“Sustainability” is an abstract term and has been highly debated in recent years, but generally refers to practices that can continue indefinitely as resource quality and quantity are maintained over time. In other words, renewable resources are used only to the extent that they are able to regenerate themselves. While sustainable practices have existed for centuries on the local level, they have become a global political priority only in the past few decades.
In the United States, sustainability as part of a national environmental policy has existed since 1970 when the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was signed into law and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created, in order to respond to growing public concern about ecological well-being. NEPA requires that Environmental Impact Statements be completed for all federal actions that have potential environmental impacts and also established the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) within Congress that became the catalyst for future environmental legislation. The NEPA model has also been implemented at the state level and has inspired countries throughout the world to develop and adopt similar laws with the goal of reducing negative environmental impacts.
In 1972, the United Nations (UN) held the Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, Sweden which led to the establishment of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) as “the environmental conscience of the UN system.” UNEP has helped to facilitate the implementation of sustainable practices on a global scale through intergovernmental collaboration. This relatively new concept has been a priority since the first UN Earth Summit was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992. At this monumental event, over 100 heads of state met to discuss means of environmental protection and socioeconomic development. This resulted in Agenda 21, a framework for achieving sustainable development in the 21st century. The Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) was created to monitor and report on the policies agreed upon as part of Agenda 21.
These advances in sustainability policy have been essential in increasing discussion about ecological concerns, but do not provide a clear vision of what a sustainable world is. Sustainable practices must be tailored to fit to a region's resources and are therefore effective on a local level. As a result, many college campuses have been spearheading programs that fit into their communities' conceptions of sustainability. These initiatives are continually changing the way that campuses and surrounding communities interact with local and global resources to meet basic needs such as food, water, and shelter. The concept of sustainability is now being redefined, manifested, and implemented in modern practices with colleges leading the way.
College Sustainability Overview
College campuses are becoming gardens of sustainable practices where ideas take root and bloom into successful programs. Solid waste and recycling issues have been the foot in the door for campuses to evolve additional sustainable campus practices such as resource conservation, composting, green building, environmentally preferable purchasing, and sustainability focused courses and degree programs.
Many college recycling programs have developed over time in order to define and implement sustainable campus practices. College recycling coordinators are being brought into the discussion on how to extend and improve campus environmental responsibility. As a result, many college solid waste and recycling coordinators are taking on additional responsibilities and becoming campus sustainability coordinators.
As the world beyond college campuses further defines its viewpoints on sustainability, institutes of higher education are finding unique opportunities to be involved in global discussions and model sustainable practices. Governments, industry, business, academia, and local communities are embracing key elements of sustainable practices and are instituting policies, practices, and theories about how sustainability works.
The Natural Step
The Natural Step has been one of the most outspoken leaders in the discussion and implementation of global sustainability initiatives. The Natural Step is an international organization that uses, “a proven, scientifically robust model that helps organizations make pragmatic decisions to move toward sustainability.”
The Natural Step has defined a technical framework for organizations to follow with the basic premise of identifying the human impact on the environment while identifying practices to reduce this impact and establish systems that result in continuous renewable cycles. Many colleges, businesses, industries, and government agencies are embracing The Natural Step and working to implement more sustainable systems in all areas of home, school, commercial, and governmental environments.
College Sustainability Practices
College campus sustainability is taking on numerous forms. In order to reduce environmental impacts, colleges are addressing sustainability at all levels of operation from academic pursuits to construction and building maintenance. The practices and programs outlined below help to conserve resources, educate the campus community, and create plans for future action.
In order to begin defining sustainability on a given campus and what can be done to increase sustainable practices, current practices and systems must first be evaluated. The following are assessment tools that can help to identify steps that can be taken to improve sustainable procedures and practices.
EPA Calculators are available for a wide range of topics from compost cost benefit analyses to carbon footprints. These are a great starting point as they provide both environmental and budgetary analyses.
Carbon Footprint Calculators and Ecological Footprint Calculators help to demonstrate an individual's environmental impact and offer suggestions for reducing impact. These suggestions can be incorporated into long-term campus planning and create ways to help individuals reduce impact both on campus and off.
Benchmark energy assessments are more detailed than the analyses that would be found on the internet because the assessment takes place on-site. Keep track of electricity and water usage on campus using records from the local utility company. Identify areas where systems can/should be updated in order to be more efficient. If the campus is planning on creating a comprehensive energy reduction plan, designate someone with the appropriate qualifications on the staff or hire an energy consultant to identify problem areas around campus and offer suggestions as to how they may be improved.
