Students and faculty gather to make an impact on sustainability

Author: Ashley Lo

Four leading sustainability speakers gathered on Monday, Oct. 9 to discuss sustainability efforts with Notre Dame students on campus. The panel aimed to “increase visibility and education of climate change and the role of renewable energy,” said one campaign organizer. 

The panel was hosted by Impact, a nonprofit organization based in Chicago, and co-sponsored by minor in sustainability. 

Universities today are becoming increasingly crucial agents of sustainability. Schools like Michigan State, UT Austin and Stanford are investing over 5 million dollars in solar energy, according to Timothy Powers, research and policy associate at Inovateus Solar and a 2011 alum of Notre Dame.  

Notre Dame is proud to be among the list in promoting college sustainability effort. Last year, the university installed the newest geothermal technology in the Pasquerilla facility and a wellfield under the intramural facility. Students can also expect more efficient heat pumps in the next two years.

Despite the difficulty of preserving installed equipments, an energy conservation program that started in 2008 at Notre Dame had been very successful — the school has not exceeded energy use and had saved more than 20% of base building energy despite increased construction on campus, largely due to the contribution of renewable energy and efficient lighting, explained Mark Hummel, assistant director of utilities at Notre Dame. 

Notre Dame’s commitment to carbon reduction for the 2005-2030 term is also significantly ahead of schedule, already with an 83% reduction in consumption, according to Hummel. 

The biggest challenge, when it comes to promoting solar energy, is that most are uneducated. “Solar used to be a hippie thing, but now it’s a billion dollar industry, basically what oil was 50 years ago.” said Powers. 

The increased attention to environment is also evident in the classroom, as sustainability courses in accounting, finance and marketing have exploded in the past 25 years, noted Mendoza College of Business Professor Sandra Vera Munoz. 

Another notable roadblock is the expense and uncertainty of investments. Fortunately for universities interested in sustainability, investors are more willing to invest in colleges because environmentally focused education is not going away — and neither are the solar panels installed on a college campus. 

“Essentially it’s investing in your future,” said Austin Fry, ESTEEM graduate student who is currently working on his capstone project with Inovateus Solar. Building a solar plant is more expensive yet more cost-effective in the long run, as coal plants will be decommissioned in 10 years, according to Fry.

The only real solution, and why students and the speakers gathered in DeBartolo 116 on a Monday evening, is education — the only way to “build a better tomorrow,” as Fry said.

Originally published by Ashley Lo at on October 13, 2017.