What if technology and the economy were designed to sustain rather than degrade the natural environment? Imagine a world where waste is eliminated because all waste products are recycled.

Does this sound like a pipe dream? Not if you believe in the concept of sustainability, which is reshaping state institutions from WSU to Olympia.

Gov. Gary Locke has issued an executive order that the state of Washington should practice sustainable development. This means looking at how water and energy issues, growth and economic development can be approached in an integrated manner that maintains natural resources.

WSU has taken a number of steps toward this goal of sustainability. The First Annual Sustainability Forum was held on campus in October. Eldon Franz, associate professor in the Environmental Science and Regional Planning Program, was the director; Matt Taylor, assistant professor in the School for Architecture and Construction Management, was a panelist; and John Glass, director of Materials and Resources Management/Central Stores, was the keynote speaker.

Student involvement
Franz said one of the lessons of the conference was the importance of student involvement.

“When I was an undergraduate we had student teach-ins. The teach-ins were largely organized by the students. What I would like to see develop for the sustainability forum next year is to involve students in planning the program.”

WSU has successful student involvement in its recycling program at the Stephenson residential complex. Judy Dunn, campus recycling coordinator, invited an environmental studies class to assess recycling needs there.

The class recommended that instead of placing trash receptacles outside, the bins should be placed inside on every floor. Students were issued tote bags to haul waste to the receptacles. For approximately $10,000 there was a 1,000 percent increase in recycling with this method, Dunn reported.

Taylor and the School of Architecture and Construction Management are assisting mechanical engineering student Alex McDonald’s involvement in Engineers Without Borders. The group began in 2000 in Longmont, Colo., and is dedicated to doing sustainable development using the resources at hand, McDonald said. “We use local materials to design and build projects; we teach the local populace how to develop their projects,” he said. He is working on an Indian reservation near Yakima.

Restructure purchasing
Revamping purchasing practices on campus is key to sustainability, Glass said. “If you’re buying a product that can’t be recycled, then you’re just buying more expense for the university,” he said.

Consumer attitudes must change to achieve true sustainability, Taylor said. “Where I’m from, the University of Oregon, nobody uses disposable plastic or Styrofoam,” he said. “And in Europe, for example, they don’t say, ‘paper or plastic?’ They say, ‘bring your own bags.’ We need to completely rethink the way we use things.”

Franz said the future of sustainability lies in supporting businesses and industries that adopt the principles of conserving, reusing and restoring natural resources. The European Union has adopted a “green certification system” for identifying such goods and services, and the United States should follow suit, he said.

“I expect to be developing an option for our Environmental Science and Regional Planning Program degrees to emphasize sustainability, so our students will be prepared to assume leadership roles in industry, government and daily life,” he said.