As LMU works toward environmental sustainability, it is met with both commendation and criticism about its progress. In the College Sustainability Report Card 2011, released last Wednesday, LMU was given a B+, a letter grade higher from last year’s report card. The report card is based on independent research by the Sustainable Endowments Institute, as well as voluntary responses to four surveys given to administrators.
Recently hired Campus Sustainability Coordinator Joe Rasmussen says that the report card is a way for LMU’s environmental program, Green LMU, to gauge its progress against itself and other institutions. The report card categorizes and grades different components of sustainability. Rasmussen says that there is bias introduced, in that the organization decides which questions to include in the survey. “We kind of take it with a grain of salt,” Rasmussen said. “Although we do care and we are excited that we improved our grade every year for the last four years, at the same time, we’re not so worried about it; it’s [not] what we focus on the most.”
Natural science professor Dr. John Dorsey says that LMU is good when it comes to funding sustainability projects, particularly the new addition of Rasmussen to the faculty last February. Rasmussen feels that part of the reason for LMU’s increased grade in this year’s report card is that he spent a lot of time gathering data and completing the surveys as part of his job. “Really I wouldn’t say that we’ve necessarily changed a whole lot in the last year, but we’ve been able to take credit for more,” Rasmussen said.
Dorsey feels LMU’s current sustainability efforts deserve a lower grade of B, and said that LMU should now be focused on controlling runoff and landscaping using more drought-resistant, native plants to reduce water use. To that effect, Dorsey said that several faculty members are working to organize a group of students and classes to measure the pollutants that run off from the Del Rey parking lot into the Playa Vista area during storms. According to Dorsey, students will then use the data to apply for a sustainability grant from the Environmental Protection Agency in order to control this runoff.
Rasmussen says that such student involvement is part of LMU’s culture, and ranges from the Committee of Environmental Responsibility in ASLMU and the ECO Students to the newly added environmental studies minor.
Freshman political science and dance double major Julia Woods, a member of the Political Action Committee of ECO Students and the ASLMU Committee of Environmental Responsibility, uses any chance she gets to raise environmental awareness, as she feels environmental ignorance is the big issue on campus.
“It’s kind of funny. Whenever I see people throw a water bottle away, I just take it out and put it on their desk,” Woods said. “It breaks my heart to see empty plastic water bottles in the trash. I feel like people don’t know that there are recycling bins all over campus.”
Although LMU received an A in the Food and Recycling category for progress such as offering recycled or biodegradable utensils and purchasing local and organic produce, Woods sees room for improvement. She hopes Sodexo returns to reusable silverware and plates. “Right now we’re generating so much waste with all of the paper and plastic we’re throwing away, because even though the forks and knives and spoons are biodegradable, that’s great that they biodegrade, but that entity is just going to remain in the landfill,” Woods said.
Rasmussen says he does not feel that the report card does justice to LMU in areas like administration, where LMU received a B. “It’s not like there’s anything wrong with the report card. It’s a good system, but it’s not thorough, so that’s what I mean when I think it’s not fair,” Rasmussen said. “It’s fair in that all the schools fill out the same survey, but I don’t think we’re able to take credit for all the good things we’re doing.”
As a result, Rasmussen will be leading the effort for Green LMU’s participation in the new Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) program, which is a self-reporting evaluation.
Rasmussen said solar panels currently provide about 6 percent of LMU’s energy, and he hopes for an increase to 10 to 15 percent in the future. He said that Hannon Library and the newly planned science building both have space for future installation of solar panels.
Meanwhile, Woods is most proud of LMU’s green roof on Drollinger Parking Plaza, which according to Rasmussen reduces heat in the plaza and absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. “I think it really just sets us apart from other campuses just by the fact that we’re making a bold statement that we’re headed towards change for a better earth, and we’re setting the bar for other campuses not only in California but in the United States as a whole.”
More information on Green LMU and STARS can be found at www.lmu.edu/green.