Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, Google and the University of Miami are all connected through climate change, according to some environmentalists.
At a conference of the South Florida Emerging Green Builders and the city of Miami Sustainable Initiatives last month, experts said greenhouse gases gave power to Katrina. During 9/11, America was purchasing oil from its enemies. Google has set a goal to be carbon neutral by 2010. And with UM’s launch of Green U in 2005, the environment is on the minds of faculty and students.
“I think all of us realize that there is an urgent need for us to address climate issues, especially large institutions like the University of Miami,” said Sonia Chao, research assistant professor in the School of Architecture. “We’re aware there are increasing degrees of emissions in China and India, a lot of folks want to put the focus on them, but it’s irresponsible to not look at ourselves, especially when we would be so affected. A simple one-meter change in sea level would have catastrophic impact on South Florida.”
Today is America Recycles Day, which is part of Earth Alert and Greenpeace’s Earth Week initiative to raise awareness of recycling and greening.
Alongside student efforts, the university encourages environmentally-friendly energy saving techniques such as biodiesel fuel for the Hurry ‘Cane shuttles and U-print in the library.
Vice President of Business Services Alan Fish said the university recycled 18 tons last year and is also planning a new organic, green-food market in place of the C-store called “360 Degree Marketplace.”
“It’s not about food, it’s about education,” Fish said. “Using trade-free coffee, getting rid of Styrofoam and using corn-based cups that dissolve is more expensive, but it’s part of our climate commitment that the president signed.”
Still, some students think the university’s efforts are not enough and not invested in the right places.
“If you walk by the fountain by Merrick there are eight trash cans within 10 yards of each other,” said Megan Fast, president of Earth Alert. “I think there should be a recycling bin next to every trash can.”
Fast thinks students won’t go out of their way to recycle, so the university should make the process easier.
“Students don’t have time,” Fast said. “We’re all busy marching to and from class, so the bins need to be more convenient.”
However, Director of Environmental Health and Safety Ken Capezzuto said that there are 220 recycling bins on the Coral Gables campus.
The College Sustainability Report Card 2008 surveyed 200 public and private institutions and showed that two-thirds of the universities improved their efforts to create greener campuses; however, the University of Miami was not one of them.
The university earned a C+, the same grade issued to sister schools NYU and Vanderbilt. In contrast, the University of Florida earned a B- and was recognized as a campus sustainability leader.
Fish said the university wants to construct all new buildings using LEED certification, which is third-party verification that a building is environmentally responsible based on guidelines set by the U.S. Green Building Council. Only the Miller School of Medicine is LEED certified.
“We’re going to LEED certify every building we can,” said President Donna E. Shalala at the Student Government Town Hall Meeting on Nov. 7.
Shalala said it’s “expensive and adds more costs” to build green, but noted that UM is “the leading university in the country to save electricity.”
Chao also mentioned that there will be a symposium on campus in January to promote and discuss green building techniques focusing on sustainable urbanism.
In addition to LEED certification, Shalala’s new home will be LEED certified and designed by School of Architecture Dean Elizabeth-Plater Zyberk.
“We want to address the problem, not add to it,” Chao said. “We’re not perfect, but we are taking an interest in our shortcomings and trying to address them. Understanding how we can improve already existing buildings, even with something simple like low-flow toilets, is a step in the right direction.”
As the university assesses its greening flaws, Fast said that students should as well.
“I know it’s hard to reuse water bottles, but students need to understand the importance,” Fast said. “I usually use a Nalgene [container], and students can bring their own mugs to places like Starbucks.”
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Architecture student organizes City Hall event
Mark Schrieber, founder and president of the Emerging Green Builder’s UM chapter, organized an environmental awareness presentation at Miami City Hall on Oct. 6, which featured EGB and the City of Miami Sustainable Initiatives office.
“I think [UM’s initiatives are] going in the right direction for sure,” said Schrieber, a senior in the school of architecture. “President Shalala was 100-percent behind it.”
If he could make any suggestions to Shalala and the university, it would include renovating buildings on campus to make them greener.
“I would ask them to make it a mandate that they have to build to a certain level of LEED certification,” Schrieber said.
Sustainable Initiatives estimates that 40 percent of raw materials consumed globally are used for buildings. In the U.S., buildings are responsible for 65 percent of electricity consumption, 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, 12 percent of portable water use and 136 million tons of construction waste annually.
College Sustainability Report Card 2008
– 45 percent of colleges committed to fight climate change by cutting carbon emissions
– 59 percent of schools had high-performance green building standards for new construction
-42 percent are using hybrid or electric vehicles in transportation fleets
-37 percent of schools purchase renewable energy
– 30 percent produce their own wind or solar energy
– 70 percent buy food from local farms
– 64 percent serve fair trade coffee
-Highest scoring schools (A-): Harvard, Dartmouth, University of Washington, Middlebury, Carleton and University of Vermont
– Of the 200 schools evaluated: 3 percent had A’s; 28 percent had B’s; 42 percent had C’s; 25 percent had D’s; and 2 percent had F’s.
– 25 schools achieved Campus Sustainability Leader status by scoring at least an A- average
– Schools performed best in the Food & Recycling category, with 29 percent earning A’s.
-Compiled by Kelly Herson