Campus, News

BU weighs green costs against benefits

Boston University will continue to invest in becoming more environmentally friendly despite the economic crisis, but some professors and officials remain divided about where the environment and the economy should be situated on BU’s to-do list.

Some BU community members said they think alternative energy sources are not as efficient as the more traditional fossil fuels and nuclear sources they are intended to replace. Others said the benefits of minimizing costs to the environment might outweigh the additional financial costs associated with alternative sources.

‘The issue between alternative and standard energy sources is whether or not they’re properly priced,’ economics department Chairman Kevin Lang said.

Fossil fuels have costs that have nothing to do with how much money users have in their pockets, because there is a cost to the environment, such as air pollution and the subsequent climate change, Lang said. As such, even if alternative energy is more expensive than traditional sources, the cost to the environment for traditional sources could outweigh the higher out-of-pocket costs of harvesting alternative energy.

Making long-term investments toward research for energy innovations may not be financially sound in the midst of a recession, however, Lang said.

‘Because we’re in the midst of an economic crisis, the bottom line is that we should be focusing on spending that is immediate, not long-term,’ Lang said. ‘Is it the right time to spend money on long-term projects for subsidizing alternative energy sources? Financially, it doesn’t make as much sense, but if we’re talking about cutting down on carbon emissions and environmental pollution, then maybe it does.’

Though President Robert Brown introduced a $1 million sustainability initiative this semester, the current state of the economy will not inhibit BU’s decision to ‘go green,’ BU spokesman Colin Riley said. Brown did this before announcing the construction and hiring freezes.

‘BU’s money to sustain alternative energy sources is available,’ Riley said. ‘It’s too soon to know the full impact of the economic crisis, so it has not affected BU’s policy toward alternative energy.’

Cutler Cleveland, the initiative steering committee co-chairman, published an article in Forbes Magazine on Oct. 30 that said although many alternative energy sources have decreased in cost, traditional fossil fuels are more efficient in many important areas of energy quality.

Cleveland, a geography and environment professor, could not be reached for comment.

Gary Nicksa, the Sustainability initiative steering committee co-chairman, said taking steps to conserve energy is not only the ‘right thing’ to do, it is ‘the smart thing to do’ to save money.

‘A project might cost say $1,000 to do something,’ Nicksa, BU Operations vice president, said. ‘The savings you’re going to incur will pay back that $1,000 over two, three, four years. The energy savings at these rates will pay for the project.’

Environmental Student Organization member Leonidas Polemis said BU should continue looking into green initiatives as long as it is financially possible.

‘BU is in a position to pursue these alternative energies not only because of the endowment it has, but also because it’s in a position to influence young people,’ Polemis, a College of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said. ‘Not to understate the financial crisis, but I think there will always be a reason not to pursue green initiatives, and that shouldn’t stop BU in its attempt to go green.’


  1. i hate green people.

  2. Adding some solar panels and wind turbines on top of CAS won’t make BU any greener than a polar bear. Banning the sale of bottled water (essentially a convenience scam) might do more given our demographic and population size.<p/>Consider that we will be out of discovered fossil fuels well before all current BU student have passed away, and that almost everything that we do is made possible by petroleum, including the production of solar panels, wind turbines, and nuclear power plants. <p/>Solar energy may cost between 25-30 cents/kWh, well more than what we pay in Boston, but that may not be the case as solar energy production prices fall and coal/petroleum based energy production rices.<p/>Thus we have the chance to completely change the way we do everything in our lives, and introducing students to that change via solar panels and other “green initiatives” is a good idea. Don’t think it makes Boston University’s environmental conscience any less cancerous though.