Butler sustainability, 2019 and beyond

Graphic courtesy of Association of Psychological Science. 

AUDREY DAVENPORT | OPINION COLUMNIST | amdavenp@butler.edu

Five years ago, Butler set out to define their goals for sustainability. The sustainability office at the time wrote up their goals and put them into one document. The document, posted and released on Butler’s website in 2014, is called “Butler Sustainability: Sustainability and Climate Action Plan.”

I’ll be honest, until just a few weeks ago, I had no idea that this plan existed. Initially, I was excited to see that Butler had indeed at one point had a plan for the sustainability of our campus. However after reading through the plan, I realized that many of the goals outlined in it had not yet been accomplished. This is a reminder that Butler’s sustainability still has far to go.

The plan puts their outlined goals into two categories: long term and short term. Also, there are separate sections for strategies and sustainability goals. The sustainability goals are broken into five categories: water, land use, waste, food and purchasing.

I wanted to see where Butler stands in this long road to becoming a sustainable campus. I wondered if there was work being done on producing a new plan, what happened to the goals outlined in the 2014 plan and what are the next steps for Butler concerning an issue that is becoming increasingly prevalent in our daily lives.

While talking to other students on campus, it was apparent that the frustration and concern that I was feeling was not uncommon.

Jarrod Koester, a senior history major and the president of Green Council, experienced a similar sentiment after reading through the plan found on Butler’s website.

“My concern was that we promised this and there was obviously a concern about the issue and that’s why this was created,” Koester said. “Since it was signed by President Danko, I know that there is some authority with it and it had university backing.”

There is no doubt that the online Sustainability Plan shows that Butler wanted to make strides towards being a more sustainable campus, but since then there hasn’t been anything released, and that was five years ago.

The five categories of the plan cover many different sustainability issues on campus, so what was the barrier to the goals being met?

Jamie Valentine, the assistant director of the Center for Urban Ecology and Sustainability, said that “because the plan was so broad and didn’t necessarily assign tasks to a department or to individuals, it didn’t have any teeth to it. So it has existed but no one has really taken on most of the goals that were outlined.”

Valentine also noted that the sustainability office before her consisted of only one person. With only one person leading the charge on such a large issue, they weren’t able to accomplish all that they could have, had it had more support from the university administration.

Sustainability on campus is an issue that we all need to take part in to be effective. I think if you asked students on campus, you could tell there is growing momentum to support sustainability efforts.

“People already see [Butler] as more connected to the environment than some other campuses downtown, we have more possibilities and more active community members,” Koester said.

And the reality of the situation is that sustainability does weave itself into all areas of study. We often forget about the social and economic aspects of sustainability, but these are also important in becoming truly sustainable.

Being an advocate for sustainability in your own way can play a large role in getting more people on board with the fight. I try and write about sustainability here and share it with all of you because it is one of the outlets that I have. It’s all about finding what works for you and your life on Butler’s campus.

We are building habits here that are going to go with us for the rest of our lives. Butler is our home away from home, and I’d like to think that we all want to leave it better than we found it.

So where are we in the journey that is Butler’s sustainability and what are the next steps?

There are three pillars of sustainability, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency: social, economic and environmental. A lot of people focus solely on the environmental part because it is what we think about immediately; Butler’s plan was the same way.

But the other two pillars, social and economic, also need to be taken into account when we talk about sustainability. For example, recycling on its own is not sustainability. We have to think about the social and economic impacts of those programs as well.

Recycling can save lots of money on municipal budgets, create more jobs and propel various types of innovation that can lead to more economic growth, but for some communities there are fiscal barriers that stand in the way of everyone participating. Socially, recycling programs can entice sustainable companies to set up shop in areas that have recycling programs as well as reduce landfills that can affect the health of neighboring communities.

Right now, Valentine is working on an addendum to the current Butler Sustainability and Climate Action Plan that has incredibly achievable goals without much of a monetary strain.

“From the STARS report submitted in 2017 and the 2014 Butler University Sustainability and Climate Action Plan we could see where we were successful and where we have room for growth, and from that I have sort of the framework for the addendum to BUSCA and kind of identifying more specific targets that I think will help us accomplish them a little bit easier,” Valentine said.

The STARS system, which stands for Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System, gives universities a ranking based on how they score on their sustainability scale. Valentine hopes to get the university to a silver STARS rating. Butler received a bronze rating last year and Valentine thinks that the addendum will outline a clear path to get there.

I would encourage everyone — faculty, staff and students — to know where Butler stands on not just sustainability, but anything that you care about. Any change on campus is going to take a combination of administrative authority and student voice to make it successful.

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