More Colleges, Universities Going Green, but More Should Participate, Expert Says

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by Nell Yates

Recyclemania

Students at North Carolina A&T participate in “Recyclemania” as part of the school’s sustainability initiative.

More colleges and universities are focusing on sustainability operations and curriculums at approximately 1,000 educational institutions in the U.S., says Paul Rowland, executive director for the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Education (AASE). Rowland noted there has been an increase in green activities at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) through the leadership of the United Negro College Fund and other organizations. However, he said that more than 3,000 educational institutions in the U.S. need to become more engaged in campus sustainability efforts.

Why aren’t more colleges and universities going greener? “There is a misconception that ‘greening’ costs more money,” said Rowland. “Much of that misconception is based on the initial costs and not long-term or life-cycle costs.” He believes a shift in strategy during tight economic times could include moving toward investments with shorter payback periods. “In the greening process, this looks like more efforts in energy conservation, which has a very short payback, and fewer investments in alternative energy production like photovoltaics,” he said.

Green projects at HBCUs vary widely. There are campus gardens and geothermal heating systems. Students have initiated bottled water bans and tray-less dining. “Recently we see institutions looking at their investments and divesting fossil fuel investments,” Rowland said. He believes that almost all institutions are trying to control their energy use, “for economic reasons, if nothing else,” he said. Some colleges focus on transportation to reduce their contributions to greenhouse gas emissions. Water conservation efforts are also popular.

However, some smaller HBCUs and traditionally White institutions have few or no green initiatives. “Some of the issues have been financial, but in some cases, it is lack of information about how to go about moving forward on projects,” Rowland said. He added that financial arrangements with third-party providers make it possible for nearly any institution to participate in energy conservation efforts with little or no up-front costs. Policies and practices that give a preference to green purchasing are no-cost ways to have a greener institution, he said.

Delaware State University’s sustainability efforts have garnered national attention. DSU president Dr. Harry L. Williams was elected to serve on the Steering Committee of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC.) DSU was the ACUPCC 2011 Climate Leadership Award recipient and is the only HBCU to receive the honor for excellence in climate education and control.

DSU was recently invited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to become a partner in environmental protection. The partnership’s goal is to strengthen the ties between the Mid-Atlantic Region of the EPA and to promote research, teaching, career development and stewardship in environmental sciences. Last summer the university was named a Better Building Challenge partner, the only HBCU selected. As the recipient of the 2012 Arbor Day Tree Campus USA for the state of Delaware, the Arbor Day Foundation planted 30 trees on the campus.

The university’s “Go Green” Sustainability Committee has now grown to seven subcommittees with more than 80 members throughout the campus, according to Vita Pickrum, associate vice president of development and coordinator of sustainability initiatives. One of its most successful projects is the Green Ambassadors. The student group plans green education and promotions through the student body.

Administrators say that “Go Green” is impacting the university’s procurement and fundraising activities, its buildings and facilities. Said Pickrum, “Though such an initiative is often described in terms of environmental benefits, the positive outcomes of going green go beyond that. Benefits also include increased productivity, resource efficiencies and improved community relations.”

New Mexico State University recently moved up in AASE’s national Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS). The university moved from a respectable bronze rating to gold status. Joni Newcomer, NMSU Environmental Policy and Sustainability manager, spearheaded the STARS report effort with help from the Sustainability Council. “The group scoured the campus for information about sustainability themes in courses and research,” she said. “We looked at sustainability theme clubs and organizations and sustainability education outreach to the community.” The group also compiled data about NMSU’s energy and resource consumption.

“The STARS report helped analyze where we’ve been by tracking our successes and noting what we can do in the future to further sustainability efforts on campus and in the community,” she said. Like many colleges and universities, New Mexico State University is integrating more sustainability courses throughout its curriculum. Currently, 440 courses have a sustainability focus.

The university’s Office of Sustainability is turning its efforts to energy use reduction on campus, climate education, increasing green building and renovation, transportation awareness, waste reduction, water use reduction and materials and renewable energy awareness.

NMSU offers a renewable energy technologies minor, available to students seeking an electronics and computer engineering technology or mechanical engineering technology Degree.

North Carolina A&T University’s sustainability focus is green buildings, energy efficiency, student and faculty green participation and community outreach.

The design for the new LEED-certified health center features water-efficient landscaping, water-use reduction and automatic control of lighting and thermal systems. A new academic classroom building features reduction of energy demand for air conditioning in the summer and reduction in the amount of storm water runoff. The university plans to reduce energy consumption and operating costs in 17 buildings and has a goal of 15 percent reduction in energy consumption by 2015, according to Mary-Ann Ibeziako, director of Energy Services and Sustainability at North Carolina A&T.

The university’s Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering students conduct ongoing building energy audits and recommendations for the Facilities Department. The Green Paw Aggies projects include dorm room sustainability initiatives and training, community outreach programs and a Recycle Mania competition.

“I am really impressed with the caliber of students that we have at North Carolina A&T who are interested in moving this campus further along regarding sustainability,” she said.

 

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