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Panel discusses sustainability in cities

Rebecca Moriarty | Friday, March 4, 2011

South Bend and the University of Notre Dame must work with individuals to become more sustainable, members of the Sustainable Cities Panel determined.

Students for Environmental Action hosted the event Thursday.

Officer for Students for Environmental Action Regina McCormack said citizens hold the key to improving sustainability.

“We often talk about what cities can do to be more green, but today we want to extend the conversation to what individuals can do,” she said.

Director of the Office of Sustainability Heather Christophersen said sustainability is an integral part of Notre Dame’s mission.

“It is important to our Catholic faith,” she said.

Christophersen said the Church has made changes to be more sustainable, starting from the top. She said Vatican City is the first carbon-neutral country in the world, with the Vatican Museum adding solar panels to its roof. Notre Dame has adopted the Church’s view about the importance of sustainability, she said.

“The negative impacts of climate change often falls most heavily on the poor and as Catholics, it is our duty to care for the poor,” Christophersen said.

Christophersen said sustainability has an effect on the reputation of a university. The University hopes to decrease its carbon footprint and its waste output, in addition to teaching students about green living, she said.

“[Notre Dame] hopes to educate us to change our behaviors on campus in the hope that we will take those behaviors and practice them at home also,” Christophersen said.

Christophersen said the University has encouraged sustainability on campus, with a new community garden, more courses regarding sustainability and special events such as the dorm energy competition and Energy Week.

Municipal Energy Director Jon Burke said South Bend has begun to encourage sustainability. The city just started an office of energy in September, he said.

“We’re in the embryonic stage,” Burke said.

Burke said South Bend’s solution to become more sustainable starts with each citizen of the city.

“Programs to increase sustainability aren’t going to be enough,” he said. “The solution is really going to come when individuals decide they are going to adopt a sustainable lifestyle.”

Burke said students must always play an important role in improving sustainability.

“I plead to you to get involved with sustainability because it’s going to affect you a lot more than it will affect me,” he said. “For centuries students have been the driving force for social change.”

Architecture professor Lucien Steil said constructing economically friendly structures is important. He said buildings are the greatest source of carbon emissions.

“We have to become citizens of the planet again,” Steil said.

Industrial design professor Ann-Marie Conrado said products we use daily can be detrimental to the environment. She said the University is recycling-friendly.

“On this campus, the only thing that isn’t recyclable is food waste,” Conrado said.

Conrado said current recycling bins do not cater to this, as the area for recyclable waste is significantly smaller than the area for trash. She said improving the small things goes a long way in working towards sustainability.

“Through design we can actually educate and change behavior,” Conrado said.