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Going green

Ashley Braun and Morgan Dill | Monday, March 19, 2007

For Notre Dame, “going green” may entail more than just its usual flooding of the pristine lawns with overactive sprinklers.

The Sustainable Endowments Institute has recently called attention to Notre Dame’s forgettable commitment to environmental sustainability in its annual College Sustainability Report Card, in which ND received an embarrassing D-minus in sustainable endowment and campus greening practices (“Institute gives ND poor grade,” March 1). Unfortunately, it does not appear that the Institute actually communicated with anyone from Notre Dame knowledgeable about the area of sustainability before completing its analysis.

Some of Notre Dame’s top-20 competitors, such as Dartmouth and Stanford, received an A-minus in campus sustainability, the highest grade among all schools considered. A Dartmouth education, while it has about half our student population, has a price tag akin to Notre Dame at $43,341 with a $3.092 billion endowment, nearly matching our $4.4 billion. Given the comparable access to resources, Notre Dame is lagging far behind universities like Dartmouth in its commitment to sound environmental practices. The question then remains: What do these schools have that Notre Dame does not?

Harvard: 16 full-time professionals and 40 part-time student employees working for a Campus Greening Initiative. Grade received: A-minus.

Undoubtedly, the efforts of the newly reconstituted Notre Dame Energy and Environmental Issues Committee should be recognized, however we certainly cannot boast of an ambitious campus greening initiative like that of Harvard.

Dartmouth: An energy conservation professional who assesses and reduces fossil fuel usage and researches investment in Green Tag Renewable Energy Credits. Grade received: A-minus.

If Notre Dame had a comparable position, perhaps it could initiate participation in the U.S. EPA’s Green Power Partnership, which provides universities with the appropriate information and networks necessary for investing in renewable energy. Penn State and Duke are among the Green Power Partnership’s top-10 college users of clean energy. We may beat these schools in football, but not in combating climate change.

Williams College: This school decided to splurge an extra 20 cents per person per meal to purchase local, organic foods, resulting in a 30 percent increase in the last few years. Grade received: A-minus.

Williams, a small liberal arts college in Massachusetts, has one-fourth of our student body but only one-third our endowment. You may have seen a few new “Locally Grown” signs in the dining halls but considering Notre Dame’s expected 5.5 percent tuition increase next year, why not direct a few extra cents per person toward more sustainably produced and locally grown foods?

Furthermore, while Notre Dame may have an outstanding architecture school, its own building practices are anything but exemplary in terms of sustainability. Notre Dame has yet to integrate, and in fact has been resistant toward the implementation of, any LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) principles into its extensive construction habits, though not for lack of trying by some. Since our campus seems to be fenced off and under construction once again, what about the plans for the engineering and law school buildings? The new dormitories? Have green building techniques even been considered? If not, it’s not hard to imagine the vast amounts of energy which will be required or the volume of waste which will be produced by these buildings. Additionally, our (overworked) Building Services Department may report having recycled 13.7 million pounds of waste in 2006, but where are the outdoor recycling bins on campus?

In considering Notre Dame’s extensive environmental shortcomings, it must be said that the report card was not entirely accurate or complete. The University has indeed taken significant strides in promoting responsible environmental practices. For example, Notre Dame students took the lead in implementing the campus-wide recycling program. Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves reconstituted the Energy and Environmental Issues Committee. The presence of The Energy Center on campus, as well as faculty groups addressing environmental issues are also notable.

Professor Andy Weigert mentioned the importance of mobilizing students on the issue of the environment. There is such a place for students to become involved in the environmental movement at Notre Dame, and it has always welcomed students from a broad range of backgrounds. Notre Dame Students for Environmental Action (SEA) is a vibrant and active part of the Notre Dame community, working on campus, local and national issues. This semester, SEA is focusing on the development of an environmental and conservation fund with the development office, as well as planning a week of action and education leading up to Earth Day in April, with campus and community-wide events. We encourage you to question Notre Dame’s environmental policy, to speak up if you are frustrated, to educate yourself and become involved ([email protected]). In the words of Pope John Paul II: “The earth, with all its creatures, and the entire universe call on man to be their voice.” Our Notre Dame community cannot fail to be that voice.

Ashley Braun and Morgan Dill are

senior envioronmental science majors and co-presidents of Notre Dame Students for Environmental Action. They can be contacted at [email protected] or [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the authors and not necessarily those of The Observer.