Student environmental leaders offer mixed reactions to plan

| Staff Reporter

Student leaders for environmental groups expressed both support and criticism of the Washington University Plan for Sustainability draft for community review.

“I think overall, it is a good plan—but not outstanding,” said junior Peter Murrey, president of Green Action.

Students approved of the University’s plan to use more plants native to Missouri in its landscaping.

“I think that’s one of the most ridiculous things on this campus, the degree to which we force some image upon the earth when we really should be letting native plants grow and contribute to Missouri pride and atmosphere,” Murrey said.

Students also lauded the University’s goal to reduce single-occupant vehicles coming to campus by 10 percent by the year 2012, as well as its commitment to public transportation. The reduction in landfill waste was another goal that was praised.

One major point of student criticism lay in the University’s energy policies.

“I’m disappointed on the lack of emphasis on renewable [energy],” Murrey said. “I think it has been misconstrued on how adequate solar [energy] can operate in our region and there hasn’t been enough examination of geothermal possibilities. 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.”

Currently, the University’s electricity provider, Ameren, provides electricity for 4 cents per kilowatt-hour. Because the cost of electricity is so inexpensive, it makes it difficult find a solution that is economically sustainable for the University. Murrey pointed out that there are external costs associated with using coal. But since the University uses a standard traditional capitalist model, external costs are not taken into account, he said.

But the biggest problem for many students was in the goals for greenhouse gas emissions. The University plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 27 percent from 2009 levels.

“That is not adequate in the face of climate change, which the University has acknowledged as a very serious problem,” Murrey said.

Senior Melissa Legge, who facilitates the meetings for Student Green Council, said that she was worried that these goals were too conservative.

“This is our chance to reach for something, and if all of the goals that we’ve set are 100 percent achievable and we know that right now, then where is the room for innovation?” Legge said. “Where is the dream?”

Executive Vice Chancellor for Administration Henry Webber addressed this concern by saying that the University’s strategy is “incremental.”

“We asked ourselves, ‘What’s the most impressive thing that we know we can do if we pushed really hard, didn’t buy carbon offsets and didn’t rely on technology that doesn’t exist?’” Webber said.

Webber said that the current plan is only a draft and that it is a living document that can be changed with input.

“This is the community’s plan,” he said. “I think that the community needs to be comfortable that we’re setting the right goals. Also, there are a set of very important actions that the community has to engage in.”

According to Webber, they have already received several hundred comments, which have been “overwhelmingly supportive” of the plan.

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.