The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) is a standardized self-assessment instrument developed to assist colleges and universities in tracking progress toward meeting sustainability goals. The tool was developed through collaborative efforts led by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). Participants who use this system are often recognized for their green accomplishments. Other tracking systems have been developed in the past, but have not been as widely used and accepted as STARS.
A Green Office Audit is a tool developed to identify “low-hanging fruit” in an office setting. It covers a variety of topics from paper waste, to electrical and water usage, to cleaning products, and even pest management and landscaping techniques. It analyzes what is already being done to reduce impact in the office and offers suggestions for the next steps. Ideally, someone on staff would be able to help departments create a waste reduction plan based on the results of the Green Office Audit. Green Office Audits are most effective when customized to the school's needs and capabilities. See Appendix 2 for a sample Green Office Audit from the University of Oregon.
As sustainability becomes a priority on campuses across the nation and the world, it is important that administrative structures are put in place so that discussion becomes action.
Some colleges are creating Offices of Sustainability that oversee all sustainability related actions on campus such as developing comprehensive waste reduction strategies, energy efficiency and greenhouse gas reduction plans, working with recycling programs, hosting educational events, networking with environmentally related groups on campus and in the community, networking with other schools, and providing PR for the University to highlight the steps it is taking to be a better environmental steward. A sustainability director or environmental coordinator is generally appointed to administer this type of program.
Committees (such as the Environmental Issues Committee or Sustainability Committee) bring campus community members together, generate discussion about sustainability, and put pressure on central administration to encourage positive changes in campus behaviors and practices.
Departmental contact lists help administrators in the Office of Sustainability and the Campus Recycling Program to network with designated faculty and staff members in each department when implementing new waste reduction plans. A contact list allows information to be sent to a designated person in each department who can then disseminate information to his/her colleagues.
Long Term Planning
In order to turn discussions about sustainability into real, action-based solutions, long-term, comprehensive planning is required.
The American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment has 685 signatories to date. These higher education leaders have agreed to institutionalize plans to achieve climate neutrality within their institutions as soon as possible. This commitment includes setting a target date for achieving climate neutrality, completing an inventory of all greenhouse gas emissions generated on campus within one year of signing the agreement, and continuing to complete annual inventories. Within two years of signing, an institutional action plan (or Climate Action Plan) must be developed to achieve interim goals leading to climate neutrality, incorporate sustainability education into the curriculum, expand climate neutrality research efforts, and create tracking mechanisms that can be used to evaluate the progress on the goals and actions outlined in the plan.
Developing campus environmental and sustainability policies is one way of creating accountability within an institution. Policies create clear expectations for environmentally preferable purchasing, and maintenance procedures for buildings and grounds.
Developing and implementing sustainable development guidelines can help to identify opportunities for lower impact building procedures for new construction and remodels as well as sustainable land use planning on campus properties. Such guidelines can also address green space preservation on campuses, plantings of native and/or non-invasive species in campus landscaping, and environmental cost/benefit analyses for new projects.
Creating long-range campus sustainability plans incorporates policies and guidelines into a more comprehensive document. Comprehensive plans can go beyond the Presidents' Climate Commitment by addressing issues such as resource consumption, land use planning, waste management, hazardous materials handling, and other factors that have climate impacts as well as other ecological implications.
Education provides the necessary tools to lead to positive actions that conserve natural resources. At institutes of higher education, there are endless opportunities both in the classroom setting and in hands-on, practical settings for environmental education.
Curriculum additions and adaptations to include environmental issues is essential in ensuring that upcoming generations of college graduates are well informed about the world they live in and interact with on a daily basis. Think outside of the box: environmental issues can be incorporated into every department on campus. Each division of academia provides new, innovative opportunities for “greening.”
Degree and Certificate Programs are the next natural step after incorporating environmental issues into the college curriculum. Environmental Studies, Ecology, Environmental Planning, and Environmental Engineering major programs are becoming increasingly popular and attracting students to colleges and universities. Certificate programs can also be valuable because they incorporate ecological awareness into fields that tend to have significant impacts. For example, architecture programs could develop a sustainable design certification with coursework focused on passive solar design, lower impact building materials, locally sourced materials, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Certification, greywater systems, rainwater catchment systems, living roofs and more. Similarly, a business program could offer a green business certificate that could be achieved by completing courses on topics such as environmental and ecological economics, steady-state economics, sustainable development, low-impact product design, local currencies, and waste-reduction practices for businesses.
Carbon Footprint Calculators and Ecological Footprint Calculators are valuable interactive educational tools because they allow students to connect their personal decisions to the impacts they have on the planet. Calculators analyze everything from food choices, to electricity usage, to preferred modes of transportation. Many versions of these calculators are available online (see Resources for links) and also offer suggestions that can be implemented into classroom lessons as well.
