DSK supports sustainability

Kallie Leonard

Drive Safe Kalamazoo, Michigan’s only student-run safe-ride program, has made several changes from reducing gas usage to cutting down on paper waste to support the environment.

The plan was to make a few big but simple changes to make DSK more sustainable and to show students that even the small changes can make a difference, said Aaron Booth, co chair of DSK.

Enterprise Rent-A-Car and the Western Student Association sponsor DSK. Enterprise gives DSK a 25 percent discount on cars and pays for gas. Western Student Association’s allocation pays for the other 75 percent. DSK usually runs seven cars on a nightly basis.

DSK saves around 10 gallons of gas per weekend by running only five cars, reducing their carbon emissions by 200 pounds. Each gallon of gas used emits about 20 pounds of carbon dioxide.

“We have noticed that on Thursdays, seven cars are not needed because of our ridership numbers; therefore, we only run five cars and in turn, saving gas,” Booth said.

DSK has also begun using a van during operation.

“That way, when we have more than three people in a ride, we can simply send a van there instead of having multiple vehicles,” Booth said.

The organization has also taken advantage of their vehicle status board operator. This person places rides in cars on nights of operation. They have recently restricted this position to an executive board member who knows the Kalamazoo area well.

“This person is responsible for keeping cars in the same area when getting rides. This again, saves gas,” Booth said.

Andrew Weissenborn, co chair of Students for a Sustainable Earth, said he believes this is an encouraging and efficient move for DSK.

“This is a sustainable measure because they are reducing fuel costs and use while keeping the roads safer. Vehicle accidents are a tremendous burden to energy and resources, and by helping to prevent these situations, DSK is definitely taking a sustainable initiative,” Weissenborn said.

In addition to their efforts to save gas, the organization has also eliminated using paper in the operations center and in all of the cars by using cellular phones to handle all of the ride information. Booth said that by doing this DSK has saved at least 24 reams of paper or 12,000 sheets. Using less paper means saving energy, trees, water and chemicals needed in the manufacturing process.

“Ditching unnecessary paperwork, such as nightly paperwork that we file away, ride receipts, and making our release and hold harmless agreements and volunteer contracts double sided,” Booth said. “Also, all of DSK's member applications have gone online so we reduce our paper trail and our training is entirely electronic so we don't leave a paper trail there either.”

Booth said he believes it is important for DSK to support sustainability.

“It is our responsibility as a non-profit organization and as students to make our society better, and if we can take simple steps to do so by saving gas or saving paper, then we should do so,” he said.

Booth said that if others see the efforts DSK is making to help the environment, the trend may catch on and affect the environment on a larger scale.

“DSK works with 65 volunteers per weekend and if our volunteers see us taking the initiative, then hopefully our volunteers will take the initiative as well to be more environmentally friendly,” Booth said.

Melissa Matson, WMU civil engineering major, agrees.

“A lot of students think that they can’t make a difference, so they don’t try. But if they see that even the small efforts can make a difference, maybe they will be encouraged to try harder,” Matson said. “Seeing that DSK is making these small changes may help them to see that.”

Booth said DSK is constantly looking for new ways to become more ‘green’ and is open to suggestions from anyone.

Matson suggests that perhaps DSK try to rent hybrid cars if they have the opportunity.

“I drive a hybrid car at work and the amount of gas I save is unbelievable,” she said.

This is a future goal for members of DSK.

"When we see a step that we can take to be more environmentally friendly, then we will do it,” Booth said. “Renting hybrid cars is currently not an option for us but we hope it will be in the future.”

Weissenborn suggests that DSK switch their vehicle fleet to diesel engines and power them with biodiesel fuel which is a domestic, renewable fuel for diesel engines derived from natural oils like soybean oil.

“They could even get the biodiesel from WMU's own biodiesel lab,” he said. “That seems like a more ideal approach to fuel efficiency. However, I feel that the more safe rides DSK has to offer the better, regardless if the vehicle runs on gasoline or biodiesel.”

Booth said that students have had a great reaction to all of their changes so far.

Leah Goodman, WMU student and member of SSE, said she thinks the changes that DSK is making will make a big impact on the environment.

“DSK does so much driving on the weekends, even the smallest changes they make will make a difference,” she said.

Matson said she is much more likely to ride with DSK now that she is aware of the changes being made.

“I try to do as much as I can do help out the environment,” Matson said. “So why not choose a sustainable cab service if I have the option?”