Sustainability director shares hopes, worries for the future of sustainability on campus as Kalamazoo schools receive electric buses

Seven Michigan public school districts received the electric buses.

Earlier this month it was announced that seven school districts in Michigan, including Kalamazoo Public Schools, would be receiving electric school buses to begin using in the 2019-2020 academic year.  

KPS qualified for a grant under a state program that would replace diesel school buses with model years 2009 and older. The program aims to create a model for electric school bus operation and cost.  

The changes in the community, the ever-present threat of climate change and the ongoing changes on campus have raised some questions: What changes are being made to make Western a more sustainable campus? Will Western convert campus vehicles to hybrids or perhaps even go fully electric? 

According to Western’s 2012 Climate Action Plan, WMU plans to be carbon-neutral by 2065. A proposed reduction strategy was converting all campus vehicles to zero-net-carbon fueled or electric by 2040.

Of the 284 vehicles in Western’s Fleet, only about 10 are hybrids.   

“How are those numbers? They’re too low,” said Jeff Spoelstra, director of the Office for Sustainability. “I would love to see Western go fully electric... in five to ten years. I think that’s completely possible.”  

There are no active plans to convert Western’s campus vehicles to hybrid or electric power. Seven years have passed since the Climate Action Plan was written and adopted, and electric vehicles have come a long way. The technology is advancing at a high rate, while the costs remain low.  

“It’s Western’s opportunity and responsibility to take a risk and adopt the newest technology as fast as we possibly can,” said Spoelstra.  

Carolyn Sacha, a fifth-year student working at the Office for Sustainability, agrees that the transitions should be made.

"We need a more solid commitment from leadership,” she said. 

At a time when new buildings and student spaces are being built, students wonder how the new construction will contribute to a more sustainable WMU.  

Junior Michael DeMarco, a student new to the Office for Sustainability, hopes to see more solar panels in the new additions to campus. Western currently has arrays of solar panels across campus, along with electric vehicle charging stations.  

Fourth-year student Andrew McCade said that he believes Western “should’ve gone for higher sustainability standards”. He also said that the scope is too short-term.   

“Does any one of our actions save the world tomorrow? No,” said Spoelstra. “But it builds that community, it builds that knowledge.”  

Climate change is not a problem with a “quick fix”, but decisions that individuals and institutions make today can contribute to a more sustainable future.  

And so the question remains: What should a sustainable future look like at Western Michigan University?  


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