By Colby Tibbet, Beat Reporter
FRESNO– Today was Earth Day. On California’s college campuses, students were handing out leaflets and screening documentaries in an effort to raise awareness about climate change and the need to conserve dwindling natural resources. But unlike many colleges and universities across the drought-ridden state, Fresno State University started its Earth Day Celebration weeks ahead of schedule.
The newly formed “Fresno State Sustainability Project” took the lead this year in hosting a nearly week long Earth Day Celebration earlier this month and infused the college with a new environmentalism focus on campus.
The project, headed by Professor Criss Wilhite, the founder of the Applied Behavioral Science Department, was formed last year as the Earth & Science teamed up with the Applied Behavioral Science Departments. Their environmental activities are focused on how students view sustainability and how their behavior can change if their view on sustainability changes.
According to Professor Wilhite, environmental sustainability is all about “our behavior.”
After the professor’s first attempt to engage graduate students on sustainability projects failed to take hold, Wilhite took the model of applied behavioral analysis. She then met with geologists from the Earth & Science Department and began working with them to raise awareness about sustainability and create a more environmentally sustainable campus.
The project started by hosting a four-day Earth Day Celebration on campus earlier this month, jam-packed with guest speakers, a presentation on students surviving on $1 a day in a rural Guatemalan village, and the main event, the Earth Day Fair.
Fair attendees enjoyed live music and food trucks as they visited vendors displaying solar energy products, tips on conservation, and one exhibition displaying an eco-friendly car oil.
“I was overwhelmed by the positive responses from all those [who] participated,” said Kassandra Hishida, co-coordinator of the Earth Day Fair. “We reached out to our community, made great connections, and got some excellent leads for future projects.”
Now, that the Earth Day season is finally coming to a close, Wilhite will be focusing on the next sustainability issue of the hour: the drought.
Wilhite had her graduate students conduct a survey on the lawn usage by students on campus, to determine whether or not the supply meets the demand for lawns, a type of landscaping that necessitates large quantities of water. The survey found that students use the lawns on campus too rarely to justify the cost.
Now, Wilhite is directly engaging the campus landscapers in the Plant Operations Department. She says in order to see any effective change; you have to support the people who will be the most effected.
Wilhite described some initial hurdles in the earlier meetings with Plant Operations.
“The landscaping people were really skeptical, like ‘you want to get rid of the lawns?’ I said ‘I want to reduce the water on campus,’” Wilhite said.
But after subsequent conversations with Plant Operations, the two projects decided to work together to build a “demo garden” with water-wise plants, or plants that need only small amounts of water to survive. Additionally, the Plant Operations Department has more plans to educate the campus on being more conscientious with its water usage.
Besides the ever-present water issue, plans to change the waste collection process on campus and smart energy usage are things the Sustainability Project are currently evaluating for the future.
The end goal for the Sustainability Project is for the Fresno State Campus to be a model for the city with projects that serve both ecological and economic purposes. And while they have already made some great strides, there is still much room for Fresno State’s progress as a model for Fresno sustainability.