Sustainability efforts on campus aided by interdisciplinary collaborations between academic colleges.

With environmental sustainability becoming a paramount concern among the Cal Poly community, each of the academic colleges has undertaken efforts in recent years to make its operations more “green” in nature. Changes have been implemented in a variety of ways, each as diverse as the curriculum each college teaches. Below is a mere scratching of the surface as far as how each college is making a difference in the lives of its students as well as the environment.

College of Engineering

At the forefront of developing ways to be more environmentally friendly is the College of Engineering, whose faculty not only encourage green thinking through their curriculum but also through student participation in various organizations.

Linda Vanasupa, a materials engineering professor, explained that the push for greater environmental friendliness within the college was two-pronged and often involved faculty from other colleges.

“There’s really two ways to embrace the area of environmental sustainability: through adapting the curriculum taught in the college and by participating in different research projects,” Vanasupa said. “As a part of the research aspect, we like to take on projects that span multiple disciplines and involve our colleagues from departments across the campus to address greater issues and problems.”

As an example, Vanasupa alluded to a five-year model sustainable environment project being done in China, which is a collaborative effort between Cal Poly, Yale, Stanford and Tongji universities.

“These efforts don’t just involve engineering, but also political science, city and regional planning, biology, and agriculture elements,” Vanasupa said.

The College of Engineering is also promoting sustainability efforts within its ranks, as the faculty manipulate the curriculum to emphasize the importance of minimizing environmental impact. These same professors also establish and promote organizations within the university to organize their doing so, with the Educating Global Engineers (EdGE) initiative and the Center for Sustainability in Engineering (CSinE) being prime examples. The EdGE initiative focuses on ways that engineers need to conduct their business in order to make a difference in society, and the CSinE allows for such adaptations by funding speakers to come to campus and sending students to other universities to attend conferences abroad.

“The important thing is for our students to be capable of systems thinking and to be innovators,” Vanasupa said.

College of Science and Mathematics

Similar curriculum adaptations have taken place in the College of Science and Mathematics, where the faculty has designed its own approach to bringing an environmental element into subject fields that can be devoid of such factors.

Peter Schwartz, a physics professor, explained that he’d found ways to infuse environmental aspects into his lectures as a means of promoting what he saw as essential considerations.

“You look at what I teach, and it’s physics,” Schwartz said. “There’s steadfast rules that are abided by in the curriculum I teach, which aren’t very dependant on the environment. But environmental concerns are really coming to the forefront; it’s not about hugging trees, but about being able to get a job.”

Schwartz’s work outside of his teaching has served as a good illustrative model for green-minded students to follow, as he’s also served as a consultant for the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments, Santa Barbara County, Green Party politician Matt Gonzales, and has done outreach work in Guadalupe.

Schwartz advocates for greater constraints on building and machine designs, which forces a creativity that students take with them for the rest of their lives.

“People need to understand that there isn’t any guaranteed technology fix,” he said. “People have to change the way they live their lives and the way that they accept technologies involving renewable energy.”

For example, Schwartz showed a class how society underestimates the capabilities of electric power with a video of an electric car beating out both a Porsche and a Ferrari by significant margins.

Schwatz’s “green” advocacy has produced results such as the new science and math building being equipped with solar hook-ups, which will later be completed with accompanying panels. The building will also feature other green fixtures, including a conservation monitor that will show levels of energy consumption, and will allow for monitoring from off-campus locations.

Schwartz, too, stressed that the most successful sustainability efforts are inherently interdisciplinary. He and other faculty hope to create a campus sustainability center to allow for the collaboration and coordination of endeavors from departments of all the academic colleges.

College of Architecture and Environmental Design

Some of the oldest efforts promoting environmental sustainability have originated in the College of Architecture and Environmental Design, where the first such course was taught back in 1989. The college is the only one at Cal Poly that offers a sustainability minor.

Margot McDonald, an architecture professor, points to a winning design at a competition hosted by the International Union of Architects as a bonding experience that brought the faculty of the college together.

“The design was based on the Los Osos wastewater plant, and focused on making it an amenity instead of an eyesore,” said McDonald. “It was a really holistic approach to community design that we were able to use as a springboard for other initiatives.”

McDonald is a particularly active member of the faculty within the college, and is also a testament to the college’s dedication to making environmental considerations of the highest concern. She also serves as a co-director of the Renewable Energy Institute, a minor adviser to Sustainable Environments, the chair for the Formal Education Committee for the US Green Building Council, and is the Host Campus Chair of the upcoming UC/CSU/CCC Sustainability Conference.

The US Green Building Council is particularly noteworthy, as McDonald is amongst those deciding the recipients of over a quarter-million dollars in grant and recognition money for green buildings. The council is also responsible for the development of the LEED rating system for buildings.

The UC/CSU/CCC Sustainability Conference 2008 is going to be coming to Cal Poly in late July-early August, and it will be the first time the conference has been hosted by a CSU campus.

Like other professors, McDonald views her position as an opportunity to emphasize the non-environmental aspects of what she teaches.

“We’re looking to utilize our good standing at Poly to be able to promote sustainability on other campuses,” McDonald said.

“You also have to take in the other considerations aside from the buildings themselves, something I like to call ‘putting sustainability to work.’ Transportation, food practices, campus operations, should all fall under this greater umbrella of sustainability.”

Acknowledging how “things will always inevitably lead to other things,” McDonald expressed her pleasant surprise in finding how in-touch most of the campus community was with the topic of sustainability when talking with departments from other colleges.

Seeming to be on the same page with professor Schwartz from the physics department, McDonald advocated for what she termed a “sustainability portal,” which could serve as a hub for all things sustainable at Cal Poly. She hopes that the current Web site she’s set up for the upcoming UC/CSU/CCC Sustainability Conference, sustainability.calpoly.edu, will eventually serve just that purpose.

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