Water They Doing?

Tess, Jenny, Tim, and Enrique

Flawed logic. Sometimes spotting it is easy, like finding Waldo in a nudist camp, but sometimes, it’s a bit harder than that. Depending on one’s perspective, illogical ideas, statements and actions can be harder or easier to spot. Here’s an example of flawed logic at its finest:

I knew a man, who we shall name Jeff. Jeff lived a simple life. He didn’t stress himself out over global politics, and in turn, the world didn’t interfere with his life too much. He was slightly overweight, and one day at McDonald’s while ordering his lunch, he said to the pimply faced 17 year old cashier “I’ll have a double cheeseburger, large fries and a diet coke ‘cause I’m trying to lose weight.”

Silly isn’t it? Here we see an action that Jeff believes will help them lose weight–drinking diet soda–but such this one reduction in calories will make little to no difference for him, as he is still consuming an entire double cheeseburger and large fries, making the effort nearly insignificant. This example may seem over-the-top and quite obviously illogical, but recognizing the inconsistent thought process is a starting point.

Suppose you decide to purchase a more fuel efficient hybrid car to save the environment while saving a few bucks here and there as well. Driving the same amount uses less fuel, and therefore creates less air pollution, but knowing this eliminates any and all guilt when driving around. You end up driving a bit more over the next few months because after all, you’re spending less and polluting less. But, by constantly justifying extra trips with your new, flashy hybrid, you slowly increase your environmental and economic impact until it becomes greater than what it was previously. And then you exceed your previous carbon footprint. Under the guise of sustainability and fuel efficiency, your carbon footprint grows and the well intentioned impulse of getting a more environmentally friendly car has been followed up with the wrong action.

At Santa Clara University (SCU), we’ve seen the error in our previously unsustainable ways, and taken action to be more sustainable and environmentally friendly. By integrating environmental and economic sustainability into campus operations and student life, Santa Clara University is an environmental pioneer, paving the way for a more sustainable future. Arguably the most improved aspect of sustainability that SCU achieved through their recent strategies is their water use and decrease in water consumption. Previously, sprinklers to water the grass on Santa Clara University’s beautiful campus used potable water, but after 2003, SCU switched to using recycled water for this. This action reduced overall water consumption by 60%. Furthermore, 95% of residence halls use low-flow shower heads, and all washing machines in dormitories are front loading washing machines, which use 35-50% less water than their top-loading counterparts. Water bottle filling stations are also provided around campus, encouraging students to use their own water bottles instead of constantly purchasing disposable plastic water bottles.

But do these water saving strategies really work? They sound extremely effective on paper, and statistics of the amount of water saved are astonishing, but considering everything as an aggregate, is Santa Clara University and its students really more sustainable? Or have we become victims of this tragic irony?

Unfortunately, we aren’t quite as sustainable as we present ourselves to be here at SCU. The strategies and policies that SCU has adopted are by no means bad for the environment, but our main problems are the habits that we continue, and the habits we develop because we believe that we are sustainable. The high we get from calling ourselves “sustainable” blinds us from the fact that many of our habits are actually not, all the while wholeheartedly believing that we are some sort of pioneer for the future. If we allow these bad habits to fester, and fail to fix our flaws then we contribute to our own downfall. Our actions provide a release for our feelings of guilt, and stop us from thinking about fixing our preexisting imprudent practices.

The university uses the idea of sustainability to make more money and gain recognition for being “sustainable” even though it adopts extremely wasteful practices. Like Jeff, our double cheeseburger ordering friend from earlier, the actions and motivations of Santa Clara University and its students are inconsistent. Let’s take the grass, for example. Santa Clara may have switched to a recycled water source for the grass, but the grass is not irrigated solely by recycled water. A fraction of the water used is potable, but the claim that recycled water is sustainable has led to the justification of a nightly grass watering schedule even when the grass had already been watered from natural rainfall.

Another “sustainable” practice that the university put into place during the peak of California’s drought was turning off most of the water fountains around campus. But in reality, the water saved from doing this pales in comparison to the water the school continued to use by watering the grass every night. Like using recycled water, this practice has justified the watering schedule, and the amalgamation of these imperfect actions by SCU has led the university to be critically acclaimed by magazines and articles for being a sustainable campus. After all, being recognized by these sources while maintaining the beauty of the campus makes the school that much more attractive to prospective students.

