Sustainability - It Begins With Us!

The concept of "Sustainability" is a relatively new phenomenon. It is an idea that has generated a great deal of discussion and debate. Many have argued that sustainability is something that is unachievable and that it is simply the latest "buzz-word". However, we feel that while there may be some valid arguments against the feasibility of sustainability, there are also some very useful ideas and principles that have come out of the debate. Such principles can be applied through efforts to make our communities and living environments more in sync with the processes of the natural world.

To us sustainability is a continuing process; A process that ensures intergenerational equity of all living things and minimal environmental impact resulting in an enduring and enhanced resource base. An integral component of sustainability is education; many see education as the foundation for change. In light of this, it seems appropriate to explore sustainability on the University campus. The University of Waterloo's (UW) campus is an example of a community with the potential to incorporate and foster the principles of sustainability in the Kitchener-Waterloo area.

A sustainable campus would have certain distinct qualities. These would include a variety of characteristics specific to: social equity, a reduced ecological footprint and responsible decision making. Waste reduction, energy and water efficiency, ecologically sound building design and construction, more efficient transportation, greening of the built environment, reduced air and noise pollution, less stressful social environment and effective technology are all examples of increased sustainability that are elaborated on below.

Objectives and goals which the university would set could act as benchmarks towards our quest for sustainability. A recognition that sustainability is not a tangible or finite state. would allow for further guidance in the future. Striving for sustainability would be an ever evolving state which would require constant reevaluation of the status quo. Short and long term goals can assist in reaching specific objectives on campus. These are some of the characteristics a more sustainable UW would have in contrast to what already exists:

The campus administration would have improved the existing human systems in order to make them more equitable and accessible.

Waste on campus would be minimal. Garbage output would be drastically reduced from all departments in accordance with enforced maximum waste quotas and an extensive recycling program. Paper waste would not exist as all paper used on campus , if not recycled, would be re-used . Paper consumption would further be minimized to extensive use of the computers for communication and document processing. Water conservation would include filtration and redistribution. Organic waste disposal would not be necessary, as all organic matter would be composted and used as fertilizer. Non-recyclable garbage, such as styrofoam cups and plates, would not be allowed on campus due to University regulations.

Biotic naturalization would be another facet of a sustainable campus. Natural and native forms of vegetation would be grown inside and around every building. The architecture would allow plenty of natural light for vegetation, thus improving air quality and aesthetics. Open spaces around the buildings would not be mowed or flattened. Instead, trees and bushes would be growing with minimal need for fertilizers or pesticides. This would be done with due regard for safety on walkways and paths.

The pace of life in general would be less hurried. Time management combined with flexable work schedules would give people enough spare time to relax and get involved in activities, thus reducing stress levels. These changes would be attributed to a happier , more friendly environment.

All new buildings on campus would be constructed in accordance with guidelines set by the university regarding sustainability. Designs utilizing natural materials, whenever possible, would blend in with the natural environment . Less harsh lines and more inconspicuous exteriors, combined with the use of natural colors , would be ways to achieve this architecturally. The most advanced technological design including efficient energy, insulation and water systems would be used as well.

The amount of vehicular traffic on campus would be minimal, with only service vehicles allowed to drive within campus. There would be ample parking for bicycles . This would be responsible for reduced air and noise pollution. The cleaner air would be healthier and the reduced noise level would be conducive to a peaceful state of mind.

There is no set of specific indicators which would let us know that we have attained sustainability. As discussed previously, sustainability is not a static state. It is an ideal which requires constant change . We can, however, set a series of goals for the different campus systems which would show us how comparatively sustainable we become. For example, we cannot know exactly when we are consuming a more desirable amount of paper ; there will always be ways to cut back on paper consumption, but we can set a goal to reduce paper consumption by a certain percentage by a specific date. If that goal is attained, then we know that we are closer to our objective of sustainability in that area. These and other indicators would enable us to monitor our progress.

Several different indicators can be utilized on campus to allow us to measure our progress. By monitoring the different systems, such as water use , we can compare the figures for use , re-use and reduction to figures from previous years to see how far we have come. We will know when the campus has become more sustainable by comparison; when we are wasting less water, using less paper, recycling more materials, driving less often, composting more regularly and planting more trees. Using the figures we can seek ways to improve our efforts.

The University has an influential role in the greater community as an employer, major energy consumer and social resource centre. Thus we are in a position to lead in the initiation of efforts necessary for sustainability. We have the opportunity to set an example for the K-W area, other communities and other universities. Sustainability is a world-wide goal that can only be achieved through the innovation and leadership of individuals.

The End...or is it the Beginning???