New course focuses on SF State’s carbon footprint

After five classes, students in SF State’s new Campus Sustainability course are still defining their roles in the university’s pledge to dramatically reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

But a unique partnership between environmentally conscious students, Facilities staff and UC Berkeley’s sustainability specialist provides an exciting opportunity to effect change on campus, said those involved.

“[Campus Sustainability] is a great addition. We all should be taking it,” said Nicolas Garza, an environmental studies major. The junior said he appreciates being able to apply what he is learning to help SF State learn its own carbon footprint. “There’s obviously work to be done on every campus in the United States, and that’s what we’re trying to do. It’s more up to us than our government.”

Environmental studies Director Carlos Davidson created the new course, also known as ENVS 570, partly to fulfill a requirement of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, to which SF State President Robert A. Corrigan signed the university last year.

To honor a nationwide commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at universities, SF State must first conduct an inventory of its current emissions by Sept. 15, 2008. The Campus Sustainability course will teach its 21 students how to use software to calculate the university’s different sources of emissions and enlist their help in completing the full campus inventory, Davidson said.

Woody Hastings, a senior in the class, said the course’s instructor and “top guest speakers give it a real strength.” Facilities Vice President Robert Hutson and Caitlin Fager, SF State’s new recycling coordinator, presented on the department’s past, present and “hopes and dreams” to the class. Fahmida Ahmed, UC Berkeley’s sustainability specialist who helped the university conduct its own greenhouse gas emissions inventory last year, is also a regular guest.

The environmental studies major said he and the other students would form teams that would analyze specific portions of campus emissions, but the inventory’s boundaries had not yet been established. Whether the inventory would count residences adjacent to the campus like University Park North, for example, illustrates the difficulty in answering the question: “What do you count as ‘our emissions?’” he said.

Adding to the confusion was the revelation, announced by Davidson and Fager in Monday’s class, that the California State University system recently completed a system-wide emissions inventory, albeit one that did not count emissions from commuting or air travel.

Those two sources of greenhouse gas emissions unaccounted for in the CSU report, however, must be counted in the inventory sent to the ACUPCC, Fager said. About 34,000 students attend SF State, and how they get to and from school everyday significantly impacts the amount of emissions for which the university is responsible. Additionally, Fager estimated 4,500 plane trips can be attributed to SF State.

It appeared likely, after class discussions, that the class will now focus on calculating SF State’s greenhouse gas emissions arising specifically from commute and air travel. Davidson encouraged some of the student groups to parallel their class projects with an upcoming university transportation study beginning this semester. “You’d be coordinating with a real project really happening on campus. Your research would really be used,” he said.

One group project idea the class discussed was polling and interviewing students about whether they ride a bicycle to school and, if not, what it would take to get them to do so. Others included researching an increase in student fees to support universal mass transit passes for all students.







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