Authors: Robert Ota, Caley Falcocchia, Melody Nouri, Robin Johnson
While recently attending one of the Santa Clara University’s tours, I relived my first experience of stepping foot onto the campus. I remember the beautiful surroundings striking my attention; the green grass, colorful flowers, and amazing architecture. Walking among the peach colored buildings and listening to the wonderful qualities SCU contains sparked my excitement and hopefulness to attend my soon to be college. SCU holds a strong pride for their beautiful campus shown during the recent tour I went on. Allison, my tour guide, led us around the campus with a large, welcoming smile, occasionally stopping at the more attractive and iconic parts on campus to describe certain aspects of SCU.
The last area Allison led us to was the Solar Decathlon house. The house sits on display in between the library and the recreation center. She explained, “Santa Clara University’s undergraduate engineer students placed third in the Solar Decathlon comp
etition”. Allison then pointed to the sign placed above the grass that read “Irrigated With
RECYCLED WATER,” and said, “Sustainability is a large aspect of Santa Clara University. As you can see our grass is really green. We use recycled water so we’re taking in water that we don’t need.” The sign was repeated throughout other grassy areas on campus.
Many definitions exist for sustainability. According to the Oxford Dictionary sustainability is defined as “avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance.” The Sustainability Coordinator for the Center of Sustainability at SCU, Cara Uy, informed us that “SCU understands sustainability as finding the balance and illustrating the connections among a healthy environment, just societies, and a vibrant economy that meet all people’s fundamental needs currently and in the future, especially those of the global poor.” The in-depth definition appears on SCU’s 2015 Climate Action Plan. Even though SCU has a definitive definition of sustainability, as I look around as a student, I see contradictory messages from the thriving landscape around me. Can we really be flourishing while being as sustainable as we claim? This leaves us questioning if Santa Clara truly aligns its motives with the values claimed in their definition.
The resources that SCU offers for students to live environmentally conscious are numerous. The Center for Sustainability organizes all of the university’s activities based around sustainability. Their website describes SCU’s environmental participation: “The Center for Sustainability hosting events and programs, implements initiatives, and features stories that relate to helping the university achieve climate neutrality, practice responsible consumerism, develop a culture of sustainability and use the campus as a living laboratory.”
SCU covers all measures of sustainability from waste minimization, to energy consumption, and water conservation. One way that SCU “transforms the culture of sustainability on campus” is by having the “residence halls attempt to reduce their building’s electricity consumption” in addition to pushing innovation through its award winning sustainability projects. The Center for Sustainability also holds an “energy challenge” in which every residence hall challenges themselves to use less energy each year. Data is recorded to have a baseline of energy consumption from year to ye
ar. SCU focuses on water conservation by implementing low flow water pipelines in their irrigation and plumbing systems. Additionally, by readily having composting and
recycling bins throughout all parts of our buildings, SCU allows its students to easily be sustainable. SCU is an incubator for the
forward thinking, environmentally conscious students.
As a student of SCU, I define sustainability as living in a way that accounts for the earth’s resources that acquires balance among economic and social needs. The university claims similar values of living in accordance with environmental needs. In order to find their particular balance of “a healthy environment, just societies, and a vibrant economy,” they must act and live in a way that reflects their “findings.” When relating the strong marketing of sustainability at SCU to the iconography of the campus- contradiction arises. Although Santa Clara University promotes an image of a “living laboratory” of sustainability, it is, in reality, superficial and hypocritical displaying their true motives of recruitment of forward-thinking students.
Ranked by Forbes Magazine as one of the most beautiful college campuses in America, Santa Clara University, also known as “Claradise,” is known for its ravishing landscape including their blooming roses, manicured palm trees, and its luscious, green grass. SCU sells a beautiful campus and forward thinking education as their brand to attract their students. As an engineering school would promote its high-tech laboratories, Santa Clara invests in the culture of the progressive students that will later represent our university in the job market.
In 2014, California’s Governor Brown mandated a 25% reduction of water usage for California residents due to severe drought; this encompases SCU as well. California regulators in the The State Water Resources Control Board even sent out requests to residents asking to discontinue watering their lawns. Many residents were more than happy to let their grass go brown, especially those in the Santa Clara county where water bills were increased by almost 3% (Brown). Yet, despite time of intense drought, Santa Clara kept its shrubbery and grass green and blooming. SCU uses its perfect campus reputation as a way to attract prospective students and to keep its “Claradise” image.
SCU shares that, “in the last decade [the use of] recycled water has avoided the use of 487.5 million gallons of freshwater.” Recycled water, which is potable if purified, is used on campus for watering the landscape and flushing our toilets. In 2013, SCU used “47.6 million gallons of recycled water” (University, Santa Clara). For the last decade, SCU has used an average of 48.75 millions of gallons of water a year- meaning that SCU did not even cut down on their water usage during the latest drought.
Instead of cutting back on the water usage needed to water the lawn and flowers, Santa Clara proposed alternative initiatives to limit water, like the “60 Se
conds Less” campaign. The campaign suggests that students should cut out at least sixty seconds of their shower time.
From a utilitarian perspective on sustainability, cutting back on shower time has very little effect on our overall water usage. If recycled water is fresh if filtered, why does Santa Clara carelessly water their grass with hundreds of thousands of gallons of water a day while they tell their students to cut back on our shower time by 60 seconds? Even if all 9,000 undergraduates cut their shower time down by a minute, the “low-flow shower heads [only run] 1.5 gallons per minute” (University, Santa Clara). When compared to the hundreds of thousands of gallons used daily for irrigation, the student participation in this campaign has minimal effects. We tell ourselves that a sixty second shorter shower makes us sustainable, while we piss away thousands of gallons of water into plants.