Princeton University's Carbon Mitigation Assessment (CMI) Stabilization Wedges concept is an educational tool that helps to visualize a multi-faceted approach to carbon stabilization. The main purpose is to demonstrate that the technology already exists to mitigate carbon emissions. The framework identifies four “carbon-cutting” categories (Efficiency, Decarbonization of Power, Decarbonization of Fuel, and Forests and Agricultural Soils) with specific strategies in each. A combination of eight strategies can be used to build a carbon mitigation portfolio that together will mitigate carbon emissions.
The Climate Masters program (a collaborative effort between the Resource Innovation Group and the University of Oregon's Institute for a Sustainable Environment) is a ten week course designed to teach participants how to reduce emissions from daily activities. Those who complete the program are then expected to pay for the course by committing to at least thirty hours of community service, sharing what they have learned with other community members. This type of program is interactive and also creates a bridge between campus and the surrounding community.
Eco-reps are students who act as liaisons between administrators and other students to promote environmental awareness and education on campus. This peer to peer structure has been successful on campuses across the U.S. in teaching students about topics such as energy and resource use, local and sustainable food production, recycling, and more. Eco-reps may work within on-campus residential facilities, student unions, serve on environmental committees, coordinate with administrators who focus on health, safety, sustainability, and waste management, and act as general resources to encourage ecologically conscious living.
Preservation, Conservation, and Mitigation
Preservation designates and protects certain areas of land, water, or other natural resources for the future. Conservation compliments preservation in that it involves consuming less and using resources (including climate systems) strategically. Mitigation seeks to lessen or offset environmental damages that are already present. Planting trees to sequester CO2 or restoring wetlands or riparian zones that were damaged during construction processes are examples of mitigation programs.
Work with the Campus Planning Department to develop buffer zones in between the campus and surrounding residential areas and designate green spaces where new construction will be prohibited. Limit new construction in order to preserve open spaces on campus. Promote these open spaces for recreational activities and educational purposes such as wildlife viewing, plant identification, surveying and land analysis classes, and physical education.
Energy use reduction should be a top priority within all campus operations. While extremely energy efficient technology exists, it may not fit within a school's budget. Therefore, using less energy (turning off all lights and computer monitors when leaving a room, making sure appliances are unplugged when not in use, turning thermostats down in the winter and up in the summer, etc.) is a way to conserve both money and energy. As systems wear out and are due to be upgraded, choose energy efficient options, but focus on reduction in the meantime.
Carbon offset programs and other forms of mitigation banking are often included in long-term climate neutrality and campus environmental plans, but they also have the potential to pose significant blockages to campus sustainability. Unless all offsets are made locally through tree planting or a similar initiative, there is no way of determining whether or not emissions are in fact being offset. Hiring a company requires a college to trust that the mitigation company is truly following through on their responsibility to offset emissions. In addition, offsets do not encourage conservation. Such programs promote the idea that current levels of emissions are allowed as long as a consumer can pay enough. This skips the essential step of reduction when analyzing campus environmental impact.
Waste Reduction and Recycling
Waste reduction and recycling are complimentary sustainability practices because both help to protect natural resources by ensuring that minimal virgin materials are extracted. The fewer materials that are used to begin with, the fewer materials will need to be reprocessed using energy intensive recycling processes. Recycling programs assist in educating the campus community as well as collecting recyclables and often have the role of implementing additional sustainability programs.
Composting provides a means of turning waste to a valuable resource. It is a natural way of recycling material and improving efficiency in a waste management system. See Chapter 13: Composting for details about starting a composting program on campus.
Campuses generate large amounts of food waste in dining halls, other on-campus eateries, and at special events. As with other products, certain food choices are more environmentally preferable than others. Consider the following options for improving campus food sustainability.
Buying local, organic, and unprocessed food serves multiple purposes by reducing environmental impacts, reducing waste disposal costs, providing healthy food to the campus population, and stimulating the local economy. Packaged foods (especially in single serving containers) are a major contributor to the campus waste stream. By reducing or eliminating this stress on the waste stream through bulk buying, waste disposal costs and environmental impacts will be significantly reduced. See Chapter 25: Recycling in the Kitchen for further details. Local foods can be purchased for campus kitchens by setting up contracts with local farms or produce distributors or even growing a percentage of the produce required by the campus kitchens on site. Campus farms can be integrated into the sustainability curriculum through hand-on classes and internships at the farm. Local food can also be made available on campus by holding regular farmer's markets on campus. Schedule these so as to not conflict with other regularly scheduled farmer's markets.
