Committee focuses on sustainability efforts at WSU


Devon Sipes/ The Sunflower

A panel held on Earth Day to discuss sustainability at WSU on April 22, 2022 in room 208 of Hubbard Hall.

Community members from across Wichita attended a panel on Earth Day discussing sustainability at WSU.  The panel featured prominent figures at the university working towards making campus more sustainable.

All of the panelists agreed that educating the future generations is essential to creating a more sustainable world.

Weston Arbogast,  an employee of WINT who is in a partnership with the university working on water sustainability, said that they are trying to use new technologies to reduce water use.

“Water is an important asset to our entire community, and if we run out, that’s going to be a big problem. Here we are, trying to solve that problem using new software programs like artificial intelligence,” Arbogast said.

Alice Fitzergerald, president of The Green Group, said that she believes her generation is passionate about sustainability because they can see where we are heading if we are not conscious of our use of resources and impact on the environment.

Holger Meyer, professor of physics, said that sustainability is the way of the future.

“Why is anybody not in favor of sustainability? The other points do not make any sense … There is no planet B.  It is more important than ever to act on this,” Meyer said.

Meyer said that nuclear power is “overhyped” as part of the solution, and that solar and wind are available and need to be implemented as fast as possible. He said that being sustainable with water is the real concern, not energy.

All of the panelists are members on the sustainability steering committee. Arbogast said he joined the sustainability steering committee because of his focus on water.  He said they hope to use artificial intelligence to save on water at the university.

Sangha said that this new technology would be able to protect the university from water damage if a pipe burst, because the technology would recognize that too much water is being used at once and turn off the water in four seconds.  The university will be implementing this technology in the National Institute of Research and Digital Transformation building.

There have also been conversations about “electrifying” the essential energy plant, the Rhatigan Student Center and student housing and dining instead of using gas.  Sangha said that a positive aspect of the Innovation Campus is that they are being built in alignment with sustainability initiatives.

The cost of sustainability initiatives was a popular topic of the panel.  Arbogast said that in order to understand how much can be saved, they first need to know how much energy they are using to begin with.

Gupta said that sustainability initiatives will save energy and create less maintenance of buildings on campus.

“Any time somebody says that we are going to do a sustainability project, the first thing that comes to mind for most people, ‘Well, is it going to cost money’ but guess what?” Gupta said.  “A lot of the products will actually save money.” 

Coleen Pugh, vice provost for research and dean of the graduate school, said the university could be doing a better job of supporting initiatives that cost more money, such as being a responsible purchaser and buying products out of sustainable materials. 

“I hate living in a disposable society,” Pugh said.  “I’m not anti-technology … We can live responsibly.” 

Questions from the audience included solar panels on campus and what individual students can do to show the university that they care about sustainability. 

The whole room was engaged, with both the panel and audience members sharing tidbits of information and discussing items of concern.

Fitzgerald said that reaching higher-ups in the university is about repetition and continuing to email.  Pugh said students should also attend town halls to share their concerns.

“Next year’s room should be packed,” Sangha said.  “Each of us, take responsibility and talk to 20 people … We all need to be talking about this.  I’d love for one half of this room to be naysayers and the other half the go-getters, and we would love to have that debate, have that conversation.  We can’t do it with an empty room.”