College and university campuses aren’t only teaching students about sustainability. They’re also going green. In addition to adding environmentally-friendly campus structures, farms, gardens, composting programs, and research centers, institutions of higher education reporting their greenhouse gas emissions and creating “Climate Action Plans”.
The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Education in June released an annual report showing that some 166 eco-friendly campus structures in 2009 had opened or received a green building award or certification such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). As well, 337 institutions reported green house gas emissions and 135 submitted Climate Action Plans, the report shows. More than 19 colleges and universities, according to the report, launched or expanded composting programs and at least 17 dedicated new organic farms or gardens.
Students, as part of a non-profit Alliance to Save Energy’s Green Campus program, can work to build energy-efficiency awareness on campus, to establish projects related to energy use and more, the organization’s website notes. Leaders in the environment, government, business and consumerism are part of the Alliance, which supports energy efficiency and related policies. Its website suggests that institutions of higher education can save money on utilities and put that money toward activities that benefit programming and community building.
One thing many people agree upon is the need to conserve water, a blog on the Advancement of Sustainability in Education website notes. At institutions in different parts of California recognized by the organization as part of its 2010 Best Practice Awards, toilets, faucets, showers and urinals feature low-flow models. Irrigation systems automatically adjust watering times based on rainfall levels and the amount of water that gets lost when it dissolves from soil and plant surfaces and leaks from plant fibers, or tissues. Marshes and depressions in the land, known as swales, have been created to filter rains that could otherwise fall on unnatural surfaces and spill into area waterways, carrying pollutants with them.
Colleges, universities and technical schools these days also receive report cards related to their “green” efforts. The green report cards are issued each year by the Sustainable Endowments Institute, which is a project of the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. Those who provide the grades do so based on school surveys and publicly available information. They grade nine areas, such as student involvement, administration, climate change and energy, food and recycling, green building, and transportation, with an A-F scoring system.
Institutions also are bestowed an overall grade. The highest for 2009, an A-, went to 27 colleges, universities and technical schools, including a Vermont institution where sustainability has become a staple at student orientations and 250 students each semester have an opportunity to reside in an environmental, sustainable-themed “GreenHouse”. The dining facilities of an A- institution in Maine, on the other hand, feature produce from a campus-based organic farm and community garden, as well as area agricultural producers. In the dining halls of this facility, the dishware can be reused and there are no trays or sales of bottled water. The beef that’s cooked up is grass fed, dairy products and meats are hormone-free and eggs and meats are confinement-free.
Many institutions did clinch A’s in individual subject areas. In California, where a university’s retrofitted lighting was among more than 100 energy-efficient projects, the institution earned an A in climate change and energy. This same university has committed to reduce greenhouse gas emission levels to 10 percent less than 1990 levels and is so far 10 percent below levels emitted in 1996, according to its report card. In the area of administration, an Alaska university garnered an A after hiring a sustainability director, creating a sustainability office and devising an energy policy centered around long-term sustainability. This particular institution also has sustainable master and strategic plans and more, its report card shows.
Transportation is another area that earned some institutions high marks. At least one Arizona university clinched an A in this area after offering prime parking to carpoolers, 50 percent discount passes for public buses, complimentary campus and park and ride lot shuttles and employee participation in a vanpool program where costs are offset with state money. Vehicles owned by the institution itself rely not on gasoline but an ethanol fuel mixture known as E85, according to its report card.
Those who come up with the programs and the designs for the green programs are those who started out through traditional and college distance programs. What could be more green than attending classes at online colleges, saving gas, travel, building use costs, and more?