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Articles: Sustainability

Adding green and sustainable elements to facilities during new construction and renovations is no longer an option for colleges and universities—it’s the expectation.

The push for campuswide sustainability and a fresh commitment to student health drive institutions to rethink their dining strategies. This might mean buying more food from local farmers and better educating students about their dietary habits.

Along those lines, Stanford University is the first higher ed institution in the nation to earn the United States Healthful Food Council’s REAL certification—an acronym for Responsible (nutrition), Epicurean (preparation), Agricultural (sourcing) and Leadership.

A biomass plant opened on Middlebury’s campus in 2009, marking a significant step toward the college’s pledge to become carbon neutral by 2016.

Fossil fuel and private prison divestment may make the biggest headlines when it comes to how colleges invest endowment funds—but it’s not actually that common a practice. A growing number of colleges and universities now seek bigger impacts—and substantial financial returns—with a strategy known as “ESG.”

With irreversible climate change megatrends conspiring against us and rising levels of consumption, our Nation’s fresh water resources are in peril. For the future the preponderance of scientific, agricultural, and renewable energy discoveries will happen in water born environments.

A pair of draft horses often plows the campus farm at Sterling College. Sterling does have tractors—its agriculture students have to learn how to use all varieties of equipment—but the energy-saving horses are just one step in the Vermont school’s extensive and award-winning sustainable dining program.

The farm produces about 20 percent of the food consumed in the college’s dining hall.

At seven stories tall and 247,000 square feet, the Science Education and Research Center at Temple University in Philadelphia is one of the largest buildings devoted exclusively to scientific research in the city’s region.

With several high-tech learning spaces, the center promotes innovation while fostering collaboration.

Institutions have implemented more innovative waste management practices since a major stream of recycling revenue dried up.

For many colleges and universities, there used to be gold in garbage. Or, at least, there was some revenue to go along with the recycling stream. But two years ago, the whole landfill landscape changed.

In the 1990s, Al Gore warned the public about the consequences of global warming. Though Gore may not have been the father of campus recycling nor the Internet, he and other like minded politicians placed the environmental public policy ball in play within the executive and legislative branches of Federal and State governments.

More than two thirds of administrators surveyed say they expect to start or complete a major renovation project in 2015. (Click to enlarge)

In many ways, 2015 will look a lot like 2014 with respect to facilities. But there are trends impacting the creation and use of physical space on virtually every college and university campus. Institutions will be curbing new construction activity, getting creative about funding, paying more attention to overdue maintenance, and planning more for mixed-use facilities.

At the drop of a hat, we run down to the grocery store to grab food and water - never thinking these consumables are actually vulnerable to the threat of agroterrorism. Former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson, put it this way "For the life of me, I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply, because it is so easy to do.”

Taught by Jennie Stephens, associate professor of environmental science and policy, Clark University, Mass.

Through The Pizza Box Composting Project, six bright green dumpsters with a pizza painted on them have been placed near North Carolina State's residence halls.

The order: large pizza, extra green.

To increase composting efforts on campus, North Carolina State University has been focusing on the proper disposal of a popular item used by students: pizza boxes.

More institutions are creating energy conversation plans that cover the entire campus rather than just individual buildings.

Conservation on campus is about saving money and electricity at a time of lagging state funding and soaring global demand for power. Colleges with successful energy sustainability programs have combined mechanical improvements with campaigns to get their communities to adopt new behaviors.

Mercer University Bears football fans who enter the Macon, Ga., campus through the Stadium Drive entrance now pass the school’s new fountain and surrounding rain garden. The garden, which is 1.5 acres, is not only attractively landscaped—it serves a dual purpose by collecting rainwater runoff from nearby parking lots.


The former tension pond near Mercer’s football stadium had been built to code to control runoff but was unattractive and occupied a lot of space, says James Netherton, executive vice president for administration and finance.

Back in September, the Crough Center at The Catholic University of America (D.C.) became the first building in the world to be LEED certified by students as part of a formal course.

Developed in 2011 by Patricia Andrasik, assistant professor of architecture, the LEED Lab course not only teaches students about green building codes and projects, but certifies them in LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance, or EB: O+M.