• Working together to create a better tomorrow.

    Posted on July 6th, 2012 palmucci No comments

    Throughout this module I have learned about topics that were very new to me.  I came into the cube that is sustainability from the viewpoint of an engineer.  I could calculate how efficient these clean technologies were and even give some examples of where I think I’ve seen the decoupling ideology or weak and strong sustainability, but I had never discussed the abstracts of this field.  My viewpoints throughout this entire section have evolved in a way I never deemed possible.  I never really had any definite opinions about the vast ideas of different theories working towards sustainability prior to this module but after learning about them and seeing which ideas are accepted by different countries I am able to grasp a bigger picture in which I can connect parts of instances I have learned in my green engineering classes and link them to these different theories.  The main reason I came over to study in Switzerland was because I had learned a good amount about the concrete aspects to green engineering and I thought it would very beneficial to come over and observe those aspects in action.  I really believe that learning in a classroom can only do so much for you.  One wide spectrum topic that I really took away from these past weeks was how innovation plays such a large roll in every area of sustainable theory, policy, or process.  It was clearly important to know the basics of these theories while visiting Bern.

    Parliament Building
    Bern, Switzerland

    We first met with Donald S. Beyer Jr. who is currently the Ambassador to the United States and Liechtenstein.  It was apparent right away that he was very laid back and gregarious which made it very easy to ask questions.  As he was discussing the Swiss sustainable practices in their cities and towns he started talking about the people’s mentality.  The people in Switzerland just seem to care so much more about the well being of their country while those in the United States don’t.  While walking around the city and even while I was in Zurich, you notice there really isn’t littering at all and it is generally very clean.  Compared to the United States, every aspect of Europe so far has seemed cleaner and more efficient (e.g. trains, streets, transportation).  After Beyer’s talked about the Swiss people a little longer, I asked him why he thought Americans weren’t as dedicated to being as efficient as the Swiss people seemed passionate about doing.  He seemed to think the Swiss, from an early age, were surrounded by people being as efficient and clean as possible so it kind of came into their nature to preserve the state at which everything was in, while in the United States, you learn in schools about the importance of being efficient and leaving the smallest destructive footprint possible.  In the United States, you don’t grow up seeing clean cities or great transportation as we drive everywhere! One other possibility could be the influence from the government.  The Swiss have a long term goal of what they want to achieve while the United States seem to be working on a short term view.  The government in the United States, though it has been around for quite some time now, works on two spectrums, Conservative and Liberal.  Basically, if the Conservatives are elected to represent the United States, the other party has lost.  It is not like that in Switzerland.  They use the idea of shared power.  I actually really liked this idea and became really interested in prospect of having the Republican and Democrat party working together to create solutions to problems.  These solutions would contain a little of each party’s idea of a compromise.  After this meeting, we then ventured to the Swiss Embassy and talked to two people from the Federal Office for Spatial Development and one person that was at the Rio+20 United Nations Conference.  After a brief presentation on the specific progress that has been made environmentally in Switzerland we switched into questions and discussion about green economy.  I had never heard the term green economy before but the idea of improving human well-being and social equity, while reducing environmental risks and use of resources sounds pretty ideal.  Obviously this is hard to attain to it’s fullest extent but countries try to be as optimal as possible while using as little resources as possible.  After this meeting we were able to take some free time and tour around the city of Bern.  I had been to Zurich previously and I liked Bern a lot more.  While both locations seemed to still have great transportation systems, I felt like Bern had more of a centralized city with everything somewhat closer together, while Zurich seemed to be more spread out.  We headed over to the Bärenpark where there are four bears right along the Aare River.

    View from Barenpark of the Aare River

    We then toured around the main town area of Bern, which was such a cool experience.  There are hardly any cars there, just trams, and little shops lining the pathways.  In one of the attached pictures you can see all the wires that connect the trams, and the tram tracks.  These are literally all over the city to make sure it can take you wherever you need to go.

    View of the central city’s transportation lines.

    After a nice long tour of the city, and lots of chocolate eating, we walked back to our hostel to prepare for our meetings and tours for the next day.  We met with Fabien, a student at the University of Bern, and learned about the photovoltaic industry.  Photovoltaic cells are pretty interesting to me in not only that I studied them back at school, but also that I love the possibility of capturing the sun’s rays and converting it into something we can use.  After a question and answer session we were given a tour of the University of Bern.  The schools back in the United States are so much different than those in Europe.  I had a friend visit from Austria a few months ago and she noticed the same thing.  First off the buildings were huge and literally structures that would be designed for a president and second, it seemed that most people commented to the schools because the cost of living in the city is pretty high.  The train’s are so efficient that commuting by train isn’t really that farfetched of a decision.

    Amazing buildings at the University of Bern.

    Overall, this short trip gave me so much insight into the sustainability goals that not only the United States have, but other countries as well.  It is really inspiring to know that other countries care so much about sustainability and have goals they want to implement for the future.  Sometimes it is easy to forget that we are all in this together and it was was really cool to realize that we all want to work towards the same thing.  This experience has made me very adamant about helping the United States create a long term goal for sustainability and I really hope to take what I learned and help other’s understand that it is possible to make a difference.