It never fails to be absolutely gorgeous here in Queensland, Australia. Today was no exception. It is currently Tuesday, 10 January* in Australia (a Monday back in the States) with sunny weather and a current temperature of 28 degrees Celsius. The thirteen of us students are staying in the Varsity student apartments, just minutes away from the impressive University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) in Sippy Downs.
To start the day, Emma and I gave a presentation on place and place-identity in the state of Queensland. We determined that “place” is a relevant term that encompasses physical geography aspects, as well as an individual’s viewpoint and interpretation. Although two people might be in the same location, they could be absorbing widely different information when it comes down to place. This concept is considered “bottom-up processing” since the specific place is built on factors such as wind, temperature, landscape, and more, which are by the viewer. For instance, someone visiting Laramie during a tranquil summer afternoon might have a positive view of the place, while another student might have been blown off his/her feet from a 45 mph wind during their winter visit. The two visitors would leave with two very distinct image associations. This goes to show that a place is extremely subjective and built from various physical observations.
The second concept, place-identity, refers to the individual’s ability to process information from a “top-down” perspective. This means that any emotional-ties and feelings of belonging arise because of experiences and attachment within the location. For example, a Coloradan might feel strongly about being an outdoorsman or a snowboarder after spending so many years in nature. That same man identifies with a specific mentality and, in turn, acts according to the aligned beliefs of a Coloradan snowboarder. Such experiences, attitudes, and values drive our connections to place and space, and form the foundations of our cultural and national identities.
Here at USC, a student pitched the idea to prohibit plastic bottles on campus in order to significantly reduce the University’s environmental impact and boost environmental pride. The student took her place identity and sparked a new identity to “sell” to her campus, and now USC is sharing that idea with other campuses like UW. The idea is innovative and, quite surprisingly, a good monetary investment.
We also had the pleasure today of speaking with USC Sustainability Officer Hailey Bolland who, with the help of the Sustainability Department, implemented this project in 2015. She informed us that the initiative has been widely successful. USC has saved over 1.5 million dollars and 30,000-40,000 bottles every year by installing water stations throughout the campus. There are chilled and micro-filtered stations where you can quickly purchase water at a cheap price (much cheaper than a $4 or $5 bottle), as well as free drinking fountains. These encouraged the use of reusable bottles and ultimately led to a 100% plastic-bottle free campus. Even the cafeteria in the Brasserie does not sell them! A pre-implementation survey showed that 82% of students were accepting of a ban on plastic water bottles as long as they were replaced by a sufficient alternative. Even with this base of support, it still took the teams several months to realize the Water Refill Campus Initiative.
USC Sustainability has also played a key role in pioneering new infrastructure. The college has channeled their rainfall and local water sources through a massive filtration system, so that all the air conditioning and swimming pool water can now utilize the otherwise static and untapped water. As in Wyoming, new buildings can receive green certification to reduce energy use and carbon footprints. Here in Australia, such buildings are recognized as examples of Environmentally Sustainable Design where green buildings in the US are commonly certified through the LEED program (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). Common features of ESD buildings are: rainwater storage, CO2 room detection, solar shading, motion sensors, and various others. In addition to their water allocation, USC has built an OSCA on campus, empowering them in the area of waste management. OSCA stands for On Site Composting Apparatus and takes a 6:4 wet-to-dry ratio of all compostables, crunches them up, oxygenates them, and puts them back into the earth to continue the life cycle. The majority of what humans throw away is actually organic, and it is organic waste that produces so much gas emission. OSCA segregates paper/cardboard, bottles/cans, compostable, and landfill materials throughout campus. It has reduced USC waste by 22% and increased recycling in other areas.
After about a year, the campus gained the support of its entire body and staff, who adapted to the changing environment. In the future, many of us hope to implement some of what we have observed during the trip in our own homes.
Globalization has aided the world in many areas, but a massive environmental change might be the largest negative externality due to population and technology. Just as USC adapted to accommodate the needs of the environment, so should we, and the rest of the world.
Editor’s Note: The author drafted this post on his birthday. Happy birthday, Hunter!