Open Letter to President Kuncl Regarding Sustainability on Campus

by | Dec 10, 2016 | cover story, Opinion | 3 comments

Having attended the University of Redlands for nearly four years now, I have witnessed the administration’s approach to campus sustainability on multiple occasions, and I have to say, it’s been pretty frustrating—for myself, other students, faculty members, and alumni. There has been a consistent tone of dismissiveness from the President, along with members of his staff and employees throughout the greater University on topics such as water conservation, divestment, sustainable job opportunities, carbon tax endorsement, composting, and a host of other sustainability projects that have been proposed over the years.

This Friday, President Kuncl opted out of a meeting with the Students for Environmental Action regarding a letter we had written to him about sustainability on campus. His Secretary informed me this morning that “the President had something come up” and could no longer be there to accept our letter in person—an arrangement we had scheduled earlier in the week. Admittedly, things happen, and personal matters can not always be anticipated. However, myself and others can’t help but feel upset at the fact that the President could not honor the one minute of time we requested of him to receive our letter. Despite this, a group of students, including members of SEA and Kappa Pi Zeta, delivered the letter to his office, which was received by the Vice President of Finance, Cory Nomura. It is published below.

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Dear President Kuncl,

As the Co-President of the Students for Environmental Action, I am writing to you on behalf of our members, the large segment of the student body that supports sustainability on campus, and University of Redlands faculty and alumni who share our passion for increasing sustainability on campus.

SEA has been working on numerous projects related to sustainability this year, which we have listed on the next page. Through our efforts, we’ve experienced some pushback from the administration stemming from the idea that our interest in sustainability isn’t widely shared. So, we decided to take a student survey of our sustainability projects to gauge the demand on campus. In just five days of tabling, we managed to survey 400 students, and found that there is overwhelming support for our projects. We’ve enclosed the survey results in this envelope.

Our hope in sending this to you is to demonstrate just how important sustainability is to the people at this University, and encourage you to direct your administration to begin working alongside our many eager students, faculty, and alumni to advance these projects in a meaningful and effective way.

We realize that what we are proposing is a significant undertaking. In fact, we know from experience, having researched and investigated our proposals for some time now. What we’ve found is that while they undoubtedly require effort, they are eminently doable. Indeed, numerous other colleges have implemented such measures to great success. If we just put in the time and energy—which all of us at SEA, along with faculty and alumni are eager to do—we can implement these reforms, which will benefit not only our planet, but also the University’s image as a leader in sustainability, and even its long-term financial strength and stability.  

U of R prides itself as a “Green College.” Many of us, students, faculty, and alumni alike, feel that we are not currently living up to this name. The good news is that there are concrete steps we can take to make sure we practice what we preach, and, as it says on our web page, “lead by example, teaching and demonstrating our commitment to environmental responsibility every day.” We hope to begin taking these steps together in the coming weeks and months, starting by holding regular meetings in which all concerned parties can have an open discussion about our current proposals currently in the works, and what we need to do to make them happen.

We’d appreciate if you would send us a list of possible dates in early January for a preliminary meeting.

Looking forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Austin Tannenbaum

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Projects:

  • Composting. We are looking to implement post-consumer composting on campus. We have spoken with Bon Appetit and they are open to the idea of having composting bins for the students so long as we get a system in place. We have put together a preliminary proposal for expanding our composting system on campus, which includes models, costs, and savings. As an aside, composting is now required by California law under AB 1826.

    Energy efficient LED lighting. Roger Cellini, Director of Facilities, has looked deeply into this idea, and has said that we could save over $22,000 a year in electricity costs by retrofitting our buildings. I believe we’ve already received the okay for this one, and are now looking to expedite the process.
  • Solar Panels. We have solar on Appleton, and a lone panel on Lewis already. We are working to expand the power of solar throughout campus. It would serve the dual purposes of saving money long-term and significantly reducing our carbon footprint. Neighboring schools such as Occidental have widely implemented solar to great success. Numerous people have looked into doing it here over the years. Eddie Haro has been a solar consultant for us in the past. Larry Harville, a retired professor and Redlands resident, is a solar expert who I understand is willing to help in the process. Michael Reilly is an alumnus who did his thesis on solar panels at the U of R and is also willing to help.

    Socially Responsible Investment.  This has been a long-standing desire of many students, faculty, and alumni. Over the past year, we’ve been working with deeply committed alumni Bob and Nancy Wiens as well as an SRI expert and alumna Malaika Maphalala to explore the possibility of the University transferring over to an investment service that screens out fossil fuel companies from its mutual funds. We’re hoping to have Malaika meet with Debbie Heap and Cory Nomura to demonstrate the economic viability of SRI, and then hold a joint meeting to explore the possibility of implementing SRI to simultaneously enhance the University’s endowment and advance its ecological values.
  • Bon Appetit Improvements. This area has been a major focus for the Students for Environmental Action this year. SEA and ASUR have already sent a joint proposal to Bon Appetit, identifying areas of improvement such as: reducing food waste, reducing disposables, expanding composting, and more. Since then, we have met with Pam and other staff members on multiple occasions, and have been told that Bon Appetit is open to our ideas. However, they said that we must coordinate with the administration.

    Water Conservation. There are ways to reduce our water footprint that SEA has been looking into, such as increasing the use of drought tolerant plants and expanding woodchip spaces. While this hasn’t been one of our major projects, we believe believe it is still worth mentioning in light of the ongoing California drought. Also, we would like accurate information regarding the rumor on campus that we cannot conserve water because there is quota that we must fulfill or risk reduction in our water allocation.
  • Carbon Tax Endorsement. Many economists from all over the world agree that a federal price on carbon is the single most effective policy tool we have to combat climate change. In getting new policies passed, public support has proven to be a useful tool. Theo Whitcomb is the student working on this extensively, doing a lot of research, meeting with numerous professors, and I believe even reaching out to you. We’d like to see you endorse a federal carbon tax on behalf of the University as a demonstration of public support.

    Hiring a Sustainability Representative. SEA has thought a lot about how to implement each of these projects and as effectively and efficiently as possible. Currently, it seems that there is no one person in the administration dedicated to the task of sustainability. Other colleges, such as Scripps and UPenn have benefited from having a sustainability representative. We think having one of our own would allow us to advance our projects, and would like to request that administration create and fill such a position.

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<a href="https://www.theredlandsbulldog.com/author/austin/" target="_self">Austin Tannenbaum</a>

Austin Tannenbaum

Austin is an environmental activist, writer, and musician from Montclair, NJ.

3 Comments

  1. Julia

    Amen to all of this, I just wished you also addressed the controversy regarding how admins treat the local bees.

    Reply
  2. Molly

    Great article! I was just visiting last weekend and was very disappointed by the plastic utensils and cups in the Commons, as well as the lack of composting. Things have definitely gone downhill since I graduated in 2012.
    I have an MBA in Sustainability and work as a Sustainability Consultant in the Bay Area. Not only is it the “right” thing to do but sustainability can save companies money – we see it everyday with our clients.
    I just want to say, great work SEA and KPZ! Let me know if you need any assistance making the business case for these projects or creating a plan going forward.

    Reply
  3. Miles

    Killer letter and work Austin. You’re fighting the good fight! Keep it up man!

    Reply

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