Going green on campus can be difficult on an individual level, but not when people work with each other. The Office of Sustainability has connected West Chester University students with a growing myriad of involvement opportunities and environmental services. From sustainable commuting options to on-campus gardening, to the reduction of fossil fuel energy, there are dozens of ecominded initiatives often gone unnoticed around campus.
As I entered into my first years here at West Chester, I picked up the fairly new Sustainability and Resilience interdisciplinary minor. The minor allows students to take sustainability-focused classes, whether they are writing classes or science classes. Alongside the minor, the university has developed a pathway certificate in sustainability, requiring a few less credits than the interdisciplinary minor. This way, students interested in climate change and want to tailor their degree to an environmental focus can do so.
Recently, Dr. Bradley Flamm, the director for the Office of Sustainability and Dr. Aliza Richman, chairperson of the Sustainability Council, sat down with me to discuss anticipated updates thp the university’s Climate and Sustainability Action Plan. The plan was previously made and signed around 2010, working to reduce emissions gradually and set a time frame to reach total carbon neutrality by 2025.
“We are not, in 2025, going to be completely carbon zero in all of our operations. It was important that we set that ambitious goal; it was aspirational and it was inspirational,” said Flamm.
The new updates to the Sustainability Action Plan will be focusing on specific branches of sustainability aspects on campus as well as dividing emissions into three scopes. Scope one consists of fossil fuel combustion in order to heat buildings. These are on campus emissions that are much harder to transition to carbon neutral alternatives because of all the technology involved.
“The office of sustainability is in a building on campus that is heated by heating oil; one of the most carbon intensive forms of heating. That’s a nice little irony there,” said Flamm.
Scope two emissions include what is emitting from generating electricity on campus. According to Flamm, this scope is the only scope that has hope to reach zero carbon emissions by 2025 like originally planned, because there is “a very clear path,” to begin purchasing electricity from renewable sources. On the other hand, scope three emissions consists of all the types of student and faculty transportation, individual waste and consumption, so the goal to have this scope of emissions reach carbon neutrality is expected to be revised and set at a later date.
Dr. Aliza Richman discussed the importance of having comprehensive sections for the new and upcoming climate and sustainability action plan: transportation, buildings, curriculum, food systems, zero waste, green spaces and purchasing. The way West Chester’s sustainable efforts have been organized into community, university and individual levels allows for the most growth and potential for a greener campus. “The establishment of the Office of Sustainability is a real hallmark of that growth and the importance that the university is weighing toward development,” said Richman.
Other recent initiatives that should be appreciated include waste reduction. The university’s new waste and recycling contractor, JP Mascaro, now accepts a longer list of recyclable materials than the previous campus contractor did. The new “Commute with Care” campaign encourages people to make greener and safer commuting choices; also helping reduce scope three level emissions. Graphic design student Paije Carbonell designed social media posts, website banners, posters and the kiosk banner on Church St., which provides information about transportation and shuttle schedules. With this campaign, it focuses on the promotion to make greener choices and utilize public transportation. “Hopefully through my designs, the message of being mindful about one’s carbon footprint will continue to be promoted,” said Carbonell.
The university also brings education back into the mix with the Sustainability Peer Educators program. Kristy Kingnan, the grad assistant for this program, told me about the program. It consists of students looking to educate and implement sustainable practices at an institutional level. In Lawrence Dining Hall, an eatery of many students that attempts to bring sustainability to the table, is establishing a reusable to-go container program.
“Currently it seems the program is taking some time to find its footing less because of a lack of student buy-in and more because students simply don’t know about it, so the SPE’s are working on spreading the word,” said Kingnan.
Other areas students can gain hands-on experience is utilizing the campus gardens, the Gordon Natural Area, and the Brandywine Project; more details are found on the Office of Sustainability website. Off campus, there is community connection to the borough of West Chester, as well. A group I have become involved with, The West Chester Green Team, is also connected to the school to gather people from the borough interested in fighting against pesticide usage, reducing and banning plastic bags, and promoting environmental action and literacy across town.
The university’s sustainability initiatives and connections have withstood the pandemic and grown in its outreach. According to Dr. Flamm and Dr. Richman, the university has been awarded for their green efforts by places such as The Princeton Review. The office promotes workshops about safe cycling, panel discussions and film series.
With a plethora of topics and activities to choose from, sustainability initiatives on campus are growing in many aspects. It paves the road for many other schools to follow in sustainable change. Dr. Richman also noted that Florida State University recently reached out to implement their own version of the Brandywine Project here. A hopeful future is not lost. As difficult it is to bear the weight of climate change and its consequences, seeing so many changes and viable, physical goals at this level means we could be on to something powerful as a community. There are plenty of platforms for people to voice all concerns — from harmful ice salts in the winter to inorganic chemicals used for campus landscaping — so if the university continues pushing for sustainable plans and projects, the world can surely follow.
Kristine Kearns is a second-year English major with minors in Creative Writing and Sustainability. KK947319@wcupa.edu