We decided to define sustainability as the ability to meet the demands of today without compromising the next generation’s ability to meet their needs. At our current rate of water consumption we are not sustainable.

In addition to such unsustainable watering practices, SCU seems to greatly overlook one of the leading causes of climate degradation and water usage – the meat and dairy farming industries. Lindsey Kalkbrenner, the school’s director of sustainability wrote an article for the San Francisco Chronicle about water usage, the California drought, and how we can use less water. She points out, and clearly understands, the massive amounts of water that are used in meat production. However, she openly admits to eating meat herself. Instead of urging vegetarian and veganism, she merely encourages people to eat from sustainable sources and implement meatless Mondays. In the documentary movie Cowspiracy, Kip Andersen argues that Meatless Mondays are a way that people attempt to cheat out of going to the full extent of cutting all animal products out of their diet to preserve the earth’s precious resources. This is another example of flawed logic as this small change does minimal amounts to increase sustainability and, for many people, is just used to justify consuming meat every other day of the week. When the person who is supposed to lead an entire university to live more sustainably does not do so to the full extent herself, it sets the university up to follow that lead.

As might be expected based on the dietary choices of the sustainability director, vegetarian and veganism is not strongly promoted on campus, and students are not educated about how much water the meat and dairy industries use. The Santa Clara University Center for Sustainability web page has a page dedicated to taking action for water conservation. There, they list a variety of ways that we can make efforts both on campus and at home. The list includes ideas such as: capturing excess water in the shower, taking short showers, fixing any leaks or drips, using low flow devices, etc. Nowhere does the page mention meat consumption and the amount of water we could save if we stop or limit the amount of animal products we consume.

When the page talks specifically about dining services, the explanation focuses primarily on how the kitchen uses many water efficient appliances. The one sentence about food choices claims “SCU Dining Services also promotes vegetarian and vegan choices as low water options and encourages guests to make low-water food selections” (“Conserve Water”). If this is the case, then why do students seem so shocked when they learn that the meat industry uses as much water as it does? And why, as a vegetarian eating on campus, do I feel fairly limited in my options and variety?

The school most definitely has vegetarian options, however they can become mundane and repetitive compared to the abundance of meat options available. But the school’s claim that dining services promotes eating foods that use less water seems far fetched. In a survey I conducted of SCU students, less than 40% felt that the school promoted vegetarian, vegan, and overall food choices that are more water conservation friendly. To further emphasize this, less than one-third of the students ever consider environmental impacts of their food and dietary choices. While it might be unrealistic of the school to make all of its food services vegetarian or vegan, it can most certainly do a better job of educating students about their choices and raising awareness, as well as cutting back the abundance of meat they serve.

Flawed logic, which emerged through Jeff’s food and beverage consumption on SCU’s campus, also comes to light through the University’s administration understanding in sustainability. Their influence on the campus’ water resources, which includes the outdoor watering system, recycled water use, and accessibility to disposable water bottles, does not align with their vision of integrating “environmental and economic sustainability into campus operations” (Santa Clara University). Rather than meeting the demands of today without compromising the next generation’s ability to meet their needs, the administration has been using sustainability as a front to increase their profits as they overwater the grass and win awards for insufficient actions.

After an unexpectedly rainy in Santa Clara, CA, where the county and state are just emerging from a national disaster of a drought where state regulators “ordered a mandatory 25 percent cut in urban water use” (Siegler), the last thing I expected to see would be sprinklers turning the already sopping, over soaked lawns into mini ponds. However, a few weeks ago, this was the case on the campus of SCU.       

While this would be a rare thing to hear about in California, several other students have seen similar events including seeing broken sprinklers around campus wasting gallons of water as it runs off into the sidewalks, streets, and chess courts around the campus. As Posner from the LA Times states, “In 2007, The Times reported that sprinkler systems on municipal land alone wasted “millions of gallons” through unnecessary timed watering and malfunctioning sprinklers but that upgrading irrigation systems was so expensive that it was cheaper for the cities to waste the water.” Through the laziness of the management or the blatant disregard for the waste of resources, the campus weekly wastes many gallons in efforts to ensure that the campus looks incredible for perspective students who will boost the university’s profits.

