|By Dr Daniel Orenstein
Dr Daniel Orenstein is a Samuel and Cecilia Neaman
Most days as I walk down the slope from my bus stop to the Klutznick Center for Urban and Regional Studies I have a recurring thought: “Full buses, empty parking lots.” It’s not what I see, but what I imagine. Cars – the quintessential expression of transportation freedom – present a profound challenge to environmental quality. They emit a variety of air pollutants, and place heavy demands on land reserves for roads, parking lots and other car-related infrastructures.
Fellow at the Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning,
and is a frequent commentator on Israeli environmental
issues in the Israeli daily Haaretz and other venues
A seemingly innocuous parking space on campus can cost hundreds of dollars in maintenance, lost opportunity costs, and environmental externalities, including increased pollution runoff and lower water infiltration into the ground.
Could Technion take steps to coax our faculty, staff and students out of the cars? Could we take just one parking lot out of commission and turn it into a patch of trees, a botanical garden, or a working laboratory for composting or solar energy production?
Being one of Israel’s top academic institutions does not only bestow honor upon the institution, but also brings responsibility to be a good partner in civil society. While various Technion faculties and centers do indeed research and work with communities to improve the environment, could we take the Technion’s commitment to the next level by turning our institute into a model of sustainability?
Imagine providing all of the Technion’s energy needs through conservation, green architecture and generating renewable energy on site? Imagine reducing our solid waste so significantly that between recycling and composting, no other waste pickup would be needed? Imagine all our students and employees streaming into the campus exclusively using public transportation, university provided transport, carpools and bicycles rather than private, single-occupancy automobiles.
In U.S. colleges, students and faculty are teaming up to create environmentally sustainable campuses. They are installing wind and solar power, green architecture, bike paths and composting food waste. Simultaneously, they are educating the next generation’s leaders about environmental challenges, technologies and responsibilities.
Dr Ofira Ayalon has put as much thought towards greening the Technion as anyone. Under her guidance, Technion has initiated several pilot projects for greening the campus, including battery and plastic bottle collection, a green advice newsletter, open lectures to students and the public, and initiating an assessment of commuting habits of faculty. I asked her how we could do more.
She cited two examples where the Technion is heading in the right direction. First, the Yitzhak Rabin Civil and Environmental Engineering Faculty Building, which features green architecture and other technologies for energy and water conservation, improved indoor environment and reduction of waste.
Second, she pointed to the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, where, with a mere 45,000-shekel investment in energy saving technologies (motion sensors and timers for lights, thermostats, etc), 230,000 shekels were saved in energy costs over eight months. “While the initial incentive was to save money and this was achieved,” Ayalon says, “the environmental implications are profound.” This initial project gave rise to a committee that is identifying and implementing projects for economic and environmental benefit throughout the Faculty.
Ayalon concludes with her three-step plan for infiltrating the Technion with environmental practices:
- Broaden awareness and knowledge regarding what we have to gain, economically, socially and environmentally.
- Be ready with solutions - technological and behavioral.
- Implement suggestions.
“Hopefully at that point,” Ayalon laughs, “I’ll be redundant and can go back to doing research instead of advising.”
And at that point, I’ll see full buses and parking lots turned to other uses.