ND develops strategies to achieve sustainability
John Tierney and Aaron Steiner | Friday, September 26, 2008
Editor’s Note: This is the third installment of a multi-part series examining sustainability at Notre Dame.
To make the goal of sustainability a reality for Notre Dame, the University must pay careful attention to both economic and environmental factors, according to the Director of the Office of Sustainability Jim Mazurek.
“[We want to] balance environmental and economic parts as well as the short-term and long-term goals of the University,” Mazurek said.
According to Mazurek, the campaign for sustainable energy is not solely an environmental movement. He said the University’s motivations are far more strategic than to base to their policy on “doing things because they’re environmentally friendly.”
GreeND president Lourdes Long agrees that the Office of Sustainability, where she serves as a student intern, needs to make sure that they balance the checkbook with their concern for the environment. “There’s a tension, but there needs to be an awareness,” Long said.
She stressed the overlap between the two concerns – economic and environmental – of sustainable policies. “You can make a financial argument for a lot of these investments,” she said. “The payback is staggering.”
Georges Enderle, a professor of Business Ethics, says that being on the right side of moral issues often coincides with making a profit when it comes to sustainability. He pointed to General Electric Chairman and CEO Jeffery Immelt’s comment at Wednesday’s Notre Dame Forum on Sustainable Energy that he justified launching Ecomagination, a GE division focused on developing green technologies, with two reasons – an expectation of profitability and because “it’s the right thing to do.”
“You need to argue on both sides,” Enderle said.
University Vice President of Business Operations Jim Lyphout said that whichever motivation for sustainability might be cited, the financial and environmental benefits come hand-in-hand.
“I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive,” he said. “Because you do it for one reason doesn’t mean you can’t do it for the other.”
Lyphout added that however one might justify the move towards sustainability, the University has an ethical obligation to act in environmentally friendly ways.
“We have a moral and an ethical reason to conserve our resources,” Lyphout said, regardless if it is done for economic or environmental reasons.
Theology Professor Margaret Pfeil said Notre Dame’s obligation is also influenced by the University’s unique Catholic character.
“I think a commitment to sustainable living flows from the whole Catholic social tradition,” she said, noting that the tension between economic and environmental motives is also affected by Notre Dame’s Catholic mission.
“Moving the University toward greater environmental sustainability may make good economic sense, but as a Catholic university, we can offer a much deeper moral and theological rationale for a ‘green’ ND,” she said.
The one piece of rationale Mazurek rejects is the notion that Notre Dame is moving to sustainability purely based on improving its “image.”
“It’s a valid point,” he said of the criticism, but he points to the quantifiable goals his office has set, and added that the University intends to be completely transparent about achieving those goals.
Mazurek conceded that he was a bit “surprised” at how eager University officials were to being so transparent, which should go a long way in proving their actions are not motivated by improving Notre Dame’s image, he said.
“It’s important to be transparent along the way, even about missteps and negative things,” he said. “If we have a dip in recycling, because it’s February and people aren’t recycling as much, we’re going to be transparent about it.”