Passionate environmentalists unite for Sustainability Plan revisions
Editor’s Note: Olivia Miltner, the sustainability implementation coordinator for the Office of Sustainability, works on The New Political staff as the research and development director, but did not contribute to this article in any way.
As director of the Office of Sustainability, Annie Laurie Cadmus wants to make carbon neutrality sexy again.
“When the Sustainability Plan came out in 2011, people were really excited because it was new and shiny. Now it’s about five years old and we need to hit the refresh button,” Cadmus said. “Sustainability is a lot like technology in that it changes rapidly. So after five years your cell phone for instance feels archaic, and that’s how we feel right now about the sustainability plan.”
Thirty-five benchmarks make up the Sustainability Plan, with subject matter ranging from greenhouse gases to recycling to buying local food. Rather than commandeer the document from behind the scenes, Cadmus and her team of environmentalists strive for it to be a true communal effort.
“We always joke around the office that we’re trying to work ourselves out of jobs,” Cadmus said. “It would be wonderful if everyone else on campus was doing sustainability so completely that we were deemed unnecessary. We’re trying to figure out how we can keep things in those departments and elsewhere on campus so that it’s not housed and fueled by us, so that if we were to disappear sustainability would still be happening.”
This semester, the campus involvement Cadmus describes has taken place in the form of task force meetings, which she dubbed “meet and greets.” The office divided the full list into subcategories, such as carbon neutralization, and scheduled a series of casual 90-minute discussions for interested parties to partake in.
Alex Burke, the vice president of finance for Graduate Student Senate, caught his peers up to speed on the university’s progress during the first carbon neutrality task force meeting on Sept. 21. Burke said the university is currently able to offset half of its emissions through the purchase of renewable energy credits through American Electric Power (AEP). That puts the administration ahead of schedule for its goal to hit 20 percent renewable energy by 2020.
“Being able to abide by the internal policies is a good sign that the university is taking these initiatives seriously, but I think there are more ways for improvement,” Burke, a second-year graduate student of environmental studies, said. “It should also include being part of a general move toward distributed generation, which essentially is having more people produce more of their own power to provide security and reliability to the electricity grid.”
He also thinks another key to the university reducing its overall greenhouse gas energy output is reducing the community’s energy intensity, which is the subject of the second Sustainability Plan benchmark.
“There are lots of improvements that need to occur on campus,” Burke said. “Whether this is getting to deferred maintenance or upgrading, or making sure all the buildings are going through the appropriate vetting process, we need to make sure we’re designing sustainable buildings to expand on the work that’s already being done in those areas.”
“Honestly, the university has had a lot of really incredible successes,” Cadmus said, noting the stepping stone toward carbon neutrality. “Lots of improved efficiency for our infrastructure has happened, they shut down the steam line here on campus which is the main source of energy, and they did major repairs to that steam tunnel which has created some extraordinary efficiencies for the university.”
One such pathway to locally-based greenhouse gas reductions is solar panel technology. There are currently six solar installations serving the campus: Panels are placed on the Innovation Center, at the West Green Water Plant, by the OHIO Ecohouse, on the composting facility, at Lausche Heating Plant and on the roof of Chubb Hall.
Office space 215 in Chubb Hall is serviced by a solar panel installation that would not exist were it not for the efforts of Administrative Specialist Brian McCoy. In 2003, he worked in Chubb 215, and became the campus’ first solar-power employee.
“Growing up I always had heard about alternative energy in high school and such and so I came to OU and my major here was hydroponic produce production,” McCoy said. “I did a bachelor of specialized studies here as an undergrad. And so that kind of started that with growing vegetables through alternative methods which led to my interest in solar and wind energy and it just kind of grew from there.”
After contacting the facilities department, Third Sun Solar and AEP coordinated to donate the structure and installation of the solar panels above McCoy’s desk. However, his determination for change as a faculty representative on the Ecology and Energy Conservation Committee (EECC) was sometimes met with mountains of red tape.
“I had made other recommendations on different experimental projects,” McCoy said. “There is an alleyway where I used to park up behind Bentley Hall and because of the way the buildings are located geographically in the city, there was a great opportunity for doing some wind turbine energy production. But there never seems to be enough money available or any simple process to do such projects.”
The existing process is through the EECC itself, and is open and available to anyone, Cadmus said. The committee serves as the monitoring agent of the Sustainability Plan, which was housed separately from her office in the name of accountability. Faculty staffers receive requests and can make subsequent recommendations for potential changes to the administration.
“When someone puts in a suggestion for an amendment change, they’re asked a series of questions,” Cadmus said. “They ask things like, ‘Have you talked to the people who would be responsible for this benchmark? Do they agree with you? Do you have their approval? What types of research did you do? What types of roadblocks could you potentially come into?’ They have to show that they’ve actually done some research rather than just putting in a flippant comment that doesn’t have any teeth.”
Burke is excited to generate conversations during the task force meetings, whether about comparing Ohio University’s solar performance to other schools, connecting with student environmentalists across the country or even implementing an educational program similar to The Ralph and Luci Schey Sales Centre.
“What we really want people feeling as they’re going through this process is hope about the future of sustainability, and that they feel included in the future implementation efforts and that they recognize that it’s every single person’s responsibility,” Cadmus said. “It’s really easy to be a part of a planning process and then create a nice, shiny document that then sits on a shelf and nobody pays attention to. What’s really difficult is creating a nice, shiny document that everyone cares about and pays attention to for five years and really tries to focus on implementing.”
For students like Burke, the next step is getting more students and community members active in the conversation. The first task force meeting had about eight attendees, which is a start, Burke said, but leaves plenty of room for improvement. When asked how to convey a sense of urgency on campus, he admitted there was no easy solution.
“I don’t have a good answer to that one exactly because that’s the thing that everyone who is in the sustainability-related passionate group, those who are working on it every day, wants to know,” Burke said. “I think we are searching for that key, how do you break that threshold to people who don’t really care but still have some underlying ability to help sustainability matters? I think if there was a succinct answer to that question there wouldn’t be as many problems in the first place.”