Composting both pre and post consumer food waste is a sustainability initiative that more and more schools are getting on board with. Organic materials make up a large portion of the campus waste stream, so by composting these materials, waste can be turned into a resource. This waste to resource model is essential to improving campus sustainability. For more information about how to start and maintain a campus composting program, see Chapter 13: Composting.
Reusable dishes and tableware decrease waste because disposables such as plastic forks, coffee cups, and compostable food ware such as paper plates and PLA cups are eliminated from the waste stream. Consider creating a campus program to provide all new students and employees with a reusable mug, water bottle, plate/bowl, and tableware to be used at campus events. A similar initiative could involve charging a fully refundable deposit for these items at the beginning of the year and charging fees for disposable tableware at food service areas.
Water is a human need and is therefore a human right. It is a finite resource and must be used wisely in order to maintain both quality and quantity. Many high and low tech options are available for improving water quality and efficient water usage.
Water conservation and consumption reduction campaigns are the best place to start regardless of the technological options that are currently viable based on budget restrictions and availability of appropriate systems. Put signs above sinks reminding users to minimize water consumption and turn the faucets off when not in use. When constructing or remodeling buildings, install low flow toilets and shower heads, and water and energy efficient washing machines and dish washers.
Greywater is water that has already been used in domestic practices such as hand washing, showering, dish washing, laundry, etc. It is therefore not of drinking quality, nor is it highly contaminated like blackwater (toilet water). Greywater systems allow this water to be recycled multiple times for landscaping or to flush a toilet instead of immediately being treated as waste. As greywater comprises 50-80% of “waste” water in an average residential setting, implementing such systems can significantly decrease fresh water use and also provide additional benefits such as decreasing the strain on septic tanks and water treatment plants, recharging groundwater, natural cleaning of water as it is reintroduced into the water cycle, reclaiming nutrients that would otherwise be wasted, and enhancing plant growth.
Water catchment systems utilize the rainwater that falls on a property by harvesting it for on-site usage. These systems save money by reducing reliance on a utility company for water services. While not all rainwater may be of drinking water quality, it is certainly valuable for bathing, hand washing, as wash water for clothing and dishes, flushing toilets, and landscape irrigation. Water catchment systems also help to decrease stormwater runoff (and therefore stress in stormwater treatment facilities) by slowing and storing water.
Install refill spouts around campus to encourage refillable container use. Ban bottled water on campus as it creates environmental degradation through every step of its life cycle from extraction, to packaging, to disposal. Involve students, faculty, and staff to start a successful campaign. For sample pledges and petitions for banning bottled water on campus and switching to refillable containers, see Chapter 23: Education to Action.
As new energy efficient technology is developed, college campuses are emerging as perfect testing grounds because residential, industrial, and institutional settings are incorporated into one area. Therefore, there is an opportunity to identify the most appropriate context for new technology and strategies. Keep in mind that reducing energy consumption goes along with energy efficiency, so campaigns aimed at appropriate technology and conservation need to go hand in hand.
Energy conservation is the true key to creating a sustainable campus. Reducing energy consumption should always be of higher priority than technological fixes that require no change in personal behavior. Put stickers with energy conservation messages and logos on switch plates as reminders to turn lights off when leaving a room. Place similar signs near computer monitors. See Chapter 2: Energy and Resource Conservation for more energy saving ideas.
Renewable energy is becoming more affordable over time as more consumers begin demanding it. Campuses are among these consumers. Launch a campaign on campus to request that a certain percentage of the power on campus is purchased from renewable sources.
Combine locally sourced energy campaigns with renewable energy campaigns. Buying local energy has the dual benefit of increased efficiency and support for the local economy.
Just as the decisions that we make as part of our everyday lifestyles impact the environment, the places where we live and work have an ecological impact as well. Buildings help determine human relationships to the surrounding environment by either integrating into existing natural systems or separating humans and nature. The entire life cycle of a building must be assessed in order to identify ways that it can be made more sustainable. As a structure is being built, the site itself must be analyzed to identify potential environmental impacts to the soil, air, water, and wildlife. Construction materials need to be evaluated in order to choose low-impact, durable, and repairable items. Appropriate technology needs to be implemented based on regional climate, microclimates, ease of use and maintenance, and universal accessibility. At the end of a building's life cycle, options must be available for material reuse, recycling, or return to natural systems through biodegradation. There are countless options for including sustainable campus building programs in long-term environmental plans.
