Environmental studies students measure ecological footprints

Alec Brownlow asked his environmental studies senior seminar an important question at the beginning of the spring 2005 semester: How big is Temple University’s footprint?

After a semester’s worth of research, Brownlow’s 20 students answered him at a forum titled “Assessing Temple’s Ecological Footprint” on Friday, April 28. Temple’s footprint spans about 27,887.6 acres. They compared this to the 115 acres that actually constitute Temple’s campus.

Brownlow described an “ecological footprint” as “a spatial metaphor” for the amount of resources and space necessary to support a specific area’s population. In other words, an ecological footprint converts resource consumption into acreage.

According to Brownlow, “an increasing number of academic institutions are using the idea [to assess their impact on the environment] and making institutional policies on their findings.”

Given “carte blanche” on how to run the environmental studies senior seminar this semester, Brownlow decided to “have the un-class” and “let the students teach [him]” by asking them to determine Temple’s ecological footprint. He prepped his students with theory, from William E. Rees’ book “Our Ecological Footprint,” then set them loose to do an environmental study of the University.

The students voted to divide into four groups and focus on Temple’s policy and procedure in the areas of waste, water usage, transportation and energy. They conducted extensive research, which included sorting through trash from campus receptacles, conducting surveys at the Student Center, counting light bulbs in Weiss Hall, and timing how long the shuttle buses idle at 13th and Berks streets.

The group focusing on waste reported that Main campus created 3,458 tons of waste in the 2003-2004 fiscal year. They also reported a 7-to-1 trash can-to-recycling bin ratio on campus, and that students cited “lack of access” to recycling bins as the number one reason for not recycling on campus.

The waste group added that the University is purchasing 400 new recycling bins, reorganizing the existing ones, and looking into composting and leaf collection. They suggested that the University also create a waste management and recycling office and limit paper consumption in computer labs.

The group focusing on water usage reported that Temple used 180 million gallons of water in 2004. Temple uses most of its water for heating and cooling, but “has made good advances” in decreasing water usage. The group suggested installing low-flow water fixtures and rainwater catchments systems – tanks that catch rainwater for cleaning, watering or drinking – and educating incoming students about smart water usage.

The group focusing on transportation reported that “commuting is undeniably problematic.” Although Main campus is “very accessible” to public transportation, there are 5,700 vehicles on campus daily. The University offers few incentives for students to use public transportation and offers no incentives to encourage walking or biking to campus.

The transportation group suggested revamping the student public transportation pass system, citing that other universities in Philadelphia offer up to 75 percent discounts and monthly passes, whereas Temple offers a 10 percent discount and semester passes only. They also suggested using cleaner fuels for shuttle buses and reducing their emissions.

The group focusing on energy reported that Temple spent over $9 million on energy last year. After researching recent changes at other universities, they concluded that adopting a “greening policy” will solve fiscal and environmental problems simultaneously. The group suggested that the University perform a thorough energy audit, invest in clean energies, and adopt and enforce an energy policy.

The students responded positively to the new style of group research for the senior seminar.

“Usually senior seminars focus on individual projects, and students have to present their findings to an outside group that aren’t necessarily environmentalists,” senior Josh Meyer said.

Senior Bonique Cisrow cited “teamwork” and “learning how to work with people I didn’t know” as benefits of the class.

“I’m a shy person, so this class really helped me,” Crisrow said. “It will help with networking.”

Brownlow’s class invited representatives from facilities management and other administrators to their forum on Friday in hopes of suggesting improvements to decrease cost and increase environmental awareness; no administrators attended the forum and were unavailable for comment. Brownlow and the class plan to combine their research and present it to the administration as well as the individual departments affected by their findings.

Brownlow and his students do not expect immediate changes, but he said he hopes their research will be “a base for next year” and that environmental studies senior seminars will keep “studying Temple as it grows.”

Former environmental studies director Robert Mason, who attended the forum on Friday, said that the research will help to create a “culture of shame” at Temple. He said that Temple has “a head start in our urban campus” and that other Philadelphia universities, such as the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel, are making environmental improvements.

Lindsey Walker can be reached at lwalker@temple.edu.

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