Paradigms in Sustainable Societies: The Campus Community

A sustainable campus tends to think of itself as a whole entity that is adaptive to change. Most of all, this implies an acceptance of responsibility and implementation of benign solutions at the campus level. Sustainability defined by Robinson et. al, 1990 is the "persistence over an apparently indefinite future of necessary and desired characteristics of the socio-political system and it's natural environment." In a global context, other principles of sustainability include 'ecological footprints', 'economic-resource base integration with environment' and limiting consumption. Yet on a local scale, these issues are separated from us by our seemingly remoteness from them. Perhaps we are misguided? Ignorant maybe? Or are we missing something?

The campus is a prime example of a system to begin to examine sustainablility. A sustainable campus would be clean, green and attractive. This will provide the basis for a spiritually connected and diverse campus, as sustainability is a dynamic process of maintaining and enhancing social and biophysical resources. In essence, the campus will be an open and accessible environment for which involvement and co-operation is rewarded. There exists no completed version of a sustainable campus. Sustainability is not something that is ever truly achieved, however it is a continuous and evolving process.

It has been observed that a majority of Universities and comparable institutions fail to offer the curricula necessary in environmental studies, waste management, pollution control, and sustainability. Consequently, there is a lack of human resources directed towards the planning, control and implementation of sustainable resources and measures on campus. Who wants to learn about natural environments or sustainability on a campus where neither exists? To develop sustainability at the University of Waterloo requires further integration of sustainable programs into the curricula and campus environment. This provides the basis for the University of Waterloo to become a model campus for other communities and institutions that are moving towards the vision of sustainability.

This evolving process of sustainability will transform the University of Waterloo campus such that a healthier, more diverse ecosystem will exist. Part of this transformation will involve harmonizing the built environment with the landscape. All buildings will be retrofitted with the latest technologies in energy and water conservation accompanied by a zero tolerance policy on waste production. Alternative transportation, including walking and biking, will be the primary method of mobility, while vehicle access will be limited to emergency, delivery, and mass public transportation. Parking lots are obsolete as restoration has taken place in the form of gardens, native woodlots, natural foot paths and bicycle trails. The basic physical structure of the campus would be aesthetically pleasing while remaining open and accessible.

The scale of this transformation has been brought down to a personal level. The campus is advancing towards self-sufficiency as food is grown within the University. Processed foods are becoming extinct as fresh, low-fat foods are made available. An ecosystem approach to planning would be utilized when expanding or designing campus infrastructure.

Spiritually, the campus now provides a stronger sense of community and cooperation. All students are required to contribute their individual talents in the form of community service while supplementing their education with environmental studies. The most significant factor in the development of education, and in particular sustainability, is the University itself. They are centres for interaction between students and staff, a community not unlike the real world. Undoubtedly, in the complex world of today, education and academics must allow students to develop the ability to think through merits of competing social and environmental options. Students need to challenge authority and conventional wisdom in a constructive manner to strive for sustainability in a communal effort.

Another critical aspect of a sustainable campus would include naturalizing and improving the existing environment in terms of ecological diversity. Biologically and socially the systems that operate on campus would need to become interconnected to each other and to all other systems in the biosphere. More specifically, Laurel Creek would be renaturalized with abundant forms of native vegetation on its banks.

The campus can also be imagined as an ecosystem. Such a concept provides a tool to understand the complex relations between student activities and the environment, and how campuses can organize their activities to both meet human needs and benefit the environment. The impact of student activity on the environment can be highlighted by charting the dynamics of the system - the movement of materials and people, the flows of energy, the locations where energy is stored or expended, the rates at which wastes are generated and recycled. Looking at energy and water systens on campus in a holistic manner will show how student activities create pollution at a local, regional, and global scale. It can also be seen how these activities can be reorganized and reintegrated with natural processes to increase the efficiency of resource use, the recycling of 'wastes' as valuable materials and the conservation of energy. Along with the perception of a sustainable campus must also come a dramatic change in the attitudes of its' students and staff. Values would be re-examined to establish an appreciation for ecological and social diversity as well as conservation. The main goal behind these values would revolve around the need to maintain and enhance all resources on campus, and therefore aid in creating a more sustainable place for future generations.