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Environment / Sustainability

Earth Week celebrates CSU's green legacy

April 21, 2010
By Tony Frank, President

At Colorado State University, Earth Week is an opportunity to deepen our understanding and appreciation for the natural environment while also celebrating the lead role that CSU has played throughout its history in promoting environmental research, education and preservation.

Supporting the interests of a healthy planet

Aerial view of the south end of campus looking southwest at Longs Peak (2003). Photo by CSU Photography.

Living in Colorado gives us more than our fair share of reasons to celebrate the natural wonders and resources of our planet. Just glancing west from campus, seeing the Rockies laced with late spring snow, provides a regular reminder that we live in one of the most unique and beautiful environments on Earth. This month, it also provides a great reminder of why we take the time each spring to celebrate Earth Week.

At Colorado State University, Earth Week is an opportunity to deepen our understanding and appreciation for the natural environment while also celebrating the lead role that CSU has played throughout its history in promoting environmental research, education, and preservation.

Historic achievements

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, but Colorado State University’s heritage as a center of environmental, natural resources, and clean-energy research goes back more than a century. The list of CSU’s historic achievements in this arena is a long one:

  • Our philosophy faculty pioneered the field of environmental ethics.
  • CSU established the nation’s first emissions-control program.
  • Scientists at CSU created the world’s first engineered solar-heated and -cooled building.
  • CSU offers one of the nation’s oldest and most respected programs in natural resources and was the first to offer a short-course in forestry for rangers, and is one of the few universities in the nation to operate a state forest service.
  • CSU scientists, with NASA, created the world’s most sensitive cloud-profiling radar, now orbiting Earth and monitoring climate change and global warming activity from space.
  • Our faculty have built the largest and most prominent independent engines research laboratory in North America, a setting for development of distributed power grid systems, clean-burning engines, and cleaner burning cook stoves to improve health and quality of life in the developing world.
  • Our Construction Management Program offers one of the nation’s top programs in green and sustainable building.
  • We were one of the first universities in the country to offer green power as an option to students living on campus.

Students eating lunch at the new Academic Village, built as an innovative, sustainable construction project. Photo by CSU Photography.

There are many, many other points I could add to these. When we dedicated our 2 megawatt solar plant out at the Foothills Campus earlier this year — with the potential to save $2 million in energy costs over the next 20 years — we were standing only a short distance away from where our faculty helped pioneer solar energy research more than 40 years ago. It was a potent example of how the hard work and long hours that academics spend in the laboratory can ultimately transform our world in concrete and important ways.

Reducing our carbon footprint

That same combination of innovative thinking and responsible stewardship is reflected in CSU’s ongoing commitment to become a truly green university in terms of how we operate. Our Facilities team has been leading efforts to promote the sustainability of our campus operations and to map — and then reduce — our carbon footprint. Their efforts to improve energy efficiency and conservation on campus over the last several years have already resulted in significant cost savings to the university.

Reducing CSU’s carbon footprint won’t be easy. It will be a long and challenging process that will likely continue long after any of us has left this university. But such challenges are a source of inspiration for an academic community like ours.

As we celebrate Earth Week with everything from a campus bike parade on Monday afternoon to Thursday’s Sustainability Fair, we are also celebrating our university’s lasting commitment to education, scholarship, and responsible management that supports the interests of a healthy planet.

Originally published in the Rocky Mountain Collegian, April 19, 2010.