Solar panels on top of the Music A building. | File photo by Walter Hackett

Room for improvement

University sustainability assessments reveal strengths and weaknesses of Humboldt State University's campus wide environmental impact

University sustainability assessments reveal strengths and weaknesses of Humboldt State University’s campus wide environmental impact

Humboldt State University’s total energy consumption from clean and renewable resources is .07 percent, according to figures from a 2017 sustainability assessment report.

In another assessment, HSU ranked 31 out of 269 college institutions as being a sustainable “cool school” according to Sierra Club rankings.

The ranking was based on unique Sierra Club metrics which the Club said were designed to measure how a university is addressing the climate crisis. The ranking included scores from categories such as research, air & climate, energy, water, and waste.

According to the Sierra Club website, the organization ranks schools on sustainability in order to serve as a guide for prospective students, and to raise environmental standards on university grounds.

HSU sociology major Isaiah Hall said he wasn’t aware of the Sierra Club ranking. Hall, who plays on the Lumberjacks football team, said students would benefit if the university focused on sustainability upgrades such as LED lights and more solar panel arrays.

This was the first year HSU participated in Sierra Club’s annual ranking system. Notable universities that ranked higher than HSU included: UC San Diego, Chico State and UC Irvine. Chico State was ranked 9.

In order to participate in the Sierra Club “cool school” ranking HSU had to forward data from a separate and more comprehensive university sustainability tracking report which was compiled in 2017.

The more extensive report, The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System, is an online tool that universities can use to measure their campus-wide sustainability.

Katie Koscielak works as a Sustainability Analyst for HSU and is responsible for coordinating the campus sustainability report.

Koscielak said compiling data for participation in the assessment was an expansive project spanning collaboration from 25 university departments.

Humboldt State has participated in two Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System reports. The first STAR report was in 2013. The latest report in 2017.

According to Koscielak between the first and latest reports HSU improved by 14 percent and went from a silver to gold rating. The reports are public and specific details about HSU’s score can be found online.

“This indicates we’re performing well,” Koscielak said.

In the latest rating HSU received a gold star, which requires a minimum rating score of 65. HSU received a score of 69.28.

Gold is the second highest rating category currently in place. Platinum, which requires a score of 85 or higher, is the highest. Only four schools have platinum ratings: Colorado State, Stanford, UC Irvine, and the University of New Hampshire.

Ratings are considered valid by The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education for three years.

In the 2017 report, HSU scored high in academics, engagement, and the planning and administration credit sections. The school received poor marks in operations.

The operations credit section includes: air and climate, buildings, energy, food & dining, grounds, purchasing, transportation, waste, and water categories. The university scored lowest in buildings, energy, food & dining, grounds, and transportation.

HSU strongly promotes social and environmental responsibility in its mission statement as well as commitment to sustainability and environmental economic and social responsibility in its vision and values.

However, In the report HSU energy received poor scores due considerably to having a total energy consumption from clean and renewable sources of less than 1 percent.

“We have room for improvement,” Koscielak said.

Koscielak said that launching renewable energy projects can be extremely expensive and larger universities tend to have advantages in this regard because of more funding opportunities.

By comparison UC Irvine has a total energy consumption from clean and renewable sources of 2.14 percent. In fall of 2017, Irvine had enrollment of over 35,000.

Another category HSU received low scores on in the operation category was Grounds. Credit was given to institutions who have official integrated pest management programs or an organic land care standard or landscape management program which uses ecologically preferable materials.

According to Koscielak HSU uses integrated pest management strategies but does not have an official plan.

HSU Waste, Recycling, and Grounds Coordinator Megan Tolbert said one of the integrated pest management strategies that the university currently uses is live traps. Poison is never used to control rat pests on campus and using live traps also helps prevent harm to other wildlife.

HSU masters student Megan Awwad said she wasn’t surprised about the universities low renewable energy statistic. Awwad, who previously attended University of Calif. Riverside, said Riverside promoted itself as being a sustainable school.

“That’s how universities function,” Awwad said.

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