Green buildings and natural buildings are both steps toward creating more sustainable dwellings and work spaces. “Green buildings” tend to be more focused on technology than “natural buildings,” which tend to be lower-tech, often using biodegradable materials. Both green and natural buildings focus on increasing sustainability by building with lower impact materials and increasing energy efficiency through both passive and active design and technologies. Building codes may inhibit (or prohibit) certain building styles, materials, and techniques, but experimental building permits may be available depending on city ordinances.
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a program administered by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) to certify buildings that improve energy and water efficiency and indoor environmental quality, reduce CO2 emissions, and demonstrate resource stewardship and impact sensitivity. Not only do LEED certified buildings significantly reduce environmental impacts and promote healthy living and working environments, but LEED certification also provides positive publicity for colleges and universities because it is an internationally recognized certification system. LEED for Neighborhood Development takes the building certification a step further by evaluating how a project fits into the community context and provides local services. This is especially important for large institutions such as colleges and universities because there is often a rift between campus life and the surrounding neighborhoods. For new construction and major renovation, work with LEED Accredited Professionals or contractors who have demonstrated a strong background in green building skills and knowledge of the LEED certification process.
Construction and Demolition (C&D) waste recovery is another aspect of building sustainability that is sometimes overlooked as it may be more convenient for materials to be hauled away as trash rather than separating and salvaging usable items. However, C&D recovery presents a major opportunity for both cost and environmental savings on college campuses. For instructions detailing C&D waste recovery and common materials that are generated through such processes, see Chapter 12: Construction and Demolition Recycling.
Sustainability Demonstration Houses
Sustainability demonstration houses are becoming more and more popular on college campuses across the country. A house is a perfect learning environment for sustainable practices because not only can sustainable building practices be demonstrated, but everyday lifestyle choices that students and community members can incorporate into their own lives can be demonstrated as well.
Education is essential at sustainability demonstration houses. A house with a flourishing garden is a welcoming environment for workshops about a wide range of sustainability related topics such as permaculture design, native plant landscaping, rainwater harvesting, greywater systems, seed saving, tree planting, food preservation and cooking with local foods, woodworking, harvesting and processing natural fibers, and herbal medicine. Campuses tend to establish and maintain their sustainability houses to mesh with local culture and student life while adhering to administrative restrictions.
Humboldt State's Campus Center for Appropriate Technology (CCAT) is one of the oldest and most successful sustainability demonstration houses in the country and has been cited as a precedent for many other houses that have been established in recent years. It was founded in 1978 when a group of students spent a summer renovating a house on campus that would otherwise have been torn down. CCAT was moved to a new site in 2004 to accommodate a new campus building and has continued to provide a valuable resource to students and community members. It is student funded and staffed and houses three co-directors to administer CCAT programs including regular tours of the house and grounds, classes, workshops, and student initiated projects that test new technologies at the house. The house is a continually evolving project and living laboratory which over the years has implemented a photovoltaic system, solar thermal system, greywater marsh, wind turbine, pedal power electrical generation, and grounds that incorporate permaculture design, organic gardening, and natural buildings.
Center for the Advancement of Sustainable Living (CASL) at the University of Oregon was founded by a graduate student as a terminal project in 2003. The project used CCAT as a precedent and one day hopes to have a similar program. Like CCAT, CASL has three co-directors, and coordinators who volunteer as event organizers, fundraising and grant coordinators, publicity coordinators, and garden coordinators. In 2007, CASL was designated a house in the east campus neighborhood to remodel and turn into a permanent home for the program. The remodel is still in progress, but plans include an array of technologies such as a solar hot water heater, green roof, and rainwater catchment and greywater systems. As the remodel and new construction processes are in the works, students have plenty of hands-on opportunities to learn about sustainable building practices. Even though few events are held on the property, CASL continues to sponsor sustainability related events including the annual Redefine the Dream Speaker and Workshop Series which brings local experts to campus to discuss sustainability and teach sustainable living skills.
Treehouse at Dickinson College started as the Center for Sustainable Living's student residence in 1990. It now houses fourteen student residents who are committed to living a low-impact communal lifestyle and is administered as Special Interest Housing within the Office of Student Life. While the focus of Treehouse is reducing consumption through personal choices, its technological features earned Treehouse a gold rating from the LEED program in 2008. The house's green features include energy and water efficient appliances and heating and cooling systems, salvaged and recycled content building materials, low or non-toxic building and finishing materials such as low VOC paints, adhesives, and carpeting, and a high performance envelope (building shell) to provide insulation. The house also has an energy monitoring station that keeps track of consumption in “real time.” The residents reach out to the community to teach more about sustainable lifestyle choices by hosting potlucks, concerts, tours of the house, workshops, and guest speakers.
