New purchasing policy saves a different kind of green

A COG chef weighs food waste to be composted. The COG has been composting waste since last April.

Gonzaga made a formal declaration of its ecological commitment in October 2010. President Thayne McCulloh signed the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), agreeing to design a climate action plan and to complete interim milestones, while in the ultimate process of becoming a climate-neutral institution.

Overseeing the implementation of the ACUPCC is the Advisory Council on Stewardship and Sustainability, which is co-chaired by philosophy professor Brian Henning and psychology professor Monica Bartlett.

 In early January, the council was required to submit an emissions inventory to base future sustainability progress on. The inventory reveals that Gonzaga is below the national average of other master's-granting colleges' and universities' gross emissions levels, and is similar to the emission levels of other West Coast Conference schools following the ACUPCC.

However, GU still has much room to improve if it is to become a carbon-neutral campus. Though the final plan for carbon neutrality is not due until next January, GU has already engaged in the two immediate, tangible steps required by the ACUPCC. These steps are to establish a policy that all new campus construction will be built to at least LEED Silver standard and to require the purchase of Energy Star certified products wherever applicable.

To further supplement this effort to maximize resource efficiency, the council drafted a new sustainable purchasing and design policy that was approved in November. The new purchasing policy marks one of the biggest steps taken by GU since the signing of the ACUPCC. The policy addresses a broad spectrum of issues, ranging from energy to landscaping to food.

Some aspects of the policy reflect what GU has already been doing, like printing double-sided documents. Others are new initiatives, such as committing to only purchase recycled paper that is at least 25 percent post-consumer waste, ensuring that interoffice envelopes are multiple-use and that all cleaning agents meet environmental safety standards. Some changes will not have an effect until the future, such as replacing university vehicles with less-polluting alternatives, like electric or hybrid, and constructing new buildings to fortified green standards.

GU is asking companies it contracts with to be environmentally conscious as well. All outside food contractors, namely Sodexo, are required to purchase as much local produce and products as possible.

"Sodexo is really taking it to another level," Henning said about Sodexo's improvement in its sustainable practices on campus.

Sodexo purchases from a variety of local farms and even makes its own bread with locally purchased flour. Not only does purchasing food locally support the surrounding economy, it also benefits the environment because less fuel is burned by transportation. Students benefit from these policies by getting to enjoy fresher food with fewer preservatives added.

Student life on campus should be positively impacted by the purchasing policy. In addition to increased health conditions, Henning said these new measures for energy efficiency will help control operation costs. This may stymie future increases in students' tuition as GU further reduces its waste and energy usage.

"It is probably too soon to say. Over time, students will certainly benefit from eating more local food, living and studying in healthier buildings, and using recycled paper," Henning said.

Efforts for greater recycling and composting participation on campus will continue to improve. The policy urges students to not only recycle paper and plastic bottles, but to also be aware of recycling steel, batteries, cardboard, and aluminum. Sodexo has been active in composting waste from the COG since April 2011 and students will see an increase in accessibility to composting, as locations to do so will gradually be extended across campus.

The ACUPCC also calls for member institutions to preach what they practice by integrating sustainability into the curriculum. An environmental studies major was recently added to the curriculum, and the council is discussing how to improve and expand the program by hiring more full-time faculty. On the broader curriculum level, Gonzaga is looking to incorporate sustainability in the educational experience of all students.

"Rather than just having sustainability talk in environmental studies classes, you could have integrative assignments where students consider environmental problems in the context of a class that's not necessarily about the environment," Henning said.

Though the transition to ecologically responsible habits and carbon neutrality may be challenging and expensive initially, it will be more cost effective in the long run.

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