Grass With No Roots

Picture 2ON CAMPUS — The Sustainability Resource Center opened its freshly painted doors on Friday to announce a mountain of show-stopping green initiatives. Funded in part by a $2.34 quarterly fee tacked onto the A.S. Council’s Winter Quarter 2009 activity-fee referendum, the center has the potential to do big things for UCSD’s undergraduate momentum, but without proper execution, it could easily end up a decadent tribute to our high sustainability marks.

One of the main purposes of the green (yes, they painted the walls green) new Price Center space is to centralize existing student sustainability operations — yet an existing space could easily have served the same purpose. The makeover is exciting, but not necessary to this cause. Most other special-interest clubs rent out different on-campus locations, such as empty classrooms or conference rooms, for their meetings. Utilizing existing meeting spaces for a revamped initiative — despite the widely touted eco-friendliness of the new decor — would be even more sustainable. After all, you can’t get much greener than using what you already have — especially when a brand new Price Center East is right next door, waiting patiently for students to use its expansive digs.

The construction of the center cost the university roughly $100,000 (excluding the cost of a contractor and designer). An additional $170,000 in donations also helped fund the center’s upstart money which could have been put to more active use had the center’s initiatives been hashed out around existing roundtables.

The extra cash could perhaps have helped fund existing programs that impact the environment — like UCSD’s commuter shuttles, which reduce our carbon footprint but are facing budgetary constraints in 2010.

Or sustainability coordinators could have worked toward increased sustainability in the on-campus apartments and dorms, with efforts as simple as installing energy-efficient light bulbs and recycled flooring in the under-construction Muir housing. Tangible results would have been preferable to spending thousands on a shallow shrine to our monumental greenness.

Granted, a pre-existing facility wouldn’t have boasted gimmicky furnishings like sustainable paint, interior walls, countertops and tiles in a nifty little IKEA showroom. But the showy presentation reeks of frivolity just so the university can brag it’s the best of its kind.

But now that the center is up and running, the amount of money it’s allotted should also be carefully monitored by the students footing the bill, judging by the lopsided nature of some previous sustainability efforts. The dining hall compost bins, for instance, have revealed themselves to be no more than glorified garbage bins (the contents aren’t actually composted, but thrown away like any other old pile of trash). Though the bin initiative is next to costless, it’s deceiving to students and might as well be completed now that the money exists.

Perhaps forming an A.S. oversight committee to review the center’s operational budget (not unlike the one proposed to watch over the Loft) could help ensure our fees aren’t misused on more frivolities. Such a board would provide the necessary check for a center responsible for an estimated $50,000, which it will receive from our tuition dollars each year. For now, only two undergraduates serve on the Advisory Committee on Sustainability — not nearly enough manpower to ensure our fees aren’t misappropriated by shifty administrators.

It’s also important that the center’s proposed far-reaching goals — such as reducing campus water usage by at least 4 percent — aren’t bogged down in a series of unrealistic hopes and dreams, like campus org Aquaholic Anonymous’ plan to ban the sale of bottled water on campus.

Active members need to create some tangible goals to build upon. Right now all they have is a number of large, complicated and time-consuming plans — such as expanding the reclaimed water-distribution system and replacing water-intensive landscaping with drought-resistant alternatives.

Picture 4One of the most praiseworthy aspects of the center’s mission to create a home for sustainable activity at UCSD is the provision for student participation in the future of all sustainability work, which has the opportunity to flourish with the proper care.

The Green Initiative Fund, for instance, provides $80,000 a year in grants to fund students’ sustainability efforts. The grants will allow students to become more involved with both the university and sustainability efforts, and spread awareness through a high-visibility program.

A shining example of student involvement would be the proposed Urban Farms program, which offers the opportunity for students to grow their own food. This program could allow students to limit the amount of food imported from foreign destinations, reducing our carbon imprint by following an eat-and-grow localized philosophy. A UCSD fruit and vegetable patch could even serve as a gateway project for students interested in pursuing global sustainability. These kinds of more-affordable goals are the type the center should be chasing.

Some great ideas will likely grow from the building; it is important, however, that the center doesn’t umbrella too much too soon — or it runs the risk of becoming just another green star on the university’s list of environmental accomplishments.

Readers can contact Sarah Smith at [email protected].

More to Discover
Donate to The UCSD Guardian
$200
$500
Contributed
Our Goal

Your donation will support the student journalists at University of California, San Diego. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment, keep printing our papers, and cover our annual website hosting costs.

Donate to The UCSD Guardian
$200
$500
Contributed
Our Goal