Emissions-Free or Bust! (Or So Says UNH’s Bumper Sticker)
Sustainable transportation is a hot growth area across American campuses. Some schools have developed community bike programs; others coordinate rail and bus service for commuters. Many have added hybrid vehicles to their on-campus fleet of rental cars, or use biofuels in official school vehicles.
And then there’s University of New Hampshire, a relatively small state university which has chosen to go with (d.) All of the Above. Bikes can be checked out for up to a week at a time, at no cost to the user. Their rideshare board, GoLoco, can be added as an application on students’ Facebook profile. Not only do they coordinate rail service for students–they built a train station on campus. On campus transit? Free. And the off-campus transit system is… also free.
To top it all off, not only do official UNH vehicles use biodiesel, but they use their own brand of biodiesel, called EcoCat, converted from raw materials on campus. Between EcoCat, compressed natural gas, and electricity, the fleet at UNH is entirely fuelled with alternative energy.
In addition to the thorough transportation program, the university’s Office of Sustainability coordinates projects across every sphere of campus life-from waste management to energy (they are currently building a twelve-mile pipeline and production facility that will turn landfill methane into electricity). The university also offers related academic programs, including a major in EcoGastronomy and a minor in sustainable living. The result is a comprehensive culture of sustainability.
According to UNH Chief Sustainability Officer Tom Kelly,
By its very nature, sustainability is not about single issues, not even climate change. Sustainability calls us to see things whole by focusing on the interactions that do not conform to our fragmented organizational and societal structures and the ways of seeing and doing that they engender. Sustainability is not about business as usual; it should not be confused with incremental technical approaches to managing the status quo more efficiently nor with the greening of consumerism. It is a question of culture, of our sense of meaning and purpose as Americans and as human beings.
Key to UNH’s success in sustainable transportation is their understanding that one must develop culture in community, creating partnerships both within the university and with outside organizations. According to Stephen Pesci, Project Director for Campus Planning, it takes about five years to change a university’s transportation culture, and you can’t do it without heavy interdepartmental cooperation and active administration involvement.
He traces the beginning of the culture shift at UNH from 2001, when the Vice-President of the University joined the transportation planning committee. Quickly the committee moved from dealing largely with parking complaints to aggressively sustainable, large-scale planning. The University Office of Sustainability, Transportation Services, and Campus Planning all came together to craft a new direction for the future of transportation that is now encoded in the university’s Master Plan. They have built strong partnerships with external organizations, including Amtrak, the Department of Transportation, and the Department of Energy to make their program a success.
Transit ridership has doubled since 2000. The campus is alive with dedicated bike lanes. In August 2006, the Department of Transportation opened a new biodiesel fueling facility on campus. The on-campus rail station includes full intercity bus capacity and a restaurant for commuters waiting for their train or bus. Of course, leftover vegetable oil waste from the restaurant gets converted to biodiesel fuel.
All is not cupcakes and roses in transportation planning; the campus is currently facing several related problems. Demand for transit is outpacing availability. Parking revenue (a significant source of funding in the past) has dropped precipitously. And most recently, the number of bikes on campus has exploded, causing the administration to scramble to install sufficient bike racks. As Pesci says, “it’s a pretty good problem to have.”