Students have the ability to influence campus environmental policy by lobbying student government representatives and university administrators as well as initiating education campaigns, forming groups and clubs, conducting research, and completing projects for classes that will have tangible impacts on campus and in the community.
Student Government resolutions are one way of ensuring that central administration hears student voices, while influencing environmental policies that will have effect on student fee funded groups. For example, banning the purchase of styrofoam containers and bottled water with student fees acts as a precedent that the rest of the university can follow.
Environmentally focused clubs and other organizations on campus help to build community and also have the opportunity to educate fellow students and community members about resource conservation and waste reduction. These groups can include outdoor recreation clubs, sustainability demonstration house organizations, and groups dedicated to green practices in their respective course of study such as an environmental law club, sustainable business club, or green building club. Community service organizations, fraternities, sororities, and social justice organizations can also have a stake in environmental issues on campus and in the community.
Sustainability coalitions allow numerous environmentally focused groups on campus to collaborate when planning larger events such as Earth Day. Develop listservs within coalitions to send out information about upcoming meetings, events that coalition members are promoting, and environmental current event updates. Create a website so that events can be easily publicized and groups belonging to the coalition will avoid planning overlapping events.
Conferences can be geared toward students, community members, and in some cases students from other campuses in the region. Conferences provide excellent networking and educational opportunities and give students practice in planning and coordinating all of the details involved in hosting large events.
Earth Hour and other international and national events create awareness about both local and global social and environmental issues. Combine student-led events with nationwide and worldwide calls to action.
Friendly on-campus and intercollegiate competitions provide opportunities for education, outreach, and waste reduction.
RecycleMania is an intercollegiate competition and benchmarking tool that takes place over a ten week period. The competition started in February 2001 as a contest between Miami University and Ohio University to determine which school could collect the largest quantity of recyclable material. Less than ten years later, over 600 schools have joined the fun. Participation categories include “Grand Champion” (recycling as a percentage of the school's waste stream as a whole), “Stephen K. Gaski Per Capita Classic” (quantity of recyclables collected per person on campus), “Waste Minimization” (lowest amount of municipal solid waste, including both recycling and trash), “Gorilla Prize” (highest gross tonnage of material), and “Targeted Materials,” (largest amount of corrugated cardboard, paper, bottles and cans, or food service organics). Participating schools provide educational events throughout the ten weeks in order to promote recycling and waste reduction on campus.
Harvard Green Cup
The Green Cup is a competition between on campus houses to determine which house is the most environmentally conscious. Houses are evaluated based on seven criteria:
Improvement in Waste Reduction and Recycling
*Improvement in Energy Conservation
*Eco-Projects (developed by individuals or teams within each house)
*House Council Efforts to Reduce Waste at Events
Participation in the Campus Sustainability Pledge and Resource Efficiency Program (REP) Surveys
*Performance in Food Waste Audits
*Reduction in Dishware Loss and Plastic Ware Use
The competition's purpose is to increase environmental awareness, foster innovative ideas that reduce Harvard's environmental impacts, and reward participants with prizes for their commitment to the environment.
Ohio University's Energy Challenge
In the fall of 2001, Ohio University did an energy competition called the Energy Bowl in the residence halls. There are 41 residence halls at Ohio University. The competition lasted 10 weeks. 15% of the savings went back to the halls in the form of a check for the nine top-ranking halls.
All halls competed with each other in three campus areas. At the end of four weeks, the top halls (three from each area) competed for the rest of the competition. Each area was ranked 1st, 2nd and 3rd for a total of nine winners. There was a quarter final competition, which narrowed the nine winners down to three first place winners. Then to a semi-final, then final, which determined the overall 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winners. The Ohio University Energy Bowl winner then competed with another close by college for the grand prize. The three hall winners got PR during homecoming and representatives from each winning hall had their photos taken with the University President and put in the campus newspaper. Each residence hall in the top nine halls got cash awards which went to hall councils for fun stuff.
1st place hall winners $1,346
2nd place hall winners $561
3rd place winners $337
Additionally, there was Energy Week during the middle of this competition. A variety of speakers, giveaways, information tables, an energy fair with companies displaying energy conservation products, career information on energy-related fields, and contests to answer trivia questions about energy conservation (with prizes like a piece of pizza) were some of the activities that took place during the week. Local kids were asked to participate. In the middle of this week, the town Mayor issued a proclamation making it Energy Conservation Week. There was even an alternative energy car show including an electric race car.
At the end of all of this, a banquet was held for the winners. Housing provided the banquet at no cost. The banquet included recognition of halls and waste busters who participated. The average amount each hall reduced was 20%. Each hall is on a separate meter so it was easy to monitor energy usage.
