Villanova goes green



Chelsea Woods

What does it mean to be “green”? Everyone knows the term; they’ve heard it on news channels, read it in articles that flood the front pages of newspapers and skimmed over it on the covers of magazines featuring celebrities “going green.” Global warming and the dire conditions of our global ecosystem remain hot-button issues on Capitol Hill. There is an increasing initiative to educate the younger generation on the importance of environmental responsibility, giving rise to numerous school programs and an increase of environmental science courses at high schools. But the question remains: What do we really know about our relationship with our environment? What does it really mean to be “green”?

On Sept. 17, students received a glimpse into how Villanova is striving to answer these questions. University President Rev. Peter Donohue, O.S.A., made an appearance at the Spit to give a talk on the Campus Climate Commitment, a little-known but important document signed by the University last January. The Commitment, a contract focusing specifically on the environmental progress of college campuses, is a program that asks each signed university to evaluate its unique situation in relation to the environment. The goal is to reduce the “carbon footprint of universities,” according to the Commitment. Each school must submit an energy plan stating what it is doing, what is being planned and how it will move forward. Currently, 400 institutions nationwide have signed on.Donohue spoke about how Villanova is trying to be “an institution that says the environment is important.” One of the ways we do this, he says, is by signing the Commitment. Already the initiative is evident around campus. With new developments such as the new athletic center, nursing school and law school, Donahue made it clear that they will be certified “green” buildings according to LEED Certification (codes that rate energy conservation in new and existing buildings). Many places on campus are already moving toward greater energy efficiency and environmental friendliness. The new roof on the CEER building reduces heat transfer. Solar panels are also being studied as a possible inlet for energy on campus. The porous structure of the asphalt on campus allows water to run through and back into the ecosystem.However, the movement toward environmental harmony at Villanova did not begin with the signing of the Campus Climate Commitment. In April 1993, the University was formally designated as an arboretum, and in July 1996, all trees on campus were labeled with botanical ID tags. The environmental movement gained more momentum in 2000, when the VQI Environmental Team was created. The team has been instrumental in bringing about many changes, including a Green Purchasing Policy in 2001. According to the policy’s Web site, “Green purchasing is the practice of purchasing products and services that are less harmful to the environment.” The Green Purchasing Committee within VQI is responsible for annually reviewing the purchase and use of “green” products on campus. The University also has a Sustainability Policy that falls, according to the document, “in accordance with the Common Declaration of Environmental Ethics, signed on June 10, 2002 by Pope John Paul II, as a ‘rejection of unsustainable patterns of consumption and production.’ ” The policy, created in 2004, has two goals. The first is to conserve and “make wise use of resources within the University community.” One major way in which the University is accomplishing this goal is through the recycling program on campus. Started in 1990, the program made recycling easier for students, faculty and staff. The second goal of the policy is to promote environmental literacy and responsibility among students, faculty and staff. The Environmental Learning Community, a part of the Augustine and Cultural Seminar, is one way in which this goal is achieved. “The environmental focus of this learning community aims to examine the relationship of humanity and the natural world as it has appeared over the course of history and encourage a critical awareness of the immediate environments surrounding us, including Villanova, Philadelphia or students’ hometowns,” Dr. Carol Newell, one of the professors for the learning community, says. The learning community, added two years ago, is designed to bring students with similar interests in the environment together to study in a classroom. “Whereas another course might take on friendship as its theme, this one takes on the environment,” Dr. Newell says. “Some of the texts are even the same ones you would find in another ACS course, but at least some of our discussion … centers on questions of how [the] texts elucidate our understanding of how humanity has perceived its natural environment.” In this way, the course gives a well-rounded perspective on the relationship between humanity and the environment throughout history. Education is the vital key to making a significant environmental difference. “Most students are unaware of … the changes that Villanova plans to take on,” says Laura Conciatori, president of the Villanova Environmental Group. “VEG’s mission at VU is to work on campus to build awareness of environmental concerns relevant to our lives and our school along with off-campus activities to pro-actively help the environment. The major issues VEG is concerned with are recycling initiatives, energy/resource conservation and new environmental energy sources.” Conciatori talks with excitement about some of the future plans of VEG, such as a possible recycling demonstration at the Oreo. “We want to inform students about the importance of recycling and the detrimental effects it has for the school and planet that excess, non-recycled waste can cause,” she says. “Villanova Recycling has put forth a great effort to increase the amount of material recycled on campus. The encouraging signs above the recycling bins are gentle, yet effective, reminders to the students.” Of the Campus Climate Commitment, Conciatori says it is “an exciting new development here at VU. It has the potential to make Villanova a ‘greener’ campus and have a positive impact on the environment. I am particularly excited about the suggestion by the commitment to require at least 15 percent of electricity to come from renewable sources; VEG has long wanted VU to use wind power as a source of its energy.”This is a sentiment Donohue shared at the Campus Climate Commitment forum. He spoke of wind energy as a possibility; in fact, an alumnus donated a windmill farm in the deserts of California to the University. However, energy savings do not necessarily translate into monetary savings. The president made it clear that directives for sustaining the Villanova environment come with a price tag. Some, however, say that, in the long run, these efforts give back far more than they take away from the pocketbook. “It might be hard on tuition, but I feel it’s worth the cost,” freshman Elizabeth Lindner says. Lindner is also a member of VEG. She likes the direction the club takes when approaching issues related to the environment. She hopes there will be even more opportunities for the club to be active on campus in the future. Like Conciatori, Lindner says the most vital component to moving forward is awareness. “The less that people know about the environment, the longer it’s going to take for us to make progress,” Lindner says. “For example, many people think that just because something is made of plastic, you can recycle it. This isn’t always the case. The more education that’s out there, the more efficiently our environmental goals can be achieved.”Environmental education is going to be a key aspect of a Villanova experience in the future. “In the long run, we are stealing from our generation and generations to come,” Donohue said. “We have the ability, the intellect and the financial resources [to do this].”