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Articles: Sustainability

Move over LEED, there’s a new certification in town. It’s not just buildings getting a green stamp of approval these days—events are, too. Colleges and universities across the country have begun implementing “certified green events programs” to limit the impact campus events have on the environment.

Sometimes the way to improved efficiency lies in a spreadsheet. Sometimes it lies in a piece of software.

And sometimes it lies in a restroom.

SPSU

Advancement officials at Southern Polytechnic State University (Ga.) had both practical and aspirational reasons to reconsider how it ran its faculty/staff annual giving campaign. From a practical standpoint, designing and printing packets filled with a promotional postcard, sheets listing accounts and giving incentives, a pledge card, a return envelope, and labels for each of the university’s nearly 850 faculty and staff was costly. Not to mention, printing, stuffing, and distributing these packets took valuable human resources department time.

Most colleges and universities attending EduComm send one or two, sometimes three, people to the conference. Last June, Life University (Ga.) sent seven of its administrators and faculty to learn from the breakout sessions and see the latest higher education technology on the EduComm exhibit floor.

The second year of the ongoing Models of Efficiency program continues to demonstrate that campus departments can be innovative and inspired when it comes to finding ways to provide superior service and maximize resources.

"We believe that improving the efficiency of administrative services yields cost savings and reputation benefits that can propel a college into the top tier of success," noted Miles Lasater, chief operations officer and cofounder of Higher One, which has sponsored the Models of Efficiency program from the start.

Harvard University has long been known to take the lead in research, public administration, and business and law studies, so why not sustainability? The university has become the first higher education institution to have earned 50 LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certifications for new construction or renovation to existing buildings. LEED-certified buildings save money on energy costs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and contribute to a healthier environment.

In higher education, sustainability and green design have moved beyond buzzwords to become real practice. Programs such as the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment, and the College Sustainability Report Card are commonplace measures of an institution’s commitment to sustainability.

Albert Einstein had this to say about problem-solving: "You can never solve a problem on the same level on which it was created." In other words, the solution lies at a higher level. That is certainly the truth for many efforts in higher education, where overcoming administrative challenges? that are holding back student or institutional success or service is often about reaching for innovative solutions.

When Zach Waickman was a senior at Loyola University Chicago, he had just completed an internship with a major news network in Chicago and planned to pursue a career within his communication major. But, a course focused on biodiesel completely changed his path.

Waickman, who graduated in 2008, is now working toward obtaining his MBA and is biodiesel lab manager for Loyola's Center for Urban Environmental Research, facilitating students in the process of turning waste grease into biodiesel to fuel the university's shuttle busses.

Programs that allow campus offices to become officially certified green in operations can pack a one-two staff engagement punch. In Bowen Close's experience overseeing sustainability as assistant director of facilities and campus services at Pomona College (Calif.), initially people already interested in improving their environmental impacts get engaged in the structure and assistance that such a program offers. As they work to get their colleagues involved in the effort, their enthusiasm is contagious.

The sustainability movement is on pace for rapid growth in the United States, with some analysts predicting it will approach $50 billion by 2013. Stanford University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of California, Berkeley, and MIT top the U.S. News and World Report list of universities offering degrees in renewable energy, sustainable design, and conservation. It was only a matter of time then that a college, focused solely on preparing grads for careers in this field, would appear on the map.

Signatories to the American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment, as of mid-May. --ACUPCC annual report

Portion of current campus sustainability positions created in 2007 or later. --AASHE Higher Education Sustainability Staffing Survey

Amount of carbon dioxide reduced by ACUPCC institutions. --2010 ACUPCC annual report

It doesn’t get greener than planting trees, and thanks to the Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree Campus USA program, colleges and universities are being recognized for their dedication to the most literal translation of going green.

It is becoming more and more fashionable to claim a greener identity, and it seems college students everywhere are excited to help the environment, particularly when their actions are visible to others. When questioned about reducing the carbon footprint at Bentley University (Mass.), for instance, I’ve been asked, “When are we going to install wind turbines?”

“How much does LEED cost”? University administrators and facilities directors across the country are grappling with the need to design and construct their buildings sustainably with all the obvious long-term benefits but within their “first cost” budget.

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