The total energy cost reduction was $75,000 over a 10 week period. The total cost of implementing the program was about $18,000. Those costs went towards paying student workers to carry out the program: two student executive directors got $500 each, five student assistants got $200 each, and another fourteen student waste busters received $75 each.
This was done as a project with a student group called Wastebusters, plus a consulting agency to complete such tasks including meter readings, administrative work, sign and t-shirts making, ads, a float in the homecoming parade, table tents, and other promotion (including a “beat writer” to keep the stories flowing in the student paper.) One student also created a video about this (which was included in the cost of the program) which aired on public and campus television. The group worked with the Residence Hall Assistants to promote the program. This was endorsed by the Student Senate which passed a resolution to support the project.
The idea of this was to make it an annual competition with follow up education and promotion during the year. A little invested and a lot saved! Kudos to Ohio University for this innovative resource saving competition.
The entire life cycle of a product (from the resource extraction processes used to obtain the materials to create it, to its disposal when it can no longer be reused) is necessary to consider when deciding whether or not to purchase a particular item. When it comes to purchasing, always remember the 3 Rs. Can the need for the product be reduced? If it cannot be reduced, what options exist for reuse and repair? When the product is no longer able to be reused, can it be recycled?
Purchasing policies create mechanisms so that specifications for products can be clearly stated. These specifications can include minimum required recycled content, reduced packaging, buy-back programs for excess packaging, and restrictions on hazardous material content.
Purchasing energy from renewable sources is also a way of implementing environmentally preferable purchasing practices. “Green power” still tends to be more expensive than fossil fuel based energy sources, but may still be a financially viable option when paired with energy conservation programs. The money saved by using less energy can then be used to purchase energy from cleaner sources.
The way in which students, faculty, staff, and visitors go to and from campus has major implications on the surrounding land, air, and water. Consider the following options for making transportation more sustainable.
Limit the number of parking passes issued each term and the availability of parking on campus. Making alternative transportation more convenient than trying to find a parking space is one way of encouraging biking, walking, using public transportation, and carpooling.
Buy bus passes for all students, faculty, and staff. Bus passes will be cheaper if there is a campus wide contract instead of just an incentive program that gives campus community members the option of buying a discounted bus pass individually.
Guaranteed ride home programs allow faculty and staff that walked, biked, used public transportation, or carpooled to work to get a free ride home in the event of an emergency or unscheduled overtime. Check locally to find out if such a program already exists and determine the logistics necessary to set up a contract so that campus employees will be able to receive the service. Once the program is in place, publicize it so that employees will be encouraged to use alternative transportation.
Bike parking should be readily available in multiple convenient locations. Work with the Campus Planning Department to identify areas that would benefit from additional bike racks and how bike parking areas can be designed to fit into the overall campus aesthetic.
Bike loan programs provide bike access to students who do not own bikes. Programs like this are perfect for serving exchange students and students who have moved from out of state and may not want to purchase a bike. This type of program can be operated in a variety of different ways depending on the needs of the campus population. Some campuses loan students bikes for an extended period of time (such as a semester) while others offer loans by the hour or the day. In areas with low levels of bike theft, some schools have purchased bikes, marked them as campus bikes, and left them unlocked around campus. Students and employees can use the bikes to get from one campus destination to another as long as the bikes are left unlocked for anyone to use.
Provide incentives for walking, biking, using public transportation, and carpooling such as raffles for prizes donated by local businesses, coupons to local bike shops, free bike maintenance workshops, and discounted (or free) bus passes.
Post rideshare boards in each department so that coworkers can easily coordinate carpooling to and from campus.
One of the greatest challenges of sustainability is securing funding for new programs and projects. As the global community becomes more environmentally educated and aware, there is more interest from donors wishing to support campus environmental practices. With the plethora of students demanding environmentally focused academics, there will be a new generation of alumni making financial contributions to campus sustainability. With this in mind, there are vast opportunities for fundraising. Colleges are beginning to expand funding opportunities to support existing and new sustainability programs.
*Student Green Fees provide financial backing for campus initiated sustainability projects by requiring that a percentage of student fees be designated for such a purpose. At larger campuses, even a green fee of a few dollars per student per term will generate enough revenue to initiate valuable projects each year. For example, at the University of Oregon, a $0.60 per student per term fee generates approximately $36,000 annually for the Student Sustainability Fund. This funding is then designated for student initiated projects, which over the past few years have included installing solar hot water heaters on campus buildings, purchasing energy efficient appliances for student groups, and installing a rainwater-to-potable water treatment system at a campus facility. Students, faculty, and staff members serve together on the board which decides how to allocate the funds.
