A SUSTAINABLE UNIVERSITY THROUGH

ECOLOGICAL CONSCIOUSNESS

ERS 285 Paul Kay

Submitted by:

Renate Gepraegs, Bronwen Smith, Caroline Manson

19 May, 1997


There has been an increasing awareness of environmental issues in recent years; however, to achieve sustainability in a system such as the University of Waterloo, students and staff must further develop an ecological consciousness. In previous years, ERS students have performed visioning exercises to describe their expectations for a sustainable university. Many suggestions have been made regarding the ideal physical outlook of the campus. Through these exercises we realized that specific underlying factors must first be addressed before any permanent physical changes can become an integral part of the system.

Respect for organisms and their habitats, responsibility for actions, and the implementation of sustainable processes are fundamental elements critical to the development of a healthier environment and ecological consciousness. To develop ecological consciousness there are various steps to consider:

Anthropocentric values do not often include the type of respect which is inherent to the concept of ecological consciousness. Root characteristics of such an awareness include; recognizing the needs of other organisms, understanding the niches that they fill, and appreciating their critical role in a biologically diverse and productive system.

Personal responsibility acquires a significant purpose as it stems from the realization of the importance of organisms. Acknowledging that all components of a system are interconnected creates a conscious desire to rehabilitate environmentally degraded systems. Through these preliminary stages progressive changes will occur resulting in the blossoming of a sustainable university.

To determine if the fundamental elements of ecological consciousness have been integrated into the University environment, products of these ideals can be investigated. A sustainable system ensures that ecological integrity is preserved and enhanced. Attitudes and values can be measured through physical, biological, and chemical indicators (Table 1).

To test respect on the Waterloo campus the practice of pesticide use on the grounds can be critically examined. Various adverse effects result from pesticides because they can infiltrate into the biotic and abiotic systems. This not only exemplifies insufficient respect for the complexities of the environment, but also demonstrates a lack ecological consciousness.

Table 1: Ecological Consciousness Measurements

Realization of Problem

Responsibility of Actions

Implementation of Sustainable Processes

use of pesticides and artificial fertilizers eliminate chemical use plant native vegetation
erosion of berm at parking lot build walkways and naturalize remove or do not build a parking lot
excess non-reusable cutlery and dishes recycle replace with reusable cutlery and dishes
commuting to university make parking expensive minimize parking on campus,

create need for cycling and walking

students eating too much unhealthy food reduce production of deep fried food create community gardens on campus
too many unused newspapers (Imprint and Gazette) reduce output limit reading areas and post on Internet
use of natural resources for construction,

furniture and other products


excessive use of energy

reduce and reuse materials


implement energy saving devices,

turn off electrical equipment when not in use

purchase only from ‘green’ businesses


implement alternative energy sources (e.g. solar or wind power) when feasible

Taking responsibility for previous and current use of pesticides and artificial fertilizers would involve a rehabilitative approach. Specific sites, for example drainage ditches and Laurel Creek, are highly susceptible to chemical concentration and could be targeted for naturalization. Reeds and rushes planted in water zones will help filter contaminants and a more natural water course would abate eutrification. Those who take action at this symptomatic level and do not consider the underlying problem are still in the first stages of developing ecological consciousness. They are not yet able to visualize the full complexity of the situation which is vital to establishing sustainable ecosystems.

Ascertaining the actual source of a problem and rectifying it (e.g. eradicating the implementation of chemicals for grounds use) is exemplary of the final stage of ecological consciousness. Evolution from an anthropocentric view to a more ‘ecocentric’ approach has occurred. Currently there are numerous examples of environmental problems on campus that need to be addressed and amending these conditions can be approached in various ways. The method in which problems are resolved indicates the level environmental consciousness that participants are at. It is only when those involved display a high level of respect, responsibility, and motivation that true sustainability on campus can be achieved and maintained.