You are here

Articles: Sustainability

Campus water use is high, particularly in residence halls, at a time when The U.S. Drought Monitor (operating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln) estimates that as much as 60 percent of the contiguous United States is experiencing abnormally dry conditions. Thirty-seven percent of that area was at drought levels as of April, an increase from 27 percent a year ago.
That's why it is more important than ever to conserve this precious natural resource, and colleges and universities are stepping up to save.

Every action starts with an idea. That’s why, for the seventh annual green issue, the University Business editorial team decided to share some great ideas that have resulted in changes in the way campuses think about food, water, energy consumption, and solar energy. Whether by helping members of their communities realize the impact of the food they eat, or reminding them to carry a reusable water bottle, institutions are seeing huge reductions in their environmental impact. And it all started with an idea. Read the rest of our stories to get the green wheels turning.

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.


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.

Electricity. It turns on the lights, powers the smart boards, and runs the computers that are all vital to a modern campus. Acquiring that electricity can be both an expensive proposition and a key part of an environmental action plan. With the size and variety of buildings on campus, some colleges and universities have their own power stations on campus to ease their dependence on public utility companies. Most have their own microgrids to distribute power generated from any source. Now campus leaders are looking into giving those microgrids an education.

It's rare to even hear about a single new campus building these days that wasn't built with sustainability principles in mind. Inevitably, institutional officials are learning not to reinvent the wheel every time a new construction project comes up. Creating a green building policy is one way of ensuring sustainability is a collective goal--a goal that will likely benefit future project design teams.

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.