PUBLISHED: 5:38 PM on Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Growing a green campus
Alaska universities push for sustainability
Universities on the last frontier are striving for more sustainable campuses and greener classes despite their distant locations.

All four larger universities, including the University of Alaska at Anchorage, Fairbanks and Southeast campuses, and Alaska Pacific University, run recycling programs of some form as well as offer majors in Environmental Studies. Though all are doing slightly different things to become more sustainable, their goals are headed in the same direction: Alaskan universities are going green.

  The four major Alaska universities have all taken steps in recent years to become more environmentally aware, but each is pushing to do more.
Juneau's UAS campus offers majors in Environmental Science and Planning and includes an Environmental Literature option for English majors. Though they have a recently - formed sustainability committee and a student-run paper recycling program, assistant professor of English and sustainability committee member Kevin Maier thinks the school has much to accomplish.

"I don't think (the school) is green, but we're on our way," he said. "Part of not being green is just a function of being in Alaska, its difficult to be sustainable here and maintain lower 48 standards. Only three percent of our food is local ... the ecological footprint of what we eat is giant. It's almost impossible to be completely sustainable here because of the location."

There are not currently organic food choices at UAS. Maier said that it's an area of student interest but an area of economic technicality.

"The food service is not part of the university so we can make suggestions, but don't necessarily have control over that," he said.

UAS has installed compact fluorescent bulbs in most campus areas as well as sensors so they turn off when not in use. And though many departments are working to improve sustainability individually, according to Maier they "just haven't begun to formally organize them yet."

"It has to happen between the three groups of administration, faculty and students. Too frequently those camps remain separate," he said. For me, the best part of the recent sustainability forum was to see all three groups discussing. It makes much more sense to be doing this all together."

Faculty from all departments are coming together to organize a center for sustainability and are at the grant writing process.

According to Alaska Pacific University president Doug North, environmental literacy is "built into the woodwork" of APU's curriculum.

"I'd say we're dyed's so much a part of the general consciousness that I don't think you come out of APU feeling that you are environmentally illiterate," North said.

APU is the charter signatory of the American College and University President's Climate Commitment, which commits a school to implementing a plan to go "carbon neutral" within two years of signing. The institution is also part of the Eco-League, a signatory of the Talloires Declaration, in which institutions of higher learning commit to 10 actions of sustainability and also are a National Wildlife Federation associate.

The APU sustainability committee, which started four years ago, is focusing on campus lighting and roofing this year. Their entire $4,000 budget plus an additional $36,000 from the university went into new lighting.

The recycling program includes mixed paper, plastic, aluminum and glass. Organic food choices are available in their cafeteria, coming in part from their 700-plus acre Kellog Farm in Palmer, the school made a decision about four years ago that they would not use disposable items.

"We don't use paper plates, plastic cups or forks for university events. Instead of that the sustainability committee ... used their budget to buy reusable items," North said.

This year APU is putting about $2.3 million into new roofs and insulation to improve building sustainability.

University of Alaska Anchorage's bike friendly campus has implemented a shuttle system to reduce travel emissions, an increase in use of video conferencing to reduce travel and a new major energy policy. The hope of the energy policy is to save greenhouse gasses as well as lower cost.

"We are much greener compared to where we were five years from now," said Larry Foster, associate professor of mathematics and chair of the UAA Sustainability Council. "But from where we want to be five years from now, we're still brown."

UAA signed the Talloires Declaration in 2004 and the Presidents Climate Commitment in 2006. UAA has set out on a yearlong project to measure the school's carbon footprint. Upon results, recommendations will be made for what faculty and students can do on an individual level.

UAA also has a recycling program for which they just rebuilt a donated diesel crew cab into a recycling grease truck.

"We run it on vegetable oil from our dining halls and it runs around campus collecting the paper," Foster said. The school plans to expand their program to take plastic and aluminum.

As far as organic food choices go, Foster says, its difficult to go organic in Alaska.

"Our students want it ... and when students want things, you get them. I'm really convinced that we are moving in that direction and I think we are moving fairly quickly to it," Foster said.

"Organic food choices are a really good example of where UAA, UAF and UAS could join forces because we have a common food provider. If all three campuses did that then it would be much easier to do."

With recent faculty cross-training in environmental education the school has a goal of having 25 percent of classes include topics in global climate change, sustainability, or green house gasses and ecology.

"Students are impatient about these things ... and quite frankly its absolutely needed," Foster said. "We have to have their impatience to keep our momentum up. We count on them. When we want something done fast, as faculty, we get our students involved, and then it happens."

Students at University of Alaska Fairbanks are building sculptures using the number of bottles, cans and paper that is used on average in a day so that it becomes more visible for people.

Last month the UAF Master Planning Committee added a goal to their list stating they want to make it a sustainable campus.

"It's not green at the moment but we're starting to change and I think it will start happening quickly," said associate professor of Resource Management Planning Susan Todd.

The campuses chapter of the Sustainable Student Task Force, which has been there for 10 years, has already seen that things don't happen immediately.

"But they just have dogged commitment to not give up and are finding more people to jump on board," Todd said.

Besides recycling, environmental science classes and the beginnings of green building design one of their cafeterias are experimenting with biodegradable utensils and may soon eliminate trays because less waste is produced if trays aren't used, according to Todd.

Even though going organic is difficult in Alaska, UAF has one roof top garden going and hope to have a community garden on campus for students who want to raise their own food.

"For a university we can only do so much greening by ourselves," said Foster of UAA. "I think the next major step in Alaska, because we're so isolated, is for all four of the larger campuses to join together on major projects and I think within the next year that might happen."

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