SCU’s Center of Sustainability’s has an entire webpage dedicated solely to water conservation on campus. In attempts to conserve water, SCU’s Center of Sustainability discusses how the school fountains have been turned off, stating:
“All decorative fountains on campus have been turned off or will be converted to operate with recycled water. The Sobrato, Benson, Daly Science, and University Villas fountains have been turned off. The St. Ignatius and Abby Sobrato fountains will remain on, but will be converted to recycled water as soon as possible.”
The structure of this passage is manipulative, as it opens by stating “all fountains have been turned off,” but later in the passage, we come to find out that the main fountains on campus have actually, in fact, been kept on. The Abby Sobrato fountain is a staple to the image of SCU. The fountain in front of the Mission Church is displayed all over Santa Clara’s website and is a pivotal stop on campus tours. The water continuously flowing through the fountain during the drought goes to prove that Santa Clara is more concerned with maintaining their image rather than environmental sustainability. Santa Clara would rather stay green than go green.
These claims of sustainable practices are not only found around SCU’s fountains and landscaping, but also in the dining hall. As you look around the Benson dining hall, you are surrounded with instructions on how to recycle and compost, and offered products such as the eco-trays, which are thick plastic trays that are able to be washed and reused as opposed to throwing paper and plastic trash away. SCU prides itself on its vast variety of food choices and the quality of the food they offer to us; this involving both meat and vegetarian options. Bon Appetit Management Company, SCU’s Dining Services provider, “places a priority on buying food from within a 150 mile radius to help support local farming and reduce transportation emissions.”
Messages of supporting local farmers and recycling are spread throughout the dining hall, yet no information appears about how the meat and dairy industry are affecting our environment. Bon Appetit points out that they promote local grown foods to help reduce transportation emissions, but in reality, animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from all transportation (Cowspiracy). The fact that no attention is brought to the issue that has such a significant effect on our environment goes to show how SCU promotes sustainability purely as maintenance of their image.
SCU as a business is faced with the contradictory values of morality and utilitarianism. Within the utilitarian view, Santa Clara must do whatever it takes to lead SCU to gaining the most profit. In this case, students coming to the school because of the appeal of the cafeteria food and students spending money at Benson. In order to gain this appeal SCU must offer dairy and meat options that the vast majority of people desire. Yet, these dairy and meat meals are exactly what goes against the true efforts of improving our environment. In addition, if SCU were to have signs covering the dangers of animal agriculture, potential students could possibly be offended or unwilling to change their diet. Thus, SCU has found a middle ground in promoting the bare minimum to be “sustainable,” such as throwing their trash in the correct bins, or using a reusable tray.
SCU is not the only school guilty of using sustainability as a tactic of university branding. In her article “Less Hypocrisy, More Leadership,” Shana Gallagher, student at Tufts University and member of Tufts Climate Action (TCA), explains her aggravation with institutions, especially Tufts, acting more as a corporation rather than a place of education and innovation. Gallagher explains how Tufts claims to be a school that promotes social justice and innovates on environmental issues, yet, has invested over $70 million in fossil fuels– the leading cause of global warming. More than an adequate amount of signatures were signed by Tufts students, faculty, and alumni on TCA’s petition against Tufts backing fossil fuels, yet TCA was only met with silence by the administration. Gallagher discusses how Anthony Monaco, president of Tufts, even brought up the activism in a speech directed towards potential students. Monaco praised the passion and determination of the TCA students, and the positive impacts on the world that the prospective students could make by coming to Tufts. Gallagher concluded that Tufts is two-faced and is far more concerned with its reputation and corporate profit instead of being the progressive campus that they pretend to be. Similar to Tufts, Santa Clara is not living up to its moral potential and is merely using sustainability as a way to lure in prospective students, instead of aligning its motives with its values.
Sustainability has become a 21st century business term that has become detached from its meaning. The deception behind this term happens on every level of business from education to industry. At some point the deception turns into fraud. Even on a global scale, the international corporation Volkswagen feigned eco-friendly, by creating a “defeat device” to lie about their carbon footprint. Volkswagen “admitted that about 11 million cars [in Europe and more] worldwide are fitted with the so-called “defeat device”, in order to appear more fuel efficient. Corporations and institutions both use sustainability as a marketing tool to advance their own personal motives status.
Every year SCU invests thous
ands of dollars into “sustainability projects” such as the tiny house and the eco-fashion show to promote their reputation as a sustainable, liberal arts school. These competitions bring positive publicity towards the image of SCU and ultimately attract the forward thinking students that create these projects.
Our grass is green because we water it. This is a euphemism for how Santa Clara spends its money. Santa Clara University prioritizes their image more than their brand. While sustainability has become the brand of Santa Clara, the beautiful gardens and green grass has become integrated into SCU’s image. Santa Clara sends antithetical messages because they are in conflict with their own interests; their physical image versus the sustainable image. Creating works like the tiny house has no impact on the sustainability of our school as a whole. The tiny house rots away useless, while its reputation lives on through publicity on the web.
When re-living my experience of Santa Clara on the campus tour, I experimented how SCU portrays their image. After living as a student and re-visiting the tour, I began to notice the strong messages of sustainability and their contradictions. Now as I look around, the green grass and beautiful scenery that had first left me in awe as a prospective student, leaves me to think about the lies behind it all. SCU has created a community where faculty and students are exposed to a false perception of reality.
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