Sustainability office, students create lively political dialogue

By By Rita Totten , Staff Writer and By Rita Totten

By Rita Totten , Staff Writer

True to its name, the Office of Sustainability held an open forum Wednesday afternoon in a room lit only by sunlight8212;but disagreements quickly darkened the forum’s tone.

In April, U President Michael Young signed a climate commitment saying that he would present the U’s Climate Action Plan for May 2010 detailing how the campus would become more sustainable. The Office of Sustainability decided it would hold forums in November to collect ideas from students, faculty and staff. Wednesday was its first forum, but what was originally designed as a meeting place for individuals interested in sustainability to share their ideas turned into a heated discussion on the politics of sustainability.

It all started when Leo Stanko, a staff member for the veteran affairs office, wanted to know what the political climate surrounding sustainability was like.

“How do people respond to the office?” Stanko asked a room of nine people.
Myron Willson, director of the Office of Sustainability, said the efforts of his office have tremendous support from Young and his administration.

Following the political line that had been drawn, Jonathan Crawford, a senior in finance, expressed his concerns that the office might be alienating more than half the campus, which he deemed to be conservative.

“I look at sustainability as a leftist issue,” Crawford said. More should be done to focus on cutting energy

consumption instead of implementing expensive plans and projects, he said.
“I don’t hear the Office of Sustainability saying, “Let’s have students on campus less,’ ” Crawford said.

But the No. 1 project the office is focused on is avoiding energy emissions in the first place, said Jen Colby, sustainability coordinator for the office.

Implementing the expensive plans are the office’s last priority, Willson said. He also said the office needs to do a much better job of communicating to the campus community what its plans and intentions are.

Young, whom Willson called a conservative, studied the climate commitment for a year before he signed it. Facilities Planning is fully behind the efforts of the office because they see its staff is saving money, Willson said.

The Climate Action Plan is about efficiency and saving money, “and I don’t care how we get there,” Willson said, acknowledging the dichotomy that could exist in the political world regarding sustainability.

“I want to create a dialogue,” Willson said.

In an effort to shift the discussion back to the intended brainstorming efforts, Willson again opened the floor to ideas regarding sustainability issues.

Noticing a large amount of bikes on campus, Stanko suggested incentives for people who don’t drive to campus but instead commute on bike or other alternatives.

“The U should be picking up on what the cycling population is doing,” Stanko said.
Although the forum took a different avenue than previously intended, Colby said it was the most lively conversation the office staff has had in a while.

Colby said an additional forum would be held on Tuesday, with more to follow in late January and early February to revisit the issues.

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