Sustainability on Campus

Given the time and money, there are a few things related to sustainability that I would really like to see CSUSM focus on.

Water & Irrigation 

One thing that CSUSM could use a lot of is monitored watering systems for trees and plants. Drip lines, soaker hoses and more closely controlled sprinklers are all possibilities for making that happen.

Replacing thirsty plants is another way to reduce water usage on campus. CSUSM could slowly phase out any thirsty plants we may have (such as lawn grass) and maintain native plants. Some lawns could be replaced by high-quality and long lasting artificial grass, community garden spaces, solar panelled shade structures, etc.

Although it may be ideal to replace all of the grass on campus with lovely (though admittedly expensive) artificial lawns, in the mean time the irrigation on campus could use some additional management. Certain areas on campus are watered unnecessarily or too frequently, and campus landscaping irrigation should be calibrated to reflect that. For example, there is a section of grass in between the Arts and Social and Behavioral Science Building (the one that is currently roped off as a new sidewalk is installed) that is regularly watered to the point of saturation and overflow, despite the fact that half of that lawn has become a mud pit over time (probably due to a combination of trampling and over-watering). Areas like this obviously do not need to be watered so much and so often – doing so is a waste of valuable water. The sprinkler system should be set up to meet the demands of individual areas without over-watering so that this does not happen. 

It might also be wise for CSUSM to capture water in a number of large rain barrels over the winter months and use that water specifically for watering landscaping plants. This would not only reduce water usage and costs, but would also limit CSUSM from installing more plants than Southern California’s annual rainfall allows. These barrels could be set uphill from where the water is needed so that at least some of the on campus irrigation can take advantage of gravity and pressure to transport the water from one end to the other (if it isn’t already doing so).

Water can of course be saved in other areas, such as its use in restrooms around campus. One method of lessening water usage could be to instal water pressure control systems for sinks which would prevent water from coming out at unnecessarily high pressures (in my experience many of the sinks on campus shoot out way more water than is really needed for hand washing, as if blasting students’ hands will forcibly blow the germs off). Additionally, one other possibility among many others could be to use gray water for flushing the toilets on campus, which would easily improve CSUSM’s water usage.


It should be noted that getting rid of all plants on campus would not necessarily improve CSUSM’s carbon footprint as green spaces are needed for shade, heat reduction, air filtration, and CO2 absorption. With that in mind, CSUSM should concentrate on better water usage and drought tolerant plant choices rather than removing all vegetation from the campus. Allowing students to help cultivate certain areas in either a communal garden or other space may encourage this practice. For example, establishing some kind of club that focuses on gardening and plant care could present opportunities for students to help plant and care for new trees around campus that they then get to name or dedicate. Activities like that might help to make proper plant care feel more personally significant. As an added bonus, more trees on campus would help to keep it cool and shady during hotter months.

Allowing students to grow vegetables on campus in a larger garden than the one we have is an equally enticing idea. Although the idea of having a farmers’ market on campus is lovely, the rules regarding the sale of food may require difficult to obtain permits. This wouldn’t be just because of CSUSM’s contract with food providers, but also because of federal, state and local regulations regarding food sales. This could present a challenge for groups of students who might all need to obtain individual certificates/permits or other types of permissions if their club or organization cannot get one general permit. There may also be strict rules regarding how to food is grown and handled before it reaches the market that students would have to work around. A farmers’ market on campus may also lead to legal difficulties if any students or faculty who have purchased vegetables decided to sue due to an illness or other problem caused by food grown on campus. In short, although I haven’t actually researched how easy or difficult it may be to sell student-grown food to other students, it may take quite some time before something like a farmers’ market becomes feasible regardless of laws involving farmers’ market vendors. In light of this, perhaps in the meantime students can practice growing their own vegetables in a communal garden hosted by CSUSM. There may be a whole different set of permits involved with something like that for all I know, but in an ideal world a communal garden on campus could be a great option for students who lack the money, space or other resources for a home garden. Perhaps students who sign up to use it could be allotted individual or group spaces as well as resources (such as shared irrigated beds and garden soil). The resources needed could be provided to them to set up themselves and plant what they like. Perhaps groups could even be established based on what days they have classes so that they can trade off days to check on and care for their plants. A campus garden of some kind would allow students a unique opportunity to grow their own food that they may not find elsewhere.


