In 2014, the California State University (CSU) implemented a system-wide Sustainability Policy, containing long term goals for each campus to diminish their carbon footprints, their emissions and their waste. More than half of those goals were set for completion by 2020.
Now that it is 2020, how much progress has Cal Poly made?
According to Director of Energy, Utilities, and Sustainability Dennis Elliot, the university has made great strides, but there is still a long way to go.
“[Zero waste is] an aspiration that’s intended to drive improvement, raise awareness and just allow the people that are responsible for this to be able to set their sights on where the north star is — which is to get it to as low as possible,” Elliot said.
The 2014 policy listed the following goals and purposes to be met by 2020:
• Reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels
• Increase renewable energy to 33 percent
• Reach 80 percent waste diversion from landfill
• Reduce water use by 20 percent
• Increase use of sustainable (local/organic/trade-free) food to 20 percent
• Based on the 2018 sustainability report, the university’s numbers for 2016 and 2017 meet most of the 2020 goals.
In spite of 100 percent growth in building square footage and on-campus housing in the past three decades, the university managed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels.
Both water usage reduction and renewable energy usage have exceeded their 2020 goals — Cal Poly’s reduced its water usage by 37.22 percent and 39 percent of the campus’ energy comes from renewable sources.
The average landfill diversion rate over the past four years is about 77 percent, just 3 percent short of the university’s goal of 80 percent. A diversion rate measures waste diversion, which is the process of redirecting waste from landfills.
The progress on increasing sustainable food on campus is unclear, according to Registered Dietitian and Sustainability Coordinator for campus dining Kesley McCourt.
Cal Poly Campus Dining has been working with suppliers to increase their efforts of purchasing food products made from recycled, energy- and water-efficient, or renewable materials, McCourt said.
The university is also working to reduce waste in landfills by targeting where waste begins. One of the primary root causes of large volumes of waste production is the behaviors of those producing the waste, Elliot said.
“You have about five seconds or less as a person is on their rush to work or to a class and they have a thing in their hand that they want to throw away and they’re going by a bin,” Elliot said.
The solution? More signage, Elliot said.
A large problem lies in the fact that most trash bins around campus are not paired with a recycling bin, Elliot said. This means that most waste products, recyclable or not, go toward landfills.
The university plans to roll out signs similar to those in The Avenue, which clearly label separate bins for compost, recycle and landfill, alongside a comprehensive outreach, education and marketing program.
Despite reaching 1990 baseline levels for greenhouse gas emissions, the university still seeks to reduce emissions further, Elliot said.
Half of Cal Poly’s carbon footprint is not comprised of the energy used by our buildings and facilities. Instead, it consists of emissions from student and faculty commutes to campus, according to Elliot.
With the CSU policy goals satisfied and still work to be done, Elliot said he encourages students to get involved in any way they can.
“We want to inspire people to care about the world, the environment, what’s happening to it, why it’s happening and what they can do,” Elliot said.
According to Zero Waste Coordinator Anastasia Nicole, the sustainability staff aims to have the sustainability report for 2020 — with numbers for years 2018 and 2019 — by Fall 2020.