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Articles: Sustainability

Armstrong Atlantic State Univesity's Learning Commons is a satellite library with spaces for students to use technology and collaborate

Edna Holmes Hall, a five-story residential living community at Lewis & Clark College (Ore.) last fall, is designed to use  40 percent less water and 26 percent less energy than a typical residential building.

Wider availability and greater affordability of green building materials are a result of greater demand

Colby College's biomass plant.

Along with Colby, which has just over 1,800 students, College of the Atlantic (Maine), Green Mountain College (Vt.), and University of Minnesota at Morris have achieved carbon neutrality

energy efficient solar panel

Increasing numbers of colleges and universities are making a commitment to foster sustainability on campus. This strategy aligns well with university missions that include public service, thought leadership and pioneering new technologies. But at the end of the day, the most compelling reason is financial. Energy makes up only a small percentage of a university’s operating budget (about 3.5 percent on average), but in terms of raw dollars, America’s colleges and universities spend almost $7 billion in energy and utilities.

campus energy dashboard

Do energy visualization dashboards really save energy?

In higher ed we often find that the pace of decision making can be snail-like. While not always a bad thing, it is symptomatic of what the Higher Education culture embraces—making sure all the right data is in place before making the final decision. Thus, efficiency in decision making can become challenging because the institutional environment requires collaboration and every mind requires a different level of data satisfaction, due in large part to individual perspective.

The University of Connecticut ranked at the top of a list of the most sustainable campuses in the world, according to results of the University of Indonesia’s GreenMetric Ranking of World Universities, released this month. Four other American universities ranked in the top 10: Northeastern University (Mass.); the University of California, Los Angeles; The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and the University of California, Merced.

Quality counts: Production Supervisor Eddie Rogers inspects a large poster, one of the new products offered by Pub & Print.

UWG's pub and print department was mandated to become self-funded by 2013. The department searched and found equipment that could meet its needs affordably in other departments and shifted them to pub and print. Worker responsibilities were realigned and some student work was offloaded to the students themselves. The efforts generated both productivity improvements and financial savings.

Two years ago, Sierra College (Calif.) installed CALMAC IceBank thermal energy storage tanks to help control energy costs. The tanks create ice overnight when energy in the state is generated using natural gas, and the ice is then used for cooling during the day. Michael Kane, director of the energy program at Sierra, says the three tanks on campus save from $5,000 to $10,000 per month. But what Sierra is doing differently is ensuring its energy storage looks nice, too. Why not have students use it as a canvas?

Institutions of higher learning around the globe are turning green. They are embracing sustainability for many reasons, some of them economic, some of them because their student body and faculty are requesting it, and some of them just because it is the right thing to do. There is now even a “College Sustainability Report Card” (published by the Sustainable Endowments Institute) which lists those schools that have joined the green bandwagon and demonstrated a commitment to sustainability and is designed to give guidance to those institutions considering going green.

At Temple, students can charge their mobile devices while catching up with friends.

Temple University (Pa.) is the latest campus to install Solar Dok picnic tables from EnerFusion. The tables, which are made from recycled plastic and cost $10,495 each (plus shipping), have built-in solar panels that provide a place to recharge numerous types of mobile devices while socializing.

There were no ribbon cuttings to mark the opening of the largest fuel cell operating on any Northeast college campus. Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy and Central Connecticut State University President Jack Miller instead used a pair of wire cutters to snip a large power supply cord during a recent “power cutting” ceremony to recognize installation of the 1.4 megawatt fuel cell power plant.

The University of Utah will launch a fleet of electric buses this fall to shuttle some 47,000 students, staff, and administrators around its 1,500-acre campus. Forty buses, similar to the one pictured here, have been ordered from BYD, a Chinese company that is the world’s largest manufacturer of electric vehicles. The drawback to electric buses in the past has been battery weight. But the BYD buses use a much lighter rechargeable battery, so they can carry more passengers.

Presidents, CFOs, and trustee finance committee members will not travel too far down any paths related to sustainability until their associated costs are identified and thoroughly assessed.

Unfortunately, these considerations often still take place within confusing, partially-informed situations on campuses. Budgeting strategically to accomplish multiyear sustainability objectives is among the most significant challenges for a leadership team. Optimally, there needs to be a budget process in place that can flexibly address key sustainability needs at any point in a fiscal year.

Over the course of approximately 200 conversations and interviews for our book, The Sustainable University: Green Goals and New Challenges for Higher Education Leaders (Johns Hopkins, 2012), it became apparent that while many believe the period for orientations to sustainability has passed and the movement has transitioned from one of general citizen awareness to the need for tangible solutions, many