We hope that this week’s Special Features section will turn the Claremont community’s attention toward the task of building eco-friendly campuses. Some students, professors, staff members and administrators of the 5Cs are already making admirable efforts to improve the sustainability of their colleges’ landscaping. These efforts deserve the energetic support of the Claremont administrations and student bodies.
As Pitzer College environmental analysis professor Paul Faulstich says in Caroline Ebinger’s article, campus landscaping choices contribute to the education that students receive in Claremont. Faulstich is right to suggest that the 5Cs should aim to build campuses that are both “ecological and beautiful.” Maintaining attractive spaces is a worthy end in itself, but this goal should be balanced with a strong sense of environmental stewardship.
When faced with a trade-off between environmentalism and aesthetics, the 5Cs have sometimes erred too much on the side of aesthetics. For example, as Faulstich says, Scripps College has vast, immaculately maintained lawns that are “undeniably inappropriate for our ecological region,” even though they are “undeniably beautiful” as well. The same could easily be said of Pomona College.
All of the 5Cs should take steps to reduce their water usage and replace at least some of their non-native plants with species better suited to the Southern California environment.
This is not to say that we should abandon the project of building beautiful and comfortable campuses. Writing for this week’s Opinions section, Casey Breen correctly points out that green lawns make great places to study, relax or get some exercise. It is justifiable for the colleges to maintain some grassy areas, even if that means doing small amounts of ecological harm.
Yet, that doesn’t mean that our lawn maintenance policies should be immune to criticism. Even if we accept that completely native landscaping is not a viable option for Claremont, we should be having serious debates about how much of our campuses should be covered in non-native grass, and how that grass should be watered.
Environmentalism is not the only legitimate value in campus planning, but it is important enough to be given greater consideration in the future than it has gotten in the past. The 5Cs should adjust their priorities to give more weight to sustainable landscaping, and student activists should lead the way.