What Does Sustainability Mean on Campus?

In today's world the phrase "sustainable development" exists to some as an unattainable goal within our society, while to others it encorporates a kaleidescope of ideals and opinions depending on the country and region in which a person lives. A community such as the University of Waterloo can never truly be regarded as sustainable in absolute terms. It is an indefinite process and can not be illustrated through isolated observation. For us to begin to evaluate the sustainability of a system such as the University of Waterloo, we must define our own terms of what we believe sustainability should approach according to our own region. Sustainable development we believe should integrate conservation and development while keeping the options open for future generations. Our essay not only describes the characteristics of a sustainable university, but how we know when it is sustainable and how it would differ from what we have now.

In order to have a sustainable University, we would have to make the campus as "green" as possible. This would include extensive recycling programs to recycle glass, cans, paper and all other recyclables in all areas of the school. the use of cars as transportation would have to be reduced as much as possible by encouraging car pooling, public transit, walking and bicycling. We would have to increase energy efficiency and resource energy use by turning off lights in empty room and maximizing the use of natural sunlight. Composting programs should also be started in cafeterias, Coffee and Donut shops and the residences.

A sustainable UW would also include as many natural areas a possible where native species of plants and animals can thrive. it would include environmentally aware and educated students, who upon leaving UW can return to the community their ideas and expertise. Social equity among all classes, races and programs should be actively promoted in order for all to benefit equally and positively from the university experience. The number of students must be at a level which does not exceed a predetermined carrying capacity. Inputs such as money, technology and other essentials must be minimized to reduce the University of Waterloo's reliance on external factors. In order to be sustainable UW must be as self reliant as possible. It must also have a free flow of information between all faculties and departments to allow for environmental and technological advances to benefit everyone, and with this a body of students to govern this as each generation of students moves on.

Attributes of sustainability that would indicate that UW is sustainable can be evident on campus, and these attributes are often easier to recognize than the dynamic concept of sustainability. Several indicators could be useful in illustrating that the campus is on a positive path towards a more sustainable future. Certain general indicators, such as social and ecological stability, and reduced waste, energy and other harmful flows reveal the trends of the campus. An environment were all social, ethnic, and sexual groups are well represented is certainly an indicator of increased intellectual diversity, and hence, a more sustainable future.

Quantitative and qualitative examinations of efficiency and sufficiency also are excellent indicators of a sustainable community. By increasing the efficiency of campus operations, while reducing the community's dependence on unreliable external markets, the University of Waterloo can develop a resiliency to outside forces while allowing for reliable sufficiency with minimized waste production. As the University's primary mandate is education and research, efficiency and sufficiency will best be represented in these areas. Self-funding, intellectual freedom and individualized curriculums would illustrate and institution capable of upholding its mandate well into the future with little detriment to future students or to the surrounding environment.

Material efficiency is also crucial, even though the achievement of material self-sufficiency on campus is unreasonable. the environmental resiliency of the campus environment and environs well be excellent indicators of both changing ideologies and changing practices in terms of waste.

Another indicator of sustainability is the safety of the population. Reduced crime through changing ideals will ensure the long-term success of the University. Anti-social behavior is not conductive to long-term stability. Regeneration should occur through intelligent discourse and rational decision making.

We can never know when the university has become sustainable. Systems are dynamic, complicated entities. However, certain indicators will appear that should show on which path a society is traveling. A sustainable campus requires the even distribution of all groups, efficiency and sufficiency in terms of materials as well as education, environmental stability as well as the security of all members of the university community. How would a sustainable University of Waterloo be different then the current one? The new campus would have many design changes. Many of the old buildings would either be replaced, or upgraded to higher energy efficiency designs incorporating passive heating and natural landscaping. The students would be a population of people aware of their ecological footprint, and willing to take responsibility for reducing the size of it. The current spread out design, would be replaced with a more centralized, concentrated center, allowing easier foot travel. While the easiest changes to spot would be the technical differences, I believe that it is not technology that would cause sustainability. The true change would be in the people. Everybody on campus would be looking at the long term as well as the short term. We would all individually have to take responsibility for our actions, and change our lifestyles to match this new responsibility. It is only through mental change, that we can achieve true sustainability.