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Report: Green Efforts Improving on Campuses

More campuses in the United States have shifted their focus to environmental and sustainability programs, but funding and staