Lauren Rabaino

One challenge facing every industry and business is the ability to “go green,” becoming more environmentally sustainable. Many of the world’s largest companies (including Wal-Mart, Toyota and Goldman Sachs) are changing their business models due to changing consumer demand, preparation for government regulation, and, most of all, because it makes long-term financial sense.

As a polytechnic school, we have an obligation to society to produce graduates who are able to tackle 21st century problems, such as sustainability. Cal Poly is uniquely positioned to accomplish sustainability curriculum objectives and reduce its own ecological footprint by using campus as a living laboratory for sustainable technologies and processes.

Here are just two (of many) projects that would create a more sustainable Cal Poly and provide unique educational opportunities for students today:

Campus Biodiesel

Some students may have noticed the three Campus Dining trucks labeled with the “Powered by Biodiesel, Making Your French Fries Work Harder” logos. Pretty cool, right? Actually, the trucks aren’t running off your french fries yet, but rather a B20 fuel (20 percent biodiesel) purchased from a local fuel vendor. They will be soon, though.

Cal Poly Biodiesel is currently building a processor to convert the 8,000 gallons of Campus Dining grease created each year to biodiesel. Closing this waste loop will create enough biodiesel to meet the campus demand for B20. Started as a student project two years ago, Cal Poly Biodiesel now has five senior projects and a multidisciplinary team working to complete the reactor by spring. The student leaders of the project are now looking to the university to help them institutionalize the processor and the use of biodiesel on campus.

Campus composting

Composting is another waste loop students are working to close on campus. Campus Dining kitchens compost approximately 1,500 pounds a day from kitchen scraps in roughly a year. This organic matter is collected and trucked out to the Cal Poly Organic Farm where it is composted in large earth tubs, then used as an organic fertilizer. Amazing! In an effort to become even more sustainable, Campus Dining has been increasing the amount of compostable containers and foodwear around campus.

The problem here is that these products are disposed of in the trash where it is unlikely they will actually compost. (In order to compost, you need air, water, heat and rotation of the material.) Although that is better than non-compostable products, this process is still far from being “zero waste.”

Here’s where the students come in.

Cal Poly’s Zero Waste Club is currently performing feasibility studies and building campus support to create infrastructure to effectively collect and compost organic waste on campus. The more waste we divert from the landfill not only reduces our ecological footprint but saves money too. Imagine a compost bin being paired with every trash and recycling bin!

Let me assure you, this is by no means an easy task financially, logistically or environmentally. This is a project that requires leadership and collaboration from many levels on campus.

So here’s the million-dollar question:

Cal Poly students are constantly thinking of new creative ideas to make Cal Poly more sustainable using skills learned in the classroom and Cal Poly is always trying to find new ways to reduce costs, educate students and become greener. How do we bridge this gap, you ask?

We need an Office of Sustainability.

Many leading universities across the country, including Stanford, Yale, University of North Carolina and University of Florida, have created this office to facilitate change on campus by connecting academia with facilities. The ability to use campus as a living laboratory meets academic learning objectives and facilities’ energy and waste reduction goals at the same time.

An Office of Sustainability at Cal Poly could also assist in sustainability curriculum development, energy and sustainability policy, and fundraising for campus projects.

In order to prepare students for the critical challenges facing humanity in the 21st century, sustainability must become more than a buzzword on campus, but rather a structural pillar in the foundation of this university. So before U.S. News and World Report creates a “Best in the West” for sustainability, let’s become nationwide leaders in this category!

Step 1: Create an Office of Sustainability

Chad Worth is an industrial engineering senior, president of the Empower Poly Coalition and a Mustang Daily environmental columnist.

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