Another way the university attempts to increase profits is its “encouragement” of students to use disposables water bottles. In a survey we conducted, 16 out of 20 students prefer Smart Water bottles or bottled water instead of the campus provided water mainly due to the difference of taste. The four other students thought that while the water provided by the school did not taste fresh, they found it more easily accessible in their dorm rooms. Despite the easiness in accessibility to water in the dorms through sinks and water fountains, the case is not the same for other buildings around campus.

SCU uses water to benefit its own profitability by having disposable water options all over campus. Students, who enjoy bottled water more than the taste of the well water from Santa Clara county (City of Santa Clara), are more likely to buy a bottle of SmartWater at $3.19 rather than find a source to refill their bottle. From this $3.19, which costs them about $1.50 wholesale (Costco), they make a large return on the exchange and contributes to an increase in profitability.  From Emmie Martin at Business Insider, she reports that, “Dining halls are increasingly becoming a point of profit for schools. ‘Some colleges facing budget cuts or pushback on tuition hikes, for example, have opted instead to raise revenue through “auxiliary services” such as dining halls…’”

SCU, which may be attempting to help students alongside raising profits, is actually endangering the environment by allowing so many plastic bottles to be used and often disposed of incorrectly. Students on SCU’s campus, who are encouraged to be sustainable, have been caught and will admit to disregarding the trash separation, which contributes to “the U.S.’s recycling rate for plastic [at] only 23 percent, [meaning] 38 billion water bottles – more than $1 billion worth of plastic – are wasted each year” (Ban the bottle). In addition, “The energy we waste using bottled water would be enough to power 190,000 homes” (Ban the bottle), which clearly shows the unsustainability in this method of consumption.

If Santa Clara University were to spend money to better the drinkable water system used around campus and increase the locations to get the water, they would be contributing to increasing the sustainability of the campus and encouraging its students to do the same.

While SCU has some steps in place to encourage sustainability, the topic is more heavily used as a way to maximize its profits, which has created many larger problems that with time will harm the environment. With little actions such as managing the outdoor watering system around campus and decreasing the use and accessibility of bottled water, SCU could better consider themselves a sustainable campus.

Although the administration of the University should be held accountable for their water sustainability duties, the students should be held accountable for them as well. Students at Santa Clara University tend to neglect their water consumption habits as a result of having prepaid their housing and utilities. According to my results from a survey sent out to students who live in on-campus housing, over fifty percent said their showers usually last between 10-20 minutes. Furthermore, forty percent of those who took the survey also said they showered twice a day. That results in approximately seven to fourteen hours of showering; and consequently, gallons and gallons of water. However, because the survey only used a sample of 22 participants, the results of the study cannot be generalized to the entire student body of the University. Despite that, an alarming point arose. As a part of the survey, participants were asked if they thought about their water consumption (showering) habits. Ninety percent of all participants claim that they think about their water consumption habits, yet a ten to twenty minute shower does not seem very sustainable.

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The students’ neglect for their water usage could be aggravated by the university’s recent increase of the cost of house and board. In recent weeks, the university raised room and board by about four percent. This results in housing costing approximately sixteen thousand five hundred dollars. This is a huge amount of money to be paying just for housing; to get the full value of what i’m paying, I would probably end up showering for longer periods of time, use more electricity and spend more time in my room than I would normally.

The issue of wasting water does not only apply to Santa Clara; other schools in the Bay Area also have this problem. A study conducted by Ryan A. Buckley in the University of California Berkeley supports this. Buckley’s study not only focused on water use in residence halls, but also in other housing forms around campus (apartments, residence halls, and single-family houses). Early on, Buckley found that “shower use varied across the three housing types, with the longest showers taken in residence halls and shortest in single-family houses.” This supports the idea that because students have already paid for their utilities and housing, they are enticed to use more of the resources they have already paid for. Buckley found that among the investigated housing types, fifty-four percent of the total water usage is attributable to those living in residence halls. In addition to this being incredibly bad for the environment, it is also economically harmful to the university. Buckley found that by reducing shower times by ten percent, the university could save about eighteen dollars per year per resident. However, because students are already paying huge amounts of money to these universities, the students have less of an incentive to extend cost-saving practices to the university.

