What Does Sustainability Mean on Campus?


Sustainable development and sustainability are fairly open ended terms. The Brundtland report defines sustainable development as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." This description of sustainable development is difficult to work with because it can mean so many different things to so many different people. Thus it is important to remember that "the achievement of sustainability does not simply mean restraint and the management of scarcity" (K.A Peacock, Sustainability as Symbiosis : 1995). Therefore, sustainability on the University of Waterloo's campus must include not only energy, water, waste, landscape and transportation, but it must include a broader range of aspects that interact with the university and beyond. These aspects of sustainability should be included because they are broad systems that are clearly evident on the University of Waterloo campus. Each system can be improved to facilitate the ideas of sustainability.

To improve the sustainability of the University of Waterloo campus, the sources and practices regarding energy must be considered. Changes to the campus, such as using energy efficient light bulbs in all lights on campus and turning off lights that are not in use, could reduce the amount of electricity used and the cost incurred by the university. The use of alternative energy sources, like wind and solar energy, could also decrease the cost and the amount of electricity the school requires from outside sources (like Ontario Hydro). Sustainable energy use would mean that the university could have an efficient, environmentally friendly way of powering lights and equipment without compromising the safety of students and faculty, and without a substantial increase in energy costs. An affordable source of energy would probably be the central concern of the university, so the sustainable energy practices would have to fit into the existing system without major renovations or alterations to the buildings on campus. For example, it would be more economically feasible for the university to install energy efficient light bulbs across campus rather than set up windmills to generate power for the university. Although both options would save on hydro-electricity, the installation of light bulbs would be cheaper. In the future, although the size of the University of Waterloo campus will have increased, the amount of energy being used will be decreased. The campus in the future may also look different because solar panels will cover the roofs of many of the buildings. These panels will provide enough power to run the energy needs of that structure. Buildings will be self-sufficient and have no need to rely on the power supplied by electricity companies. The North Campus field may also support several windmills for generating power. The installation of timer and sensor lights in the tunnels and buildings will reduce the university's future energy use. In the future, the university will be aware that it has reached energy sustainability only when it finds that there are no more options it can explore to reduce the amount of energy it uses. Therefore, when the university is operating as efficiently as possible, only using as much energy as it needs to operate while balancing safety and conservation, then it has reached the goal of having a sustainable energy system.

The University of Waterloo is located in a country that has a seemingly unending source of fresh water. We have developed a lifestyle that freely uses an overabundance of water. Although we have use of this precious resource, our current consumption of it is quite wasteful. Sustainable water use on campus would mean a drastic decrease in the volume of water used. Water conservation measures could be applied to all the toilets and showers on campus as well as to the landscape watering. Water conservation practices on campus should always strive to be better. It would be incorrect to suddenly decide that water saving practices are completely sustainable. As attitudes about water use change, different and more sustainable water consumption practices could be put in place. The constant goal of making water use more efficient and more sustainable will mean that we are getting closer to sustainability.

Garbage has become one of our most pressing social and environmental problems for three principle reasons. Firstly, we create too much of it, and as a consequence, we are running out of places to put it. Most of the garbage that is created ends up in landfill sites, which means that we lose the use of that land. Secondly, garbage pollutes. Landfills leak toxic liquids into the ground, and toxic gases into the atmosphere. Thirdly, garbage is a waste of resources, money and time (D. Gershon and R. Gilman, Household Ecoteam Workbook : 1995). Some of the major sustainable characteristics that the University of Waterloo will display when it becomes sustainable are; a reduction in waste creation, the use and application of the three R's and a reduction in resource use. One will be able to determine that the campus is a sustainable institution by the reduction in solid waste through recycling, source reduction and composting. The production and use of hazardous wastes will be minimized and the university will demonstrate characteristics of an eco-wise consumer. A sustainable University of Waterloo will be different from what we have now, because the institution will bring less garbage into the facility, it will reuse and recycle everything possible, all possible food waste will be composted, and facilitating programs will be implemented to encourage these practices.

Sustainability, as it concerns landscaping, should deal with preservation of existing landscapes and increasing new natural landscapes around the university without adding to environmental problems. Landscapes enhance the natural feeling of the university, and are a symbol of care and compassion for our environment. It would be easy to meet these goals by continuing with herbicide and pesticide use, and with just plotting natural features here and there. However, the problem with this tactic is that it does not satisfy the long term goals of maintaining and widening our landscape without environmental side effects. What needs to be done is a phased out herbicide and pesticide use to zero use. Within sustainability, natural rain water reserves will become water feeders to our landscapes. This step begins to include a wider role of the university system, rather than just the landscaping crew and their practices. Other influences of the wider system will include continuing to push bicycles, as well as deter garbage dumping, and increased recycling and administrative actions. These steps will secure the present landscape and open new non-existing areas to be turned into natural features. An old area that could be converted is parking lots, whose need will decrease with bike use. Uses for the converted parking lots could include a reservoir for the rain water, or as park and games areas. The sustainability of the landscape includes landscape practices, but it is also affected by the people who surround it, the better educated the students are, the less littering, and the more aware administration, the easier to put changes into effect. The future of landscapes will be an environmentally safe operation and one that adds to university life.

Presently, many aspects of the transportation system at the University of Waterloo are unsustainable. Our vision to allow the campus to be more sustainable can be stated simply...more bikes and less cars. The campus and surrounding areas are, in essence, an entire community, and one can fulfill most of their needs from within this small community. There is no need for students to drive cars while attending classes throughout the week. Driving is a convenience that destroys the environment. Our vision of the University of Waterloo campus will differ from now as everywhere one looks, they will be overwhelmed with the number of students enjoying themselves as they ride their bikes. The number of bike racks on campus will triple and the number of parking lots will decrease by fifty percent. Where there once was a parking lot, individuals will now be smashing tennis balls back and forth on the University of Waterloo's new tennis courts. Students and faculty will be encouraged to ride bikes as the price of parking will increase ten fold. The extra money raised by those still insisting on driving will go towards a subsidized program to help students purchase bikes. It will be extremely easy to notice when the University of Waterloo campus has become sustainable. All one will need to do is take note of their senses. One will no longer hear the noise of cars whizzing throughout the campus; there will no longer be the smell of exhaust in the air; and finally, individuals will see more bikes, racks and tennis balls. The greatest thing of all is with more bikes and less cars, the environment will become more sustainable for the future.

As we struggle to achieve sustainability, we predict many changes will occur throughout the campus. Although the alterations to the energy, water, waste, landscape and transportation systems on the University of Waterloo campus may make life a little bit harder and not as convenient as before, overall the area will be healthier for students, faculty, the environment and the future.