Although it may not be a feasible option in the short term, perhaps CSUSM could be a leader in North County’s move toward sustainable practices. It is time for San Diego to catch up with the rest of California and CSUSM could help to demonstrate how efficient our local organizations can be.

 Possibly one of the most obvious changes that could be made at some point in the future might be the installation of solar panels around campus to lower our dependency on fossil fueled energy. Solar panels that double as shade structures could be installed in parking areas as well as the rooves of buildings. In fact, the construction company M Bar C is within perhaps 2 miles of the school and specializes specifically in solar panel shade structures for parking lots, so help could even be found locally.

In addition to solar panels, structures on campus could be updated for greater efficiency in other ways. Techniques for more efficient temperature control, such as shady overhangs on buildings, layouts that enhance natural ventilation and cool roofing could easily improve energy use and efficiency. Using greener materials for other installments on campus can also help to keep the campus cool and reduce water and energy usage. One great example of using greener materials like this includes the use of permeable pavements, which reflect sun and absorb water, increasing the effect of evaporative cooling and keep the overall temperature of the campus under control. Green spaces that include native plants and trees have a similar cooling effect as well as a calming and aesthetic appeal. Planting more trees in the campus parking lots would also have a similar cooling effect in areas where solar panel shade structures are not blocking sunlight. 

Cool rooves or green rooves could also be installed on campus buildings. Given the Southern California climate as well as the comparative costs between those two options however, cool rooves could have the most beneficial impact in the near future as their light color would reflect sunlight and keep indoor temperatures pleasant.

As a bonus, the combination of light colored cool roofing and permeable pavements as well as on campus green spaces would give CSUSM a much higher albedo, which would keep our campus much cooler in the summer and help to reduce the overall temperature in our immediate area. It is possible that practices like this could also help to reduce the overall temperature of San Marcos if implemented more widely and, if it were possible to practice worldwide, might even help reduce the rising temperature of the earth (although I am not making a definitive statement here as researchers remain unsure if this would make a measurable difference to the overall temperature of the earth). However, if nothing else, an increase in light surfaces on campus (or, similarly, more vegetated surfaces) would help reduce high temperatures during hot months. A reduced temperature can mean fewer cooling costs for the University. In fact, CSUSM might even consider utilizing any of that extra money for something fun like lowering the cost of parking, adding more classes or providing students with helpful resources.

Education and Awareness 

Not many sustainable solutions will be possible without general awareness. If people on campus don’t know about the problem then a solution may be hard to come by, and a consensus may be even harder to reach. The art department could participate in this part of the process by creating posters, flyers, videos, webpages, blogs or other materials for spreading awareness. This could help to create an understanding about what kinds of things can be done to not only reduce CSUSM’s carbon footprint, but also about what individuals can do to lessen their own impact on the environment. Educating students and faculty on environmental issues and what CSUSM might be able to do about it could be a big step toward getting our university to participate in the kind of changes that the world needs.

Address Nimbyism

Lastly, as my group and a few others talked about during class, CSUSM could take steps to make sustainability beautiful. If there are any existing concerns about sustainable development on campus degrading its visual appeal (ha), then those concerns could be addressed with artistic responses. This is another thing that the art department could easily be involved in. As an example, projects that involve beautifying environmentally friendly equipment/appliances and creating inspiring artworks that bring attention to issues such as global warming, pollution, water scarcity, etc could not only help to ease CSUSM’s transition to more sustainable practices, but might also stir up some excitement among students and faculty about how lovely our campus could become. Producing beautiful and environmentally conscious art like that around campus could help make the change to sustainable practices seem concrete and attainable, and usher in a positive attitude toward sustainable development. Environmental art on campus could build up the momentum needed to take action and make our campus more sustainable.


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