Here is an editorial by Paul Bray, as published in the Times Union on Sunday, October 11, 2009 -
I was surprised and delighted to learn about the University at Albany going green.
About a month after the late UAlbany President Kermit Hall arrived in Albany in 2005, I had an opportunity to talk with him. He told me the last major effort he made as president of Utah State University was a environmental sustainability audit.
When Hall proposed doing this in Albany, the response from leaders on and off campus was not positive. He didn't find much interest in environmental matters, but he told me that UAlbany was going to have a strong environmental program.
Taking a quick look at what other colleges and universities are doing, I see UAlbany is riding an environmental wave. As Auden Schendler, an environmental writer and executive director of sustainability at Aspen Skiing Co., declared, "Colleges without rocking enviro programs are failed businesses."
On the Sierra Club's Cool Schools survey of top green colleges, UAlbany ranked 55th with a B-. There is room for improvement, but at least UAlbany is in the middle of more than 100 schools considered.
Congress, in continuing to support dirty coal and industrial agriculture, seems unable to find the overall benefits to our economy and welfare in the interface between climate and business. But students realize their future success will depend on how they take advantage of emerging climate- and green-focused economies.
In the early 1970s, UAlbany had an environmental studies program under Lou Ismay. He and his enthusiastic students were among the earliest advocates for protecting the Albany Pine Bush. Their advocacy helped lead to the creation of the now more than 3,000-acre Pine Bush Preserve.
UAlbany's new era of environmental engagement was the subject of a recent press event with State University Chancellor Nancy Zimpher and UAlbany President George Philip. They announced sustainability initiatives "that aim to reduce harmful carbon emissions on the nation's roadways and across the campus."
One initiative will aim to cut wait-time at intersections "to reduce automobile engine idling time and greenhouse gas emissions." The other project will increase transportation options for commuting students, faculty and staff -- including hybrid buses, improved transit and bike and ride-share programs.
This is great but for one thing: the same old problem of UAlbany looking inward in its development.
While Syracuse University moved its architecture school downtown, UAlbany plans to build its new business school on campus. While other universities leverage their student residence development to support mixed-use development in their city centers, UAlbany is planning 500 dorm units either isolated on the northeast wooded corner of the campus or on 3.3 acres of the adjacent Harriman Office Campus, if a land transfer can be made. Goodbye trees, hello parking lots. UAlbany remains campus-bound and suburban.
The project includes 300 to 350 parking spaces for a university seeking to reduce its carbon foot print. Racks for 500 bicycles and walkways would be good; more parking is not good.
The key to sustainability is walkable communities for work, study, home, shopping and recreation. Universities should be the leaders in fostering these communities by their example and participation.
The State University's mission is to encourage and support local economies. Isolated dorms and new facilities on campus do not serve this mission.
I believe in Chancellor Zimpher's good intentions when she said with President Philips, "One of the highest priorities throughout the SUNY system is emphasis on sustainability research and practice." But the chancellor needs to keep in mind that the real practice of sustainability will require universities and colleges to be fully connected to their communities.
Paul M. Bray is founding president of the Albany Roundtable civic lunch forum. His e-mail address is email@example.com.