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Most Sustainable Campuses

Winners of a first annual competition are models for campus sustainability.
University Business, Nov 2006

When it comes to sustainability efforts on a campus, having a vision is certainly a must. But it's the campus community that makes it all happen.

Ruth Abramson, communications manager in the University of British Columbia Sustainability Office, says the institution's achievements in this area "are the result of thousands of UBC students, staff, and faculty actively demonstrating their commitment to sustainability."

UBC has been honored with an inaugural Campus Sustainability Leadership Award from The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. "This recognition is really helping to inspire our community members to continue with the vision and to renew their commitments," Abramson notes.

Institutions of higher education like UBC are making greater strides than ever in making a commitment to sustainability in governance, academics, operations, and community outreach. The first annual competition had four winners, one in each of the following categories: four-year and graduate institutions with more than 10,000 full-time enrollment, those with 1,001 to 10,000 FTE, those with less than 1,000 FTE, and community colleges and other two-year institutions. Here's a look at some of the highlights from each of the winners, which were announced in October 2006:

UBC's sustainability strategy, with 68 targets and actions for achieving nine major goals, leaves no base uncovered. "While some in the world are still debating climate change, we've already achieved our Kyoto targets ahead of schedule--AND we're saving money at the same time," says Abramson says. She's referring to the $3.8 million in energy costs that UBC has saved over the last three years by completing the largest energy retrofit in Canadian history. Called ecotrek, the project will mean an additional savings of $2.6 million annually. In addition, ecotrek is reducing UBC's CO2 emissions by 15,000 tonnes annually, allowing it to exceed the Kyoto Protocol targets (which calls for a national CO2 emissions reduction of six percent below 1990 levels by 2012). It's also reducing campus water use by 30 percent annually.

Knowing a thing or two about sustainability, the institution's sustainability office is sustainable in itself. It employs seven staff members and 10 students, and is funded entirely by savings from its energy reduction programs.

As for building efforts, UBC officials did not let the fact that the LEED system doesn't yet have a way to rate residential units hold them back from ensuring green building design in its new residential developments. The institution developed its own green building assessment program, known as REAP, featuring energy efficient lights, bicycle storage, less use of volatile organic compound emitting materials, stormwater management, and more.

On the academic front, more than 300 courses deal with sustainability, and several departments--such as Land and Food Systems and the School of Community and Regional Planning--have adopted sustainability as a core value.

UBC will soon be launching a pilot training workshop for other institutions and organizations. "We're showing how others can also gain without the pain," Abramson notes. The two-day workshop, scheduled for March 2007, will focus on how to run a successful Sustainability Coordinator program modeled after UBC's, which has 150 staff and faculty volunteers who help create a culture of sustainability.

Berea's sustainability commitment is articulated and guided by several comprehensive governance documents, including its strategic plan, released in 1996 and recently revised to include an expanded sustainability initiative.

A series of building renovations maximized efficiency and incorporating components of green design such as double-paned window retrofits and comprehensive recycling stations on every floor. The Ecovillage, an ecologically sustainable residential and learning complex, is a model for high efficiency at Berea. The complex includes 50 apartments, a Child Development Laboratory, a "Commons" house, and a demonstration house for Sustainable and Environmental Studies. Residents, who are student families, have individual garden plots as well as a shared permaculture "food forest." The sustainability goals of the Ecovillage include reducing energy use by 75 percent, reducing per capita water use by 75 percent, and reusing or composting at least 50 percent of waste.

Other significant efforts include a new heat plant that will help reduce campus energy use by 45 percent by 2015; comprehensive campus, energy, and land use plans, which include management of an 8,000-acre college forest and various trails open to the community; and transportation programs such as carpooling, a shuttle system, and a student-led community bike program.

A full-time sustainability coordinator and four other related positions, as well as several dozen student positions, get the sustainability job done here. "It is very rewarding to know that so many people on our campus have contributed to the College's various sustainability initiatives and that Berea is recognized among its peers in higher education as a leader in sustainability," says Tammy Clemons, executive assistant to President Larry D. Shinn.

Berea belongs to a sustainability consortium with Furman University (S.C.) and Warren Wilson College (N.C.), another AASHE award winner.

WWC's mission to educate for environmental sustainability is accomplished through liberal arts study, work, and service. In fact, many students, faculty, volunteers, and staff come to Warren Wilson because it's seen as an active, participatory community that shares a deep commitment and passionate concern for the planet.

The Environmental Leadership Center oversees sustainability progress on campus. Recent distinctions include the purchase of wind energy for 100 percent of its electricity consumption and LEED Gold certification for the new Orr Cottage, the first higher education LEED Gold certified building in the southeast, which houses Admissions and College Relations. Two new dorms that will house 80 students are awaiting LEED Gold certification. Speaking of students, they lead the college to be green in its operations and are constantly thinking of new, related initiatives, says Chief Financial Officer Larry Modlin.

WWC was also recognized as the 2006 "Outstanding Conservation Farm Family" for Western North Carolina; the college garden provides organic produce for campus dining services. And the college forestry operation now mills lumber from trees felled on campus to provide exterior siding and trim lumber for construction projects. Lest anyone forget to make sure the campus buildings are cleaned with sustainability in mind, all cleaning products at WWC are now Green Seal certified.

Modlin notes that the campus community members are pleased to be recognized as "walking the talk" on sustainability. Although related topics are already a part of many courses, including freshmen having sustainability as a major element in their first-year semester course, the Warren Wilson faculty has recently agreed to include sustainability across the curriculum as classes are developed.

The goal: Become carbon-neutral by 2050. The college is already purchasing 10 percent of its electricity from renewable sources. The majority--61 percent--of waste materials on campus were reused or recycled in 2005-2006. That same year, energy use was reduced by 16 percent, mainly through efforts to ensure that building conditions and lighting only operate when areas are in use. A 1.5kw photovoltaic array, installed in 2006, is further increasing renewable energy use. Student volunteers helped retrofit water faucet aerators from 2.2 gallons per minute to between 0.5 and 1.5 gpm. All new facilities will be built with LEED-certified standards.

Food service efforts are also big. Those who use their own mug when purchasing beverages from the cafeteria get a 15 cent discount, and more than 13 tons of food trimmings were composted in 2005-2006. Local and organic foods are a focus, and in 2005-2006, raw produce sales increased by 450 percent.

Sustainability has been made a central focus of the formal curriculum at Lane. A faculty survey identified areas in which it could be incorporated, and a committee obtained funding to provide 50 hours of curriculum development to faculty interested in integrating sustainable concepts.

Lane is an active participant in the City of Eugene's Sustainable Business Initiative, and at the state level, Lane began hosting the Oregon Bioneers Conference--which promotes practical solutions and innovative strategies for restoring the earth and its communities--in 2005. Lane is one of the only community colleges in the nation to employ a full-time sustainability coordinator.

All of the award applications are posted online, at


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