I will be the first to admit my ignorance of many of the initiatives undertaken by the university in recent years, along with its outside vendors and designers, to improve the sustainability of the campus and its activities. But as an alumnus who has walked the school grounds on a regular basis since attending Stanford in the ’70s and has observed the evolution of the campus over time, I have to wonder whether enough has been done. Below are four areas for improvement.
At rush hour, the current gridlock is no different than any other major roadway in the Bay Area. The roundabouts help, although pedestrians appear to find them dicey to navigate, but I have to question why university planners over years of booming construction have not done more to discourage and/or eliminate vehicles on campus, especially those that burn gasoline. Building additional parking underground is not a solution. It just adds more cars to the overloaded roads. Why not prohibit vehicles with combustion engines from inside the ring delineated by Campus Drive? It would encourage emission free travel both on and off campus. An electric tram system could be constructed that circles the campus to help move people. It’s not such a crazy idea. Think Amsterdam as a model, not Los Angeles. Dedicated travel lanes separating bicyclists from pedestrians routed through campus are also long overdue.
Plants with purpose
When I see all the new landscaping, I can’t help but think about the substantial resources necessary to install and maintain it. Anything resembling a garden on campus when I was a student was an anomaly. Weeds and dry brush reigned. The manicured grounds today are beautiful, but why not make them edible? Successfully integrating urban gardens on campus, along with utilization of surrounding land owned by the school, to materially supply student dining halls is the kind of challenge Stanford should be all about. Why not make the Farm a working landscape with organic food production and composting on a meaningful scale?
Few dispute plastic is a modern scourge. Just look at our oceans. I can only hope a school-wide ban on non-compostable single use plastic is imminent. Unless I am mistaken, the many catered events on campus use mountains of plastic that appears to be the bad stuff, not plantbased. A ban is a no-brainer. It eliminates a major source of solid waste and makes recycling a whole lot easier. Vendors will be forced to buy in and adapt because the university’s business is just too lucrative to lose. Given the urgent need to address the environmental impact of plastic contamination, and alternatives available, including avoiding common uses of plastic altogether (disposable water bottles for example), cost is no longer an excuse.
Innovations to power the campus more sustainably is an area where Stanford has made great strides. I applaud the university for that. But at the same time there are good arguments why energy production should be local, not remote. The more responsibility a community takes for managing services in its own backyard, the better steward it becomes. While helping PG&E kick the fossil fuel habit by funding solar farms in the desert is laudable and beneficial, it should not fully replace efforts to source the power where it gets used. The transportation of electricity over long distances has its own environmental impact and risks. Is there any reason a greater portion of the school’s solar energy production, as well as other alternative sources, can’t come from the campus itself? Innovation and creative design can surely make this work.
You can’t talk the talk unless you walk the walk. If institutions like our own, rich in promise and resources, are to provide solutions for the planet’s problems, then the campus, both laboratory and classroom, should reflect that mission and provide a model for the future.
— Peter Wellin ’77
Contact Peter Wellin at wellinco ‘at’ mac.com.