Sustainability summit celebrates achievements, sets new water-use target

Saying there is “always more to do” toward going green, Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, speaking Tuesday at the 8th Annual Sustainability Summit, not only lauded the campus’s achievements to-date but announced an ambitious new conservation goal: reducing the campus’s use of potable water to 10 percent below 2008 levels by 2020. “This will require an investment of $1.6 million over five years,” he said, but “we’ll save $250,000 a year indefinitely.”

UC Berkeley uses more than 600 million gallons of potable water annually — mostly for water faucets, toilets, showers and other domestic purposes on the main campus and in the student-residence halls. According to a study by the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability (CACS), the campus can meet the new water-use goals by upgrading to lower-flow fixtures, repairing leaks, replacing heating equipment and encouraging water conservation. Negotiations are in progress for a source of non-potable water, suitable for irrigation. If those are successful, Birgeneau said, the campus would be able to double its water-reduction goal.

“Advancing sustainability at UC Berkeley” was the theme of the 2011 summit, held in the Pauley Ballroom and its lobby, where a poster session and presentations from the stage revealed the depth, breadth and sheer number of ongoing campus sustainability projects. These initiatives range from major institutional initiatives — such as seven current LEED-certified construction projects — to “Stop the Cycle,” a student research and education initiative on how students can reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, water use and pollution when washing their clothes. (In its survey, the group found that Berkeley’s residence halls alone have 47 laundry rooms and 168 washing machines).

“We’re bombarded by so much information on environmental threats,” said summit participant Michelle Low, co-coordinator of the campus’s celebration of Earth Week, April 18-22. “As students, how can we incite change?”

“All these small steps culminate in a larger change movement,” suggested her co-coordinator, Michelle Choi.

refilling a metal water bottle

The campus's "I Heart Tap Water" program discourages use of commercially bottled water. At the Dwinelle Hall refill station alone, students have refilled more than 17,000 times since January. (Annie Frantzeskos photo)

It’s a tradition at the annual summit to honor student and staff efforts with the campus’s Sustainability Award. This year’s kudos went to three individuals and one team: Chris Harvey, director of capital projects for Berkeley’s Residential and Student Services Program, for work to achieve sustainability goals in RSSP construction projects; student Kimberly Lam, who helps lead the “Stop the Cycle” laundry project and co-teaches a DeCal class on energy; student Rose Whitson for her work on waste reduction through ASUC’s Sustainability Team (STeam); and the Berkeley Student Food Collective, which opened a healthy and sustainable food outlet on Bancroft Way last fall.

The announcement of new water-consumption goals comes on the heels of the ASUC student election, in which Berkeley students voted 8 to 1 for ending the sale of bottled water on campus. Guest speaker Peter Gleick — a Cal alum, MacArthur “genius” and internationally renowned water expert — lauded that move during his keynote address.

Gleick’s latest book, Bottled and Sold, explores “the story behind our obsession with bottled water.” Revisiting its themes, he said that water both “touches on every aspect of the human endeavor” and has become a big business — worth $500 billion a year worldwide in goods and services. Bottled water (9 billion gallons of which were sold in the U.S. last year) is emblematic, he said, of two approaches to the life-giving substance: water as a human right versus water as an economic good.

“A product available to all of us in our homes 24/7” is now sold to us in bottles, Gleick noted, “at a cost 2,000 to 3,000 times higher than tap water.” He ended by announcing that his nonprofit, the Oakland-based Pacific Institute, was creating a new mobile app to map public drinking fountains, and asked for 20 to 30 student volunteers to help intensively map the East Bay.

Moving to a sustainable future can and will be done “over multiple generations,” he predicted. “Welcome to your future.”