In the dinning hall in the Student Union, next to the behemoth metal monster that rattles with dirty dishes, hangs a sign that asks “WHY IS UTD TRAY-LESS?” The sign answers, “To save water, to reduce energy & chemicals, and to cut food waste!” Below this is a line of mismatched, digitally drawn trees and a blue globe with a single, green leaf sticking out the top, circled by a green arrow.Meanwhile, along the brand-new, rambling sidewalk leading up to West dining hall, the sprinkler system seems to be constantly sputtering– so much so that often the concrete is inundated with the amount of water, forcing hungry freshman to splash for their meal. So although the aforementioned (and poorly designed) sign claims to save a gallon of water for every three plastic trays that don’t have to be washed, the University promptly throws those savings, quite literally, down the drain.
Now I’m not trying to say that UTD is intentionally advertising sustainable practices and then going behind our backs wasting precious resources like water. I understand that they have to make this place attractive to potential students, parents, and faculty, both physically, for example, by watering the grounds, and idealistically, perhaps by posting signs about their green practices.But if this school is going to sell itself as sustainable, it needs to make sure it follows through one hundred percent, not just by passing off its money saving habits as “green.”
The beauty of the environmental movement is that it works well as a long term business practice and as a moral high ground. However, there are some obvious improvements to be made if this campus is to be considered truly sustainable. First and foremost, all future buildings need to have an efficiency rating equal to or higher than the Student Services building, which has a LEED Platinum rating. With the amount of expansion happening on this campus every day, it seems to me that sustainability should be top on the list of considerations for new projects. We’re such a new school and are so focused on innovation in the sciences, a lack of such standards is frankly counterintuitive.
The second thing: solar, solar, solar! A city like Dallas with nearly constant, strong exposure to sunlight is perfect for such an energy scheme. And, as mentioned, the ground- breaking scientific spirit at the heart of our school makes us an excellent candidate for testing out new ways to harness the power of the sun; independent start-up projects that really only need the funding to be tested on a larger scale, like “Solar Freakin’ Road-ways” would be a perfect place to start.
Along the same vein, a department of Environmental Studies is a must if we’re ever to be competitive with schools like UCLA, Berkeley, UVA, or Carnegie Mellon (AKA Tier One schools). The scientific prowess of our students combined with the way they mob things like the Volunteer Expo tells me that a UTD Environmental Studies program would not only survive, but would excel rapidly, attracting smart and caring students.
While most of these things can be a little pricey (and I’m sure our school can find a few more generous philanthropists) there are also plenty of smaller-scale projects the student body can help tackle with absolutely no financial support from administration. The most important thing for students to realize is that being green doesn’t have to be an earth-shattering revelation where they suddenly stop shaving “to save water” and refuse to eat anything but kale grown on their apartment balconies “because GMOs, man.” But we can all do things like turning the lights off when we leave a room, making sure the shower and sink aren’t leaking when we’re done using them, using reusable water bottles and correctly sorting our recycling.
This is a particular strength of our campus. We have single stream recycling, which can take all the common plastics, (numbers 1-7, which means your red solo cups don’t have to be thrown away) cardboard, metals, glass and even bags of plastic bags, which typically cannot be recycled because their handles get caught in the plants’ conveyor belts. Granted, it’s not California, where a tax allows residents to toss trash and recycling all together and have it sorted for them, but it’s better than my home town, which only took plastics 1-5 and never accepted plastic bags. Our campus even has facilities for battery, car/tire, e-waste and light bulb recycling listed on its website alongside composting, though the website does not specify where any of those particular facilities are located.
As in every organization, there are some students at UTD who wield more influence than others. It’s going to take not only informed AMP readers, but Student Government officers and even administrative support to push our campus to the next level of environmental awareness. But most importantly, it’s going to take all of us caring to spur those people into action. And hey – don’t forget to recycle this when you’re done reading.