareness of our university’s ecological footprint, but needs to gain the time and funding for environmental programs.

Concerned students need to help the university become an environmental leader. The U of C needs an Office of the Environment with a full time staff person. It needs paid student research positions to do the legwork of environmental benchmarking, setting up conservation programs and doing background research on the policies, technologies and financing of sustainable practices at a university. To that end, members of the Calgary Public Interest Research Group are planning a conference to help demonstrate the types of programs that save money and cut pollution.

To get involved, contact CPIRG at pirgclub@ucalgary.ca

If the University of Calgary wants to be a great institution, it must also become an environmental leader.

Murray Birt is a member of the Calgary Public Interest Research Group.

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