This week the campus celebrates Earth Day with a week-long menu of educational community activities. According to Earth Day Network (earthday.org), U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin founded Earth Day on April 22, 1970, “after witnessing the ravages of the 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California.” The occasion “activated 20 million Americans from all walks of life and is widely credited with launching the modern environmental movement. The passage of the landmark Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, and many other groundbreaking environmental laws soon followed.”
One of the key organizers of that initial Earth Day was Denis Hayes. He was 26 years old at the time and represented the type of idealism that our students share today. They believe, and rightly so, that they can literally change the world. Denis is now the President and CEO of the Bullitt Foundation, a board on which I served until this year. The Bullitt Foundation is building the first “Living Building” of its size in the United States and perhaps the world.
Forty-two years later, thanks to our student groups, the Office of Sustainability and other organizations on campus, there are many ways to celebrate Earth Day and Earth Week. Associate Chancellor Pradeep Khanna says there are two reasons we should honor this day. “One is to reiterate our commitment as an institution to all the things we do in this field as part of our teaching, research, and public engagement mission. Secondly, to encourage the university community to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle.”
I believe we are a more sustainable campus than ever. But we still have work to accomplish to lessen our energy footprint and to achieve our goal of carbon neutrality. The list of sustainability projects on our campus has grown to more than 115 since 2010. The Office of Sustainability is working to create ways of providing progress updates for each campus project listed in the campus’s nearly 2-year-old Climate Action Plan. The campus’s Climate Action Plan (iCAP) was formulated in 2010, two years after the university joined the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, a consortium of higher-education institutions committed to seeking campus carbon-neutrality by 2050. One of the campus goals is to achieve a 30 percent reduction in energy use and emissions by 2020. The university is about halfway to that goal and very close to meeting the 15 percent emissions-reduction goal envisioned for 2015.
Small acts of sustainability count, too. We now pay more attention to sustainable landscapes planted with native prairies. Last year we partnered with the City of Champaign and local businesses to establish a rain garden at Robeson Elementary School to mitigate flooding. The Facilities & Services Grounds Department introduced “No Mow” zones on campus to reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions while expanding and enhancing an environment for birds, animals and insects.
The result of our efforts is not only a greener campus but one that is more aesthetically pleasing. I believe a cleaner, sustainable environment not only protects our health but also fuels our passions and inspires our dreams. In her poem “Wild Geese,” Mary Oliver writes,
“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.”
Have a wonderful week,
Around the Campus: Here is one event during Earth Week that you won’t want to miss: Thursday, April 19, at 5:30 p.m., NCSA, room 1122 (Auditorium). Majora Carter will speak on environmental equity and the work she has done to lead environmental and economic development. For more information on her work, her upcoming presentation, and registration please visit: http://sustainability.illinois.edu/MajoraCarter.html
A full schedule of the week’s activities can be found at the Office of Sustainability’s website: http://sustainability.illinois.edu/earthweek2012.html