Environmentally mis-LEED-ing

Natalie Spears, Special Content Features Editor

In an era in which climate change, global warming, and environmental injustice are pushed to the forefront of our political and social lives, the conversation of sustainability inevitably turns back to campus. Worldwide discussions and conferences, like the Paris Climate Change Conference in Nov. 2015 are a promising step in the right direction for international climate change efforts and paved the way for equally considerate discussions on campus.

The University in particular prides itself on the mindful efforts it has made to become a more sustainable campus, especially in conjunction with the greater environmental impacts of the region and of the state of Pennsylvania. Local issues like flood prevention and hydraulic fracking, for example, are topics that should be equally considered by the University community in addition to international discussions of climate change and global warming.

So, while the University may claim to be “green,” some environmental studies professors express that many of its projects are more for show and less for real efficiency, particularly in LEED-certified buildings across campus.

Bucknell Center for Sustainability & the Environment

The Bucknell Center for Sustainability & the Environment (BCSE) raises awareness for environmental issues on campus. According to their website, the goal of BCSE  is to educate people on how to advance and apply “understandings of natural systems and human-nature relationships.” They promote a Sustainable Design program that involves design projects between students, faculty, and staff. On April 4-8, BCSE hosted a Sustainability Symposium that brought together students and faculty to discuss the University’s role in global sustainability. Raising awareness and discussing campus sustainability is a great start for the University, but its projects in action are far less effective than they appear to be.

LEED Certified?

The University emphasizes that its new buildings (such as Academic West and Commons) are LEED certified, meaning that their design schemes have passed LEED criteria for sustainability. However, these titles and certifications mean very little. Professor of Geography & Environmental Studies Ben Marsh is unimpressed with the “sustainable” buildings.

“Academic West is not green; it is ‘green theater.’ It is the performance of greenness, what someone wants you to think green should look like,” Marsh said.

According to Marsh, the rooms are filled with high-wattage, resource-depleting electronics, and the LED lights don’t have switches so they stay burning for days.

“In 10 or 15 years we’ll look back at the hyperbolically ‘green’ design choices made in Academic West and be amused or mortified by how the style is … so 2010. It’ll be the architectural equivalent of a picture of your dad in a disco shirt,” Marsh said.

Executive Director of BCSE and Associate Professor of Environmental Studies Peter Wilshusen also thinks that the University could do more to become environmentally friendly. Like Marsh, he thinks that University LEED buildings aren’t very sustainable.

I have been advocating with others to pursue a much more open, integrative design process that could allow the University to benefit from sustainable design much more than is currently the case. I think that a building like Academic West succeeds in some ways but has not lived up to expectations in terms of functionality of office spaces or creating ‘warm’ gathering spots or ‘hearth spaces,’” Wilshusen said.

What Now?

So what more can the University do to live up to its sustainability ideals? Marsh believes that real progress will come when the University administration focuses less on making money and more on becoming efficient.

The University “will start to become sustainable when we decide that we should optimize the education we provide per unit of global resources invested, instead of maximizing the throughput of money for students as we do now. We need to look beyond our pretty bubble and recognize that our use of more money, energy, labor, and resources decreases safety and opportunities for other people across the world,” Marsh said.

Wilshusen advocates that our campus needs to look at other universities as an example.

There’s always more to be done and it is an ongoing process that takes time to unfold. We can continue to learn a lot from other Pennsylvania colleges and universities such as Penn State and Dickinson that have more fully embraced sustainability as a guiding set of principles,” Wilshusen said.

According to Wilshusen, there are four main priorities that the University should focus on. First, we must work efficiently towards the goal of being fully carbon neutral by 2030. Second, the campus planning and development needs to be relative to a master plan. Third, refine and rethink solid waste management and single stream recycling. And finally, the campus needs to find a way to compost food waste instead of sending it to a landfill.

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