Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Provost conference focuses on environmental sustainability

If the earth is to survive, the turnaround is going to have to start on university campuses, and the clock is ticking.

That announcement — grave, urgent and blunt — settled across an audience of University of Denver faculty, staff and students as they listed to a leading researcher of environmental studies.

David Orr, professor of environmental studies and politics at Ohio’s Oberlin College, was the keynote speaker Jan. 25 at DU’s 2008 Provost Conference on “Creating a Sustainable University: Strategies for Change.” 

His message was blunt, giving the world just 10 years to change or risk permanent damage. But his tone was hopeful, and his audience responded with a standing ovation.

Orr was just one of several speakers to tackle the mounting evidence of a looming environmental disaster. The conference drew representatives from the governor’s office, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper’s “Greenprint Denver” initiative, and DU leaders in environmental and scientific research. 

Provost Gregg Kvistad said in the past five years, the discussion has gone from vague concepts of environmentalism to direct concern with sustainability and the real impacts being felt every day.

“Sustainability has become the prevalent concept,” he said. “It is fundamentally inclusive. … It implicates all of us.”

Orr said the commitments made by DU and other universities to become carbon-neutral and environmentally sound are not enough. The education offered on college campuses must energize graduates to get to work. Within a decade, he said, global climate change may have reached a point of no return.

“The role of ‘campus green’ is not the end in itself. It’s got to change the way we think,” he said. “The sustainability crises is huge … We have overshot the limits of our planet.”

In the near future, Earth’s population could swell to nine billion, and finding an answer to greenhouse gasses, climate change, geographical inequities and increasing energy demands is critical, Orr said.

DU Geography Associate Professor Michael Keables moderated a discussion about current sustainability practices at the University and in the Rocky Mountain region. 

University Facilities Manager Jeff Bemelen and DU architect Mark Rodgers shared information about the energy and cost saving efforts that began on the campus in the mid 1990s, including upgrades to lighting, mechanical and automation systems and the development of water and green space conservation plans. 

Others, such as Scott Morrissey from Greenprint Denver and Heidi Van Genderen from the governor’s office of policies and initiatives, highlighted current changes but said more can be done, from recycling to energy consumption, including new developments in solar and wind power. 

Orr said in addition to developing new sources of power, it will take a global commitment to consume less.

“The greenest energy we will ever create is the energy we do not use,” he said.

Comments are closed.