The catalyst for our project was the ERS 285 textbook entitled Campus Ecology: A Guide to Assessing Environmental Quality and Creating Strategies for Change (Smith, 1993). This text was written by April Smith, a graduate student in UCLA's Urban Planning Program, as well as the Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC). These leaders have developed an investigative tool which evaluates the environmental state of university campus' and their systems. The rationale behind the campus investigation is that a more informed university body will be better able to implement changes to environmentally unethical policies and practices. For our project, we decided to evaluate the University of Waterloo using the Campus Environmental Audit Response (Smith, 1993) which is included at the back of Campus Ecology.This questionnaire asks basic questions about the university's various systems and their past and present environmental state.
In our vision of a sustainable UW campus we anticipated many possibilities for the future. We envisioned the widespread use of alternative energy sources, a reduction in energy consumption, natural landscaping, an efficient transportation system, among other things. However, one of the first challenges involved in reaching for sustainability is the essential yet often painstaking step of unearthing background information and compiling basic environmental data.
We, the Enviro-Base Team (EBT) met this challenge through completing the Campus Environmental Audit Response (CEAR). The CEAR serves as an inventory of the various components of the university such as energy, pest control, and procurement policies, thereby providing a benchmark for future environmental investigations. By providing basic data on various campus systems, as well as the sources from which the data was obtained, we eliminate some of the difficult groundwork for future environmental investigations. In our project we also illustrate our methodology, contacts, ideas, comments and problems. We also indentified areas where further research is encouraged.
Hopefully, the CEAR will be completed at regular intervals in the future in order to fulfill it's ultimate objective as an environmental progress report for UW. This information could then be used by those who wish to present alternative ideas, comments, or arguments for implementing changes to current campus practices, policies, and systems. Positive change, based upon the data collected in the CEAR, will keep UW on an environmentally sustainable path.
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The questions found in the CEAR formed the bulk of our study. The questionnaire encompassed a wide range of topics and involved numerous aspects of the university's operations. Data was gathered on many different subject areas as we tried to generally scope out UW's position on the path of sustainability. The components of the CEAR are segregated into three main sections.
Due to the scope of our project, the data collection process for the CEAR was multifaceted. During the initial project organization each of us began by choosing which sections of the CEAR we wished to explore. There are 20 sections in the CEAR, so each EBT member had about four to six sections depending on its depth.
We then had to find a way of obtaining this information. Our investigative plan can be summed up by the following questions:
Some of us encountered problems with gathering data. To solve these problems we placed the questions in the CEAR on-line. We had hoped that by making the document more accessible the university community would be eager and able to respond. We have kept the questionnaire on-line with the hope that the CEAR will be monitored yearly. It also provides our successors with the chance to obtain information in this way.
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Aside from the amount of knowledge to be gained in conducting the CEAR, the EBT's main challenge was to present this information to others. Following completion of our final project, the CEAR will be accessible through the WWW, and it will also be presented in written format for those without web access. The written copy will be available through members of The WATgreen Team. This document will open the eyes of many throughout the university, as it outlines UW's current environmental status, it's qualities, and areas of concern. We hope this initial document will encourage other students to be interested in what the EBT has developed, leading to a more informed campus community and sustainable university.
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When we first began to work on this project, we had only a listing of questions to use as a guide for obtaining information. However, the methodology to be used was not provided and had to be devised as we went along.
Recognizing that we would be approaching a large number of people who would undoubtedly be busy already, we were somewhat sceptical as to how successful we would be at getting everything we wanted. Much to our suprise, our requests were almost always met with as much enthusiasm about the project as we had, and the information was made readily available.
Once we had obtained all of the information, we had to decide what the most effective method of presentation would be. Our decision to post the project on the internet was based on the ability of this medium to get information to a large number of people very quickly. Very early in our use of the internet as our medium, we were able to gain first hand experience as to how effective a tool it was when we received e-mail from individuals in Texas and Ecuador who were interested in conducting a similar project at their University and wanted to use our methodology for data collection.
As mentioned previously, the CEAR is merely a shell used as a guide to collect the information needed to complete this project. The questions posed in this document provide a strong foundation for data collection in terms of creating an environmental data base for the University as we have attempted to do here.
However, the job of creating an effective data base does not necessarily end with the collection of basic information on various systems found within the University environment. Rather the CEAR has set footholds in the compilation of this kind of data at the University of Waterloo. In doing so, it has fostered the development of new ideas for further research. In collecting data, it became evident that some areas of the study had the potential for much more in depth study, so much so that they easily presented themselves as possible project ideas on their own. In creating this document, we hope that others will look at what we have produced and not only gather information from it, but also recognize the opportunity to take an idea from this piece and create a much more substantial information base in a given area, which may be added to this document to enhance its abilities as an effective data base.
Although the questionnaire was useful, it did not necessarily cover all of the bases. Once we had collected all of our data, it became evident that some of the systems within the University were almost completely ignored by the questionnaire. An example of this is landscaping. The university is situated on 900 acres of land which requires a massive amount of maintenance, which no doubt has a considerable effect of the environment. However, the parameters of the questionnaire did not include data collection in this area.
Recognizing the existence of these information gaps, we hope that the end of our involvement in the completion of the CEAR, does not mark the end of data collection for this project. The information found here will become dated very quickly and will require constant update. It is our hope that students enrolled in ERS 285 in the future will endeavour to reevaluate our creation and repeat the process we have laid out. In doing so, the CEAR will be available not only to students enrolled now and users of the internet today, but rather will become an integral part of the University recognized for its value as a research tool for generations to come.RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS