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New Class Sets Out to Involve Students in “Greening of Mills”

With increasing interest in the Environmental Studies department, a new class called the Greening of Mills, which draws from biology and public policy to address environmental concerns, welcomed their first in a series of speakers.

David Orr, professor of Environmental Studies at Oberlin College in Ohio, stopped at Mills on Jan. 27 to talk about issues of environmental sustainability, and what schools can do to improve the outlook.

“Ninety-five percent of the oil ever burned has been burned in my lifetime,” the 61-year-old said. “By the end of the century, a summer day in San Francisco would be like one in Tijuana today,” one slide warned.

But it doesn’t have to be all gloom and doom, he said. “When you design buildings as systems, costs change dramatically.”

Orr was a key figure in the construction of the Adam Joseph Lewis Center, a $7.2 million “educational adventure” at Oberlin College in Ohio which began in 1995. Ranked one of 30 milestone buildings by the U.S. Dept. of Energy, the building and surrounding area are an experiment in sustainability.

“We were the first department seeking crap,” Orr joked, referring to the “Living Machine,” which treats the building’s wastewater and funnels it into a greenhouse. On sunny days, solar panels provide enough energy to sell off excess. The building is almost completely made of non-toxic materials and certified wood, which can be traced back to the forest and tree it was cut from. Wetlands and other landscapes surrounding the building were designed considering windscape and implications on heating and cooling costs.

“It was really inspiring for me,” said junior Alleyne Long. “I liked what he did with Oberlin and I’d like to see it done here at Mills.”

The environment ought to be seen as “a lynchpin” for academic study, not an add-on, he said, encouraging that every academic institution look at what it subconsciously teaches students about how to use our environment.

Fusing the biology aspect with public policy are what professors Susan Spiller and Emery Roe believe will create informed public policy.

“Our goal is to get students involved in sustainability and restoration on campus, mainly Lake Aliso. It requires knowledge and that transforms to get good public policy,” said Spiller.

Roe said he became involved in environmental science from living in the Bay Area.

“It starts where you live and work here at Mills, my hope is we build a critical mass of students who demand a better environment,” said Roe.

The Environmental Studies department benefits from the Mills campus, he said, largely because Mills’ 135 acres, lakes and hopefully a new science building provide tools in teaching students about the environment.

“Using Mills as a focus of this class means there are a lot of resources to explain sustainability on a college campus,” said Roe.


Contributed to by Laura K. Cucullu.