Inside USD

Students’ Film to Examine USD’s Sustainability Efforts

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Old habits are hard to break, but four University of San Diego students examining the campus community’s sustainability efforts in a classroom documentary film insist it’s a necessity. 

“I think most students are not educated enough about the issue to form an environmental ethic or to be conscious enough to make environmentally friendly decisions,” said Ian Fortuna, a senior international relations major and environmental studies minor.

Fortuna and classmates Gaby McGinnis, Alison Dressel and Christine Holloway are working on the film for their Environmental Ethics 338 course taught by USD philosophy professor Mark Woods. 

The four students comprise one of the eight task force groups in the class examining USD’s sustainability practices. Seven groups have narrower topics — transportation, water/energy, food, recycling/disposables, toxics, dorm life/student throwaways and social sustainability/environmental justice/sustainability education — but the film looks at the entire picture. 

“We need to show the side of USD that is doing well in its sustainability efforts, but more importantly, we need to show where USD needs to improve in its sustainability efforts,” said McGinnis, a junior psychology major and anthropology and environmental studies minor. “Hopefully, (students) can apply what they learn about sustainability to the world outside of USD as well as at USD.” 

Sustainability awareness at USD has increased since President Mary E. Lyons made it one of her top initiatives in 2007. The “Be Blue, Go Green” campaign increases awareness, education and action. The Sustainability/Climate Change Program Task Force was formed in Fall 2007. This group, a cross-section of campus faculty, staff, administrators and students, has a quarterly e-newsletter, promotes sustainability events on campus and more. 

Other examples of USD’s dedication to sustainability include the use of trash and recycle bins in all office spaces and larger ones in front of most buildings; cutting down on water usage with “tray-less” days in the student cafeteria; and the recent Earth Day celebration with activities on campus and representation at the Balboa Park Earth Fair. The Student Life Pavilion, slated to open this fall, will be the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified building on campus. 

“I have been surprised and encouraged to find that USD already does implement several sustainable practices, such as the selling of recycled banners into tote bags at the Bookstore and is making a concerted effort to address environmental concerns,” said Dressel, a double major in marine science and theater arts. “I think it has a long way to go, however, particularly in regards to energy and water usage. But I am hopeful that with enough student demand, the school will continue to work towards sustainable practices.” 

The film, which will be shown to the class in early May when all eight groups give their presentations, is aimed at increasing this demand. 

“Awareness is the first step towards building sustainability, and the film serves as an excellent medium for promoting that awareness,” she said. “The next step is to take action toward sustainability, and by encouraging people that their seemingly small-scale contributions affect the environment globally, we hope to inspire people to incorporate sustainable practices into their everyday lives.” 

The film group said it spent a lot of time interviewing students about their thoughts on the environment and USD’s sustainability practices. The responses, the group members said, were mixed. 

“We have gained both overwhelmingly positive and apathetic responses to our project. People at the Earth Week events and Balboa Park were extremely supportive and more than willing to advocate environmental awareness and conservation,” Dressel said.

She hopes the film will help change the attitudes of those who haven’t given much thought to environmental issues.

The film and the environmental ethics course, in which Woods also has his students examining their own ecological footprint this semester, have helped the students look at their sustainability habits. 

 “This project and the ecological footprint project are really putting things into perspective for me and making me practice what I preach, which is a lot more difficult than I previously thought,” McGinnis said. “But I also think it is liberating and exciting to see myself and my classmates changing our habits and way of thinking in order to better the state of the environment.” 

Dressel said the class project has provided her with expand potential career options: “I can definitely see myself pursuing projects that advocate social and environmental change on a professional level.” 

— Ryan T. Blystone 

To learn more about USD’s Sustainability Initative efforts, including the April 2009 e-newsletter (and links to previous issues), click here.

USD Magazine’s Summer 2008 issue featured a story on USD’s sustainability initiative and some campus examples. To read it, click here. 

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