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Measuring PLU’s environmental footprint

August 11, 2008

Measuring PLU’s environmental footprint

During fall semester of her freshman year, a religion course and an environmental science course sparked Becca Krzmarzick’s interest in sustainability issues. Before coming to PLU, the Hoquiam, Wash., native didn’t even recycle, a fact she admits almost sheepishly. Now a junior, Krzmarzick is co-president of the student-run environmental club, Grass Roots Environmental Action Now (G.R.E.A.N.), sits on PLU’s Sustainability Committee and is pursuing a minor in environmental sciences. In May, she was one of three students awarded 2008-09 Sustainability Fellowships.

The Office of the Provost funds two of the fellows annually, and is supporting the projects of Lauren Buchholz and Eric Pfaff. Meanwhile, Krzmarzick’s project is supported by Mithun, a Seattle design firm that renovated the University Center last summer.

This marks the first year Mithun has funded a student fellowship, and it did come with a catch: Krzmarzick’s project has to relate to the built environment. Buchholz and Pfaff’s project topics weren’t restricted.

Krzmarzick is compiling data for the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System – STARS for short. Developed by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, the system “is a voluntary, self-reporting framework for gauging relative progress toward sustainability for colleges and universities,” according to the STARS Web site.

The reporting system aims to provide a guide to advance sustainability in higher education, establish common standards of measurement, create incentives for continued improvement and facilitate information sharing. PLU is one of 90 schools in the pilot program.

The data Krzmarzick’s collecting falls into two categories, operations and administration/finance. The operations category includes information on energy use, waste minimization streams, dining statistics and building features. The administration/finance category examines investments, the campus master planning documents and staff positions.

“It’s fun seeing how everything on campus meshes together,” Krzmarzick said.

It’s the first time data from across the university has been collected and compiled into one report. Krzmarzick said most of her information comes from Dining and Culinary Services, Facilities and Environmental Services. The STARS system has helped highlight what PLU is doing right and revealed where improvements are needed.

“We definitely have a lot of good things going for us,” Krzmarzick said. “With STARS, we can see where we’re lacking, see what we’re missing, and go from there.”

Krzmarzick said her fellowship experience will translate to her role as co-president of G.R.E.A.N. This year, she’ll build on the relationships she’s developed with departments across campus, and she’s identified campus issues in which the club can take a leading role.