The unsustainable use of water does not only apply to Universities in California; in fact, universities around the country have this issue as well. According to a study conducted by Allyn Knox and Bethany Cutts on “Factors affecting sustainable practices among students”, they found that each student uses “300 gallons of water per week for laundry and showering alone.” They compared these results to the amount an average American would use daily. The researchers discovered that students were using approximately twice as much water (in terms of gallons) than the average American. This is a very alarming statistic. The results of their study allowed them to conclude that “the effect of age on water is about twice that of ethnicity and social status.” Keep in mind that the participants of their studies were living in residence halls on campus. However, just because there is a correlation between two factors does not mean there is causation. For all the researchers know, these students could have already had these poor water usage habits prior to entering their university. Regardless of whether or not they had these habits coming in, they still use water very unsustainably.

Santa Clara University is an incredible school. It has continually turned immature teenagers into owners of Fortune 500 companies, governors, and anything in between. It is giving students the ability to receive a stellar education as they seek their new chapter in life; however, a foundational principle of the university has some flawed logic. Jeff may attempt to escape a few calories from a diet beverage, while consuming 1,030 other calories, and SCU claims to be sustainable in its consumption and use of water, while still continuing to use one hundred twenty-eight million gallons of water per year. The University is encouraging students to wastewater as they offer few vegetarian and vegan options, inferior water options and an abundance of disposable bottled water, and giving no encouragement for students to use less water for personal hygiene.

If the SCU were to address the problems presented through our research and attempt to better live up to being a sustainable campus, it would not only encourage the graduates of the school to continue in improving the world but other universities would also their beneficial improvements.

We encourage the University to change to more sustainable food options including more vegetarian and vegan options, better manage the water sprinkling system, update and encourage students to use the water resources on campus, and give encouragement to students to reduce the water used in day-to-day necessities. And with these changes they could truely live up to a University that “provide[s] leadership in developing a more sustainable way of living” (Santa Clara University).

Works Cited:

“Bottled Water Facts.” Ban the Bottle. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2017.

Buckley, Peter. “Buckley and Casson.” The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Strategic Management (2016): 1-6. Web. 22 Apr. 2017.

“Conserve Water.” Conserve Water – Take Action – Sustainability at SCU – Santa Clara University. Santa Clara University, 2017. Web 25 Apr. 2017.

Cowspiracy. Dir Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn. Perf. Kip Andersen. AUM Films; First Spark Media, 2014. Netflix. Netflix, Inc. Web. 6 Apr. 2017.

Cutts, Bethany. “Water Consumption and Conservation Among College Students.” Academia.edu. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Apr. 2017.

“Drinking from a Bottle Instead of the Tap Just Doesn’t Hold Water.” Scientific American. Scientific American, 01 Mar. 2011. Web. 25 Apr. 2017.

Golgowski, Nina. “Want 1,600 Calories with That Burger Meal? McDonald’s Will Post Calorie Counts on ALL Restaurant Menus Nationwide next Week.” Daily Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, 12 Sept. 2012. Web. 25 Apr. 2017.

Martin, Emmie. “Like Everything Else at College, Campus Dining Halls Have Become Shockingly Expensive.” Business Insider. Business Insider, 19 Jan. 2017. Web. 22 Apr. 2017.

Mastrangelo, Jamie. “Pros & Cons of Recycling Water.” LIVESTRONG.COM. Leaf Group, 16 Nov. 2015. Web. 22 Apr. 2017.

“McDonald’s Calorie Counter (CalorieLab).” CalorieLab Calorie Counter. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Apr. 2017.

“Recycling of Water.” Recycling of Water – Sustainability – Facilities – University Operations – Santa Clara University. Santa Clara University, n.d. Web. 25 Apr. 2017. <https://university-operations.scu.edu//facilities/sustainability/recycling-of-water/.

Rogers, Paul. “Californians Continue Water Conservation with 21.5 Percent Cut despite Relaxed Drought Rules.” The Mercury News. The Mercury News, 12 Aug. 2016. Web. 25 Apr. 2017.

Santa Clara University. “Recycling of Water.” Recycling of Water – Sustainability – Facilities – University Operations – Santa Clara University. N.p., 2017. Web. 22 Apr. 2017.

Siegler, Kirk. “With Drought Emergency Over, Californians Debate Lifting Water Restrictions.” NPR. NPR, 30 Mar. 2017. Web. 22 Apr. 2017.

“Water Utility.” City of Santa Clara : Water Utility. N.p., 2017. Web. 22 Apr. 2017.

“Water Conservation.” Water Conservation. Santa Clara University, n.d. Web. 25 Apr. 2017. <https://www.scu.edu/sustainability/operations/buildings/water/&gt;.

Welcome to Costco Wholesale. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2017.


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