Eight years ago, then-Cal Poly President Warren Baker signed a declaration to prioritize sustainability at the university.
The pledge, “The Talloires Declaration,” is a 10-point plan composed by French university officials in 1990 to commit academia to incorporating sustainability into all aspects of education.
Since the signing, green movements have taken root and blossomed at Cal Poly, all of them are looking for new ways to make the campus and the community a greener place.
Today, Cal Poly administration and students are working in their own ways to make sustainable practices a part of every aspect of Cal Poly culture, Victoria Carranza, president for the Empower Poly Coalition said. Empower Poly Coalition is a united group of Cal Poly’s many environmentally-minded clubs and student organizations.
“We need to all be thinking about how to combine our disciplines and how to work together,” Carranza said.
Sustainability is not so much a specific study or action, but a method of doing things, she said.
If Cal Poly has a single guiding purpose, it’s to give students an education, and increasingly, people have been working to create courses and programs on sustainability, Center for Sustainability director Hunter Francis said.
The university’s commitment to polytechnic education is integral in teaching students about sustainability, Francis said.
The Center for Sustainability offers students internships, jobs, lectures and seminars on the subject, as well as helping to create new hands-on classes on subjects such as organic agriculture. They also offer tours of current green projects, such as free guided tours of the center’s composting facilities this Saturday.
“Sustainability is something that’s very complex and people have different opinions,” Francis said.
The variety of learning opportunities, though, helps students get a broad understanding of sustainability’s applications, Francis said.
The only drawback to the Learn By Doing approach, though, is that different colleges and programs are so fragmented, he said.
In the future, Francis hopes to see different environmental programs united, similar to the Empower Poly Coalition’s approach to clubs.
“There could be a better coordination of efforts,” Francis said. “Within the different colleges there are initiatives for sustainability that are not always visible to people in different colleges.”
This coordinated approach is what inspired Poly Permaculture, a club dedicated to finding a “holistic” sustainable model, architecture senior and Poly Permaculture president Alex Vincent said.
Sustainability needs to be incorporated into all disciplines and classes instead of being a separate issue, Vincent said.
“Sustainable education at Cal Poly is sort of singled out,” Vincent said. “You take a sustainability class. It’s not integrated into other courses.”
And when budget cuts mean cutting courses, sustainable courses are sometimes the first on the chopping block, Vincent said.
Students for Sustainability
But students can change sustainability’s image at Cal Poly, Vincent said. Students can ask faculty to include sustainability as an issue in regular course material, Vincent said.
“The big thing is, demand it,” Vincent said.
Already, sustainability is a priority for many vocal students at Cal Poly, business administration junior Brett Edwards, more famously known as his alter-ego, Mr. Eco, said.
Edwards creates music videos as Mr. Eco to help raise awareness for ways students and community members can be environmentally friendly and talks with on-campus groups such as Associated Students, Inc., Facility Services and Cal Poly Corporation to push his green message.
He’s also met students on campus who feel the same way he does about the environment through his music.
“I think there is a very strong pool of students that do care, and they are kind of the leaders,” Edwards said.
These students help lead through their clubs, such as Empower Poly Coalition, which is the force behind events such as last Wednesday’s Green Career Mixer and upcoming California Student Sustainability Coalition Convergence, an annual event held at Cal Poly this year to bring together all California students interested in the environment.
Empower Poly Coalition, created in 2005, is a prime example of green student activism, Carranza said.
“We came at it with the intention to really spark policy changes on campus,” Carranza said.
The Business Side of Green
Students are not the only people at Cal Poly taking actions to be more sustainable though, Edwards said.
Facilities Services, which controls electricity, water and everything else that makes the campus run, has been working for over a decade to decrease energy use. It’s also frequently implementing new programs that focus on sustainability, Edwards said.
“We’re doing tons of projects,” Edwards said.
Edwards has also been reached out to by Cal Poly Corporation. He recently began collaborating with it on a project called, “The Clean Plate Club,” to help cut down on food waste at Metro Station.
“That’s something that’s showing that (Campus) Dining cares about their carbon footprint with excessive amount of food waste,” Edwards said.