On Wednesday, Oct 22, the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE) hosted the iCAP Forum, a chance for the campus community to get a glimpse into the university’s progress toward sustainability on campus. The Illinois Climate Action Plan, known as the iCAP, was adopted in 2010 by campus administration as the first of several plans to guide the University to be carbon neutral (having no net emissions of carbon) by 2050. It is now almost five years later and iSEE has decided it is time to evaluate and write a new iCAP.
Six Sustainability Working Advisory Teams – or SWATeams – were established last year to take on the task of evaluating campus progress in six areas of sustainability: agriculture, land use, food, and sequestration; energy conservation and building standards; energy generation, purchasing and distribution; purchasing, waste, and recycling; transportation; and water and stormwater. Their reports and broad recommendations were presented at the Oct 22 Forum.
Two Green Observer staff members attended the Forum. Below are their reactions to the atmosphere and information presented:
As a freshman, I know almost nothing about the Illinois Climate Action Plan, and I was not sure what to expect going into this forum. One of the things that surprised me was the vary levels of plan completeness. Obviously none of the groups could give us a truly complete summary of their strategies in such a short amount of time, but I still got the impression that some plans were more fully formed than others. For instance, nobody seemed to have a proposal for getting the Abbott power plant off of coal before 2050. On the other hand there appeared to be extremely detailed plans for what to do with food scraps.
Even though the iCAP is clearly still full of wrinkles, there was a reasonable level of optimism in the room. Most of the speakers seemed to truly believe that a sustainable UIUC is possible. Of course there was also a fair amount of skepticism present as well. People with doubts were not shy about expressing them, which lead to some lively discussions about everything from recycling projects to low-flow toilets. Even though not everyone agreed, it was heartening for me to see that many people are passionate about the issues and want to contribute their voices to the conversation.
Despite the revisions to the iCAP and a re-commitment to sustainability being – in my opinion – one of most important administrative tasks of the university in the next year, the iCAP Forum was held in a small room tucked away on the third floor of the Illini Union. I would have loved to see this event booked in one of the ballrooms on the first floor to draw more attention and more “off the street” curiosity from the campus community.
Despite the less-than-deal location, professors, students, staff, and concerned citizens of Urbana and Champaign crammed in to hear the future of sustainability at the University of Illinois.
Each of the six SWATeams did their thing with a ten-minute PowerPoint slideshow. It was a lot to take in. Some of it was technical, some pretty broad. Recommendations seemed to fall into two categories: “this make so much economic sense for the university” or “this is a hard sell.” Items in the economic sense group included improved recycling and building energy efficiency. There many more items in the hard sell group, including switching the university vehicle fleet to biodiesel, installing geothermal heating and cooling systems, a carbon tax for air travel, replacing and old mechanical systems.
After each presentation, there was a short question and answer period. The audience displayed a mix of reactions to the presentations: some complimented the team’s analysis, others pointed out holes in the report or strategies the team might not have considered. There was admiration and support but also skepticism, criticism, differing opinions, and worry. However, the atmosphere in the room, despite the constantly changing crowd as people came and went in between presentations, was always one of united, impassioned concern. Unlike a class lecture, everyone in that room was self-selected to be there. Everyone paid attention, and everyone had something constructive to say. Every comment – positive or negative – was motivated by heartfelt concern that this university needs to step it up and take carbon emission reduction seriously. So, even when the reports or comments were not the greatest news, I took comfort in the fact there were so many people who are dedicated to making sustainability happen.
To close, I want to share two quotes for me that made me hopeful despite a lot of “well, we’re doing okay, but we need big improvements” kind of messages. Sadly, I did not record the names of the speakers, so I apologize for not being able to give credit.
First, someone from the energy conservation and building standards team said “I don’t want to talk about economic viability. We know these things (pretty much all big sustainability improvements) are cost-prohibitive. We may have to do these things whether we like it or not, so why not invest now?” I like this quote because it recommends a proactive approach, which the history books will show time and time again is effective.
Second, someone shared that we have a COMMITMENT to sustainability signed by the Chancellor (click here to learn more). If we are going to honor that commitment, it may not be profitable. But, the University of Illinois is not a profit-based organization; we are a mission-based organization. We have a duty to take progressive (and expensive) steps.