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Progress and plans at Stanford
Fahmida Ahmed directs the Stanford Office of Sustainability and the campus program Sustainable Stanford. She also directs the office’s education and outreach efforts, chairs the Sustainability Working Group, and connects the Working Teams. BeWell caught up with Ms. Ahmed to hear more about what makes sustainability such a burgeoning campus initiative.
Why does sustainability matter?
Sustainability matters because we all care about the future. We are part of the natural world and dependent on the use of natural resources to sustain our business and activities. So whether it is about sustaining resources, sustaining the economic viability of our businesses, or sustaining our current enjoyment and relationship with the natural environment, sustainability is central to any long-term engagement. We must strive to meet the needs of today without compromising the needs of future generations.
Do personal wellness and sustainability intersect?
Yes, quite naturally. Just as personal wellness is about a long-term living and existence, wellness and sustainability are linked philosophically and in practice because they have the natural environment as a common denominator. Often what is good for one’s individual health (reducing the risk of heart disease by eating lower in the food chain and moderating animal protein, for example) is also a strategy for saving natural resources (raising cattle is a highly water- and energy-intensive process). Walking is not only an excellent exercise for mind and spirit, it also reduces the need to rely on a vehicle to travel short distances. Also, both personal wellness and sustainability reduce costs: better health reduces family insurance premiums, while resource efficiency reduces bottom-line costs.
What can I do to make a difference?
Learn more about sustainability work on campus and participate in our sustainability campaigns. Visit our Sustainable Stanford website to see what Stanford is doing to reduce its environmental footprint and how the university leads by example. The Sustainable Stanford campus initiatives also offer seasonal and regular engagement campaigns on topics including energy saving, recycling habits, water conservation, smart purchasing, and building-level opportunities. Throughout the year, these campaigns provide a healthy dose of education, engagement, and rewards. These programs are designed with the understanding that every individual can make a positive difference.
What has Stanford done to make a difference?
In 2006, the university launched the Initiative on Environment and Sustainability to bolster and promote interdisciplinary research and teaching in all seven of Stanford’s schools, as well as in centers, institutes and programs across campus. This initiative resulted in myriad new research, new classes, new high-performance buildings (e.g., Science and Engineering quad, Medical School buildings, new Knight Management Center) and a new collaboration impacting everyone at Stanford. To further strengthen operational sustainability, the Department of Sustainability and Energy Management (SEM) was formed in 2007, which brought Utilities, Parking & Transportation, and Office of Sustainability under one administrative roof. SEM leads initiatives in campus infrastructure and programs in energy and climate, water, transportation, green buildings, and various special initiatives.
Stanford’s Energy & Climate Plan recently received Board of Trustees Approval, and the master plans for sustainable water and sustainable transportation are underway. The Office of Sustainability is the central hub for the Sustainability Working Group (SWG) where faculty and staff collaborate on joint missions. Cardinal Green engagement campaigns launched to help people directly engage with the university’s sustainability mission.
Has the focus on sustainability resulted in positive changes at Stanford?
If you enjoy facts, here are some good ones:
- Energy conservation: an estimated savings of 176 million kilowatt?hours of electricity — about eight months of Stanford’s current electricity use — from energy retrofits of older buildings since 2002
- Green building: 1.2 million GSF of high-performance building construction
- Water conservation: 22% reduction in water since 2000
- Waste minimization: increased waste diversion rate to 64%
- Transportation demand management: reduced employees driving alone rate from 72 to 48%.
- Green dining: 55% of food purchases are considered sustainable (organic and/or local)
- Land use: over 60% of Stanford’s 8,180 acres of land is open space
Our annual report, with all the information, metrics and milestones, is published online at http://sustainable.stanford.edu/publications_and_reports.
Is the collective interest in the environment changing?
Yes. Within every community and each school at Stanford, sustainability considerations are now prevalent. What used to be a special interest topic has steadily become a core value because attention to sustainability is improving savings and productivity. What we need to continue to work on is employee and student engagement — not only to add to the experience of being in a special space like Stanford, but also to practice and pass on to others the core value of sustainability today and in future years.
What surprises you most about the work that you do?
A constant surprise is the number of times people say they have not heard about Sustainable Stanford or the work we do. Going forward, we hope to reach out more effectively and establish partnerships with other programs and initiatives. In addition, many still assume that sustainability requires a tradeoff between convenience/ease and hardship. I always try to respond that sustainability is not an either/or argument, but rather a complementary one. Sustainability is a magnifying lens for a decision that will stand the test of time.
Interview by Julie Croteau