ASI president-elect Jana Colombini was among the 100 people or so at the charrette. | Alex Davidson/Mustang News

Students, professors and industry experts joined forces Friday morning to brainstorm ways to combat climate change at the Sustainability Charrette.

Though the Keck Lab (building 7, room 2) was floored with gray carpet and capped with a white ceiling, it seemed “green” for a day.

“We didn’t want (this event) to be a bunch of talking heads and panel discussions that you see all the time,” said Eric Olsen, industrial technology and packaging department chair at Cal Poly. “We thought about how to get people more engaged and informed, and ultimately, at the end of the day, we want to set the stage to make something happen here at Cal Poly.”

That is exactly what the event did.

From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., the 100 or so people in attendance were up and about, engaging in different activities that were created to allow for the distribution of ideas. Attendees such as Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) President-elect Jana Colombini, associate director of energy, utilities and sustainability Dennis Elliot and Cal Poly Corporation associate executive director Starr Lee heard from groups talking about climate action planning, teaching sustainability in any course and potentially implementing a new student fee to fund sustainable projects, among others.

Climate action planning could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by taking a look at the baseline for these emissions and seeking to find a way to cut back in certain areas. For example, according to city and regional planning associate professor Adrienne Greve, emissions could decrease approximately by 20 percent if students were moved onto campus as they wouldn’t be driving to class every day. But that wouldn’t completely solve the problem, because 70 percent of staff drives to campus while only approximately 20 percent of students do so.

Jillian Buckholz, director of sustainability at California State University (CSU) East Bay, said an integral part of moving the conversation on climate change forward is implementing it into the classroom.

“People have started implementing sustainability into theater classes, and there has even been people trying to implement it into their Ancient Egypt class,” she said. “There’s a way to add it to any topic or any class.”

And this was a common question that was brought up throughout the event: How could sustainability be added to everyday aspects of our lives?

“There’s a real urgency to add elements of sustainability to the curriculum,” said Karina Garbesi, professor of anthropology, geography and environmental studies at CSU East Bay. “Students are having trouble finding classes that have these sustainability elements that relates to them, and that’s a problem.”

But the day wasn’t just about industry professionals. There were students from all sorts of majors and fields involved, working on projects like The Green Initiative Fund (TGIF), a concept that would add a $5 quarterly student fee for Cal Poly students, raising $375,000 annually.

The money would be used to support sustainability projects throughout campus, including the purchasing of solar panels or buying food from local businesses to cut down the footprint from imports.

The group of students, who created the project for their sustainable environments minor capstone course, noted that approximately 200 of 300 survey respondents said they were in favor of the fee.

The second half of the event focused on getting groups together that prioritized some of the bigger ideas that were pitched during the day. These included creating an Office of Sustainability for Cal Poly and adding a position within ASI that is attentive to sustainability efforts.

“I think it’s critical for students to know where to go when they want to talk about sustainability, when they want to do research or they want to partner up with sustainability efforts,” said Kylee Singh, sustainability coordinator for Cal Poly. “I think it’s important for there to be one place to go, and with how we have sustainability set up through facilities just isn’t a sustainable model.”

Singh is hoping another sustainability event will take place in the fall, and that people who are interested in joining campus efforts will show their support.

“It’s important for people to know that Cal Poly is committed to becoming a leader in climate change initiatives and sustainability efforts amongst our peer campuses and within the nation,” Singh said. “I hope the campus community and culture will be able to align with that. Diversity and social justice and all these other important efforts are right along with that.”

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