Green plan a good start, but should go further

The long-awaited Strategic Plan for Environmentally Sustainable Operation was finally released, but we are less than overwhelmed with the substance within the plan. Green Action President Peter Murrey pretty much summed it up at Wednesday night’s Senate meeting when he called it “a good plan—but not outstanding.”

The mere fact that the plan exists is an undoubtedly positive move. It is a clear-eyed admission of a brute fact: Wash. U. is a growing university heavily invested in energy-costly research and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

The plan delineates new policies that will make it hard for students not to be more ‘green.’ Recycling on campus is now single-streamed, so everything except food, liquid and Styrofoam can be recycled in any campus recycling bin. Trashcans are emblazoned with the term “landfill,” reminding people of the impact that their trash will have on the environment. We applaud this use of metrics against which progress can be measured.

Still, even amid these laudable initiatives, there was one blaring omission: renewable energy. The plan devotes just a few short lines to how the University hopes to use renewable energy in the future and mostly mentions the financial challenges that they pose.

It is undeniable that coal is the most cost-effective energy source for the University. In fact, electricity is cheaper in Missouri than anywhere else in America. The University’s electricity provider, Ameren, provides electricity at a rate of 4 cents per kilowatt-hour. As such, it makes sense from an economic view that the University is committing so many of its resources to researching how best to utilize it.

It’s ludicrous to think that any other energy option can beat this price in the short term, but we echo the statement Murrey made after council chairman Henry Webber discussed the plan at a meeting of the Student Union: “I think we are bounded by how cheap our electricity here is and we need to ask ourselves, ‘Are we taking into account the true costs of the energy we are being provided?’ because most of this energy is from coal.”

At the meeting Webber said, “We will make investments that reduce greenhouse gases and are economically sustainable for the University, resulting in no additional financial burdens over time.”

Based on this statement and the precedent set by previous University action, it does not seem that the University will make the worthy investment into renewable energy sources beyond the mentioned solar power for electricity and hot water in off-campus residential properties. But the plan is a work in progress, a living document that will be revisited in later years. Even if the University deems it unfeasible to place more of an emphasis on renewable energy now, we have a responsibility to keep alternative energy sources in the foreground so they can be pursued when economically feasible.

The University has set forth many new means through which we can be more ‘green.’ As a campus community, we need to hold up our end of the bargain and be informed, responsible and conscientious. The current plan does guide the University toward environmental sustainability, but for the next plan, we ask that the University reconsider the use of alternatives to fossil fuel.

Those who wish to offer input on the plan should attend one of the forums that are taking place through next week or e-mail sustainability@wustl.edu.