*Federal, state, and local grants, loan programs, and rebates may be available to assist campuses striving to implement sustainable technologies into new and remodeled buildings. Work with the development office to identify potential funding sources. These may be available through the government, utility companies, or private foundations with missions related to sustainability or environmental protection. Development offices can also assist with fundraising campaigns for specific programs.
The practices and initiatives described in this chapter save resources, create continuous systems, and utilize renewable resources. Sustainable college practices provide an opportunity for students to be involved in real world issues. This has been manifesting impressive results as students leave campuses and continue to work on sustainability in order to help alleviate some of the world's problems. Truly, this is the purpose of higher education.
General Campus Sustainability
Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE)
Eastern Connecticut State University's Green Campus Initiative
The Natural Step
National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT)
University of Michigan Center for Sustainable Systems
Center for a Sustainable Economy: Ecological Footprint Quiz
Clean Air Cool Planet Campus Carbon Calculator ™
EPA Food Waste Management Cost Calculator
EPA Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator
EPA Household Emissions Calculator
EPA Office Carbon Footprint Tool
EPA Recycled Content (ReCon) Tool
EPA WAste Reduction Model (WARM)
Global Footprint Network
Northeast Recycling Council Environmental Benefits Calculator
Sustainability Tracking, Assessments & Rating System (STARS)
Aquinas College Sustainability Initiative
California State University, Chico, Our Sustainable Future
Harvard University Office for Sustainability
Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) Global Sustainability
State University of New York, Environmental Science and Forestry: Sustaining the Green
University of Oregon Office of Sustainability
University of Vermont Office of Sustainability
Warren Wilson College Sustainability Initiatives
Long Term Planning
American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment
Campus Blueprint for a Sustainable Future
Colleges & Universities in New England (EPA Initiative)
International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) Policy Bank
University Leaders for a Sustainable Future (ULSF)
Center for a Sustainable Economy: Ecological Footprint Quiz
Education for Sustainable Development Toolkit
Princeton University's Climate Mitigation Initiative (CMI) Stabilization Wedges
Second Nature: Education for Sustainability
South Carolina Sustainable Universities Initiative
Preservation, Conservation, and Mitigation
Emory University: Green Building/Green Space Sustainability Initiative
“Open Space Preservation: An Imperative for Quality Campus Environments”
Author: Janice C. Griffith. Journal of Higher Education, Vol. 65, 1994.
Princeton University Carbon Mitigation Initiative
University of California Santa Cruz Campus Conservation Guidelines
Waste Reduction and Recycling
See Resources throughout this book, especially from the following chapters:
Chapter 1: Why Reduce, Reuse, Recycle?
Chapter 3: How to Start a Recycling Program
Chapter 5: Which Materials Can be Recycled?
Chapter 8: Marketing Recyclables
Community Food Security Coalition
EPA Food Waste Management Cost Calculator
Farm to College Program
Farm to School Program
Local Harvest: Community Supported Agriculture
New Rules Project: “Locally Grown Food- University Support”
Slow Food International
Yale Sustainable Food Project
American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association (ARCSA)
Harvest H2O: The Online Water Harvesting Community
EPA Energy Portal
EPA Green Power Partnership
EPA Non-Hydroelectric Renewable Energy
Smart Communities Network: Creating Energy Smart Communities
World Energy Council
Building Today for Tomorrow
EPA Green Building
Global Ecovillage Network
Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED)
Natural Building Network
Sustainable Buildings Industry Council
Sustainability Demonstration Houses
AASHE Sustainable Living Guides
Dickinson College Treehouse
Humboldt State University Campus Center for Appropriate Technology (CCAT)
University of Oregon Center for the Advancement of Sustainable Living
People & Planet Network (U.K.)
Sierra Student Coalition
Student Environmental Action Coalition
Harvard University Green Cup
AASHE Resources on Sustainable Purchasing in Higher Education
City of Santa Monica Green Office Buying Guide
Responsible Purchasing Network
Active Transportation Alliance
Bicycle Transportation Alliance
Business Commute Challenge
Commuter Connections Guaranteed Ride Home Program
Regional Transportation Alliance
Smart Growth Library: “Transportation's Role in Reducing U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions”
Walk to School Day
AASHE: “Federal Policy Summary on Climate & Sustainability Funding Opportunities For Higher Education”
AASHE: “Mandatory Student Fees for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency”
The Case Foundation: Grants Policy
EPA Environmental Education Grants
EPA Grants and Fellowships Information
EPA P3: People, Prosperity and the Planet Student Design Competition for Sustainability
EPA Tips on Writing a Grant Proposal
U.S. Federal Grants