Friday, March 25, 2011

Sustainability in Practice-WSU student implements change

Washington State University student Skuyler Herzog heard student complaints about WSU’s mandatory student fees, which topped $448 this spring and decided to give the power of choice to fellow students.

Herzog, a senior environmental science major and the Associated Students of Washington State University environmental task force chair, established the optional $5 Cougar Green Fee, available starting summer semester 2011.

Herzog labels himself a sustainability advocate hoping to one day live in a world that unites modern technology with sustainable lifestyles.

“I do not think that we should abandon our modern inventions and lifestyle,” he said. “But as stewards of the earth it is our responsibility to take care of it.

Herzog said everyone can improve efficiency while decreasing environmental impact.
“It doesn’t have to be a choice between iPhones or forests,” he said.

Money collected through the Cougar Green Fee will be placed in the Cougar Green Fund. The fund, managed by the Sustainability and Environmental Committee, will support student proposals regarding sustainability practices on campus, Dwight Hagihara, executive director of Safety, Health, Environmental and Risk Management Services said.

After three years of planning and submitting proposals, over 3,000 student signatures and an ASWSU Senate approved resolution, the Cougar Green Fee obtained final approval from WSU administration about a month ago, Herzog said.

Student support for the optional fee has been strong.

“Even if it just means more recycling bins in the residence halls, I’m all for it (Cougar Green Fee),” said Jesse Soy, a junior biology major. “I’d be fine with it being mandatory because it would go towards something wholesome versus just more stadium and CUB renovations.”

Herzog is pleased with the support he’s gotten from other registered student organizations as well as ASWSU Sens. Derrick Skaug and Bryan Inglin and WSU staff such as WSU Environmental Wellbeing Coordinator Jamie Bentley and Hagihara.

The Cougar Green Fund is designated for undergraduate research and student initiatives regarding sustainability on the Pullman campus, said Herzog. It was established with the idea that students could choose to donate $5 or more, along with faculty, staff and any individual. Herzog hopes it will be implemented at other WSU campuses and inspire similar projects at other universities.

The University of Idaho and Harvard University have had similar funds in place for years, each a little different but what makes the Cougar Green Fund different is that it was student proposed, Hagihara said.

The Cougar Green Fund stemmed from the sustainability initiative, approved in 2009, which led to the creation of the Sustainability and Environment Committee. The SEC is composed of faculty, staff and students to organize and focus WSU environmental efforts.

“The Sustainability Initiative is more of a statement of purpose rather than a specific action, Herzog said. “It established the Sustainability and Environment Committee but the document itself does not provide for further changes, it just establishes WSU’s commitment, which is useful but only if more actions come from it.”

The SEC monitors WSU’s green house gas inventory and developed the Climate Action Plan signed by WSU President Elson S. Floyd, Hagihara said. The Climate Action Plan was a response to President Floyd’s signing of the President’s Climate Commitment. Both are pledges made by WSU to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 80 percent by 2050, and identify areas for environmental improvement at WSU.

There is no dedicated funding for campus sustainability as a whole, Hagihara said. Energy efficient lighting in residence halls, the Green Bike program and sustainability-integrated curriculum are some projects already underway but funding for programs like these comes from specific department budgets, not the university as a whole, Bentley said.

“We don’t have an existing fund for sustainability so that is why it (Cougar Green Fund) is needed,” she said. “Most universities have a sustainability office and sustainability officer or coordinator. WSU doesn’t have either of those things because we are in a hiring freeze and financial uncertainty.”

Herzog has big plans for the Cougar Green Fund. He wants to focus on projects like solar power for the CUB and other buildings on campus and create a large campus community garden. Herzog and administrators are also interested in graywater usage on campus but high costs have put the idea on the back burner.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency Web site, graywater is water from bathroom sinks, showers and tubs and washing machines. It has not come in contact with human or animal feces but may have traces of dirt, hair, grease and household cleaning products. Graywater can be a beneficial source of irrigation water for landscapes.

“One of the things we would like to look into is the use of treated gray water to irrigate green spaces on campus,” Herzog said. “Currently the gray water exits the Pullman Water Treatment Plant and is just emptied back into the South Fork of the Palouse River while fresh water is used to water the plants. I would like to see the Cougar Green Fund share the cost with the university in the future and make this happen.”

All it took was a few voices, one determined individual and the passion and hard work to get it done. What can you do to help the environment?

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