Wintry weather did not stop the Blue Sky forum from meeting on Wednesday, February 29th in the Campus Center basement. Efforts such as these have helped UMass become one of only 25 colleges in the nation to get a STARS (Sustainability Tracking and Rating System) gold rating.
The forum began with an introduction to the Blue Sky Initiative and EPAC (Environmental Performance Advisory Committee) followed by a guided green campus meditation led by librarian Madeline Charney, encouraging attendees to envision what the UMass campus might look like in ten years.
This was then followed by group idea sharing and proposals and EPAC responses to those suggestions. These ideas were then categorized into Green Building, Food Systems/Waste Reduction, Education, Energy/Climate, or Transportation. Building suggestions included renovating sinks and toilets on campus and using new building material such as wood for future construction.
A more effective composting system and a limit on utensils and plates in dining halls could help Food Systems/Waste Reduction and would continue the newly added Sustainability Central system at Blue Wall in the Campus Center to a much larger crowd. A common theme among all suggestions was for efforts to be top-down throughout the university, not just departmental.
One suggestion was made that would include a mandatory General Education requirement that focuses on sustainability. This was partially in response to John Gerber’s Sustainable Living class being in jeopardy for next spring due to budget issues.
Energy meters for individual dorms were suggested to track how much each building is utilizing to keep residents informed. Hydration stations have been widely acclaimed and could serve as an effective replacement to bottled water in vending machines and in general in retail dining. As pointed out by Ezra Small, the first modern-day wind energy generation turbine was designed on this campus. Forum participants felt that areas that produce a significant amount of wind like the W.E.B. Du Bois library and the Southwest residential area would be ideal places to install new wind power generation systems.
As brought up by several participants, bike paths on and around campus are often thin and do not provide safety or comfort or those with bicycles. Renovating these already existing paths or creating new ones would be a transportation alternative to driving to class. Another suggestion was made to bring smaller buses to the PVTA as another transportation option that would reduce emissions.
In response to these suggestions, members of EPAC then had a chance to give their input. Physical Plant Director Pat Daly said, “A lot of things brought up here we are working on”. This includes low flush water equipment being installed and working on a GIS system that can be used to track PVTA buses on campus. In response to alternate building efforts, Daly added that “there is more going on now in the sustainable design side.”
Operations Manager at Transit Services Glenn Barrington stressed his team’s efforts to make sustainable changes. “We’ve always sought out ways to bring alternative fuels to PVTA”, said Barrington in relation to the five new hybrid buses added to the fleet this year that are 40 percent more fuel efficient than prior models. It seems agreed upon that the future of transportation efforts at UMass lie in utilizing public transportation and less of a reliance on personal vehicles.
Enthusiasm and a strong outpouring of ideas are exactly what keep the sustainability movement going at UMass, and it will only continue to make progress with efforts like what was experienced at Blue Sky.