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Commuting fuels greenhouse gas emissions

In the fiscal year 2009-2010, Mills College’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions totaled 6,495.15 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MTCDE). Of this 3,149 were from natural gas use, 1,390 were from electricity use, 1,536 from commuting by faculty, staff and students, 242 from air travel funded by the College and 119 from direct fuel consumption (Campus Fleet). Source: 2009-2010 Mills College Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory


Student leaders’ idea for carpool parking spaces on campus was intended to support the needs of commuter students, but it also falls in line with the larger campus effort to reduce Mills College’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Twenty four percent of the College’s GHG emissions come from commuter driving, according to the College’s comprehensive 2009-2010 GHG inventory. About 173,000 gallons of petrol were spent commuting in 2009, and the driving commutes’ estimated carbon footprint was 1,536 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.

The same inventory reported that only eight to 10 percent of the commuting population carpooled in 2009.

All of this data was compiled as part of Mills’ participation in the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), a network of over 600 colleges and universities committed to eliminating GHG emissions from campus operations, moving toward climate neutrality and sustainability and providing leadership by example for the rest of society.

Mills’ contribution to the ACUPCC is its pledge to reduce its 2008-level GHG emissions (in all areas, not just commuting) by 15 percent by 2015, according to Sustainability and Recycling Coordinator Britta Bullard.

The total impact of ACUPCC could positively affect climate change, Bullard said, and Mills is a part of that.

“I think Mills has to be creative and try to find a lot of different ways to reduce our GHG emissions,”  Bullard said. “It needs to be a combination of ‘back of the house facilities’-type things, but individual daily habits definitely have an impact on that as well.”

Mills students, faculty, staff and management can join the effort by using the available alternative transportation options more often, Bullard said, listing services like the shuttle, U-Haul Car Share and AC Transit EasyPass.

The College’s Sustainability Committee Co-Chair Karen Fiene said it is also important to examine individual lifestyle choices: “How often do I drive my car? Was there an alternative? Why did I not do it? Generally it’s time; it’s usually not money.”

If anything, money might be a reason to give up the wheel, Bullard said. When she was in college, Bullard and other students were told that one of the best ways to save money was to not bring a car to campus.

“If students are really concerned about finances, how much money are they spending per month to have a car? And what are they using it for?” Bullard said.

Fiene said Mills community members might want to consider the greater benefits offered by more sustainable transportation options.

“And the more people use the shuttle, the buses and so on, the stronger the programs get: they’d become more versatile; more hours would be offered and more options,” Fiene said.

But it’s not just commuters who contribute to Mills’ GHG emissions. The Campanil previously reported that some student residents drive to and from the Dining Hall and their classrooms. Some faculty residents also drive from Faculty Village to their offices.

Carpooling may reduce overcrowding in many commuter lots. (Bridget Stagnitto)

“Because, you know, it’s laziness. It’s building it into your lifestyle and then always setting your time so that, ‘Oh. I have to drive, or I won’t get there on time,’” Fiene said. “It’s like with the kart. I was driving the kart around all the time. I would always build my schedule around, ‘I could get there in three minutes instead of five.’ I think it’s about changing attitudes.”

Meanwhile, students like Commuter Community Assistant Kyla Kelley (who manages the Commuter Lounge), Associated Students of Mills College (ASMC) President Modesta Tamayo and the ASMC Student Services Committee, hope that carpool parking spaces will encourage both community building and more sustainable commuting practices.

The student leaders focused on ideal locations for carpool parking spaces at their Nov. 14 committee meeting.

Prospect Hill Apartments Senator Molly Shapiro suggested the small parking lot directly behind the Tea Shop and bookstore as a prime spot for carpool parking.

“I think there’s only five spots in it,” Shapiro said. “Why don’t we just dedicate those to carpool parking? It’s right in the middle of campus.”

Kelley said she loves that parking lot.

“It’s super central,” Kelley said. “I think those are pretty coveted spots.”

Sustainability Senator Meg Nicholas-Harper said she has never been able to park there.

“I think using that lot for carpool parking would be a good incentive,” Nicholas-Harper said.

Kelley confirmed the parking lot’s popularity. “I came at 7:30 in the morning one time, and I couldn’t get a spot there,” she said.

The powerful motivation of convenience may have driven that part of student leaders’ carpool parking spaces discussion. However, both Bullard and Fiene have expressed hope that this is part of a larger campus conversation about moving toward more creative and sustainable commuting practices that would not only lower GHG emissions but also help individuals live a fuller, happier life.

“The way I see it is, the green life is the good life,” Bullard said. “So you’re driving and you see all the benefits, but you take a break, almost a driving detox, and try maybe taking public transit and walking. Maybe walking from the front gate is your meditation for the day, your space to practice wellness, let go of your stress and connect with the fact that you’re on this campus and it’s beautiful.”

One could spend 20 minutes looking for a parking space. “Or, you can park at Richards Lot and walk. It’s the ‘be part of the solution’ thing. If you have awareness and you care, you can really have impact. And it can be fun; it can be healthy,” Fiene said.

Bullard said that riding the bus to Mills can also help one feel more connected to the campus community and Oakland.

“You can connect with someone from campus and talk about what’s going on with them,” she said. “Or you talk to a random person from the community. Or you catch up on some reading. Or me, I like to crochet on the bus. I’m making a blanket. It’s just a different quality of life versus sitting in traffic and thinking, ‘I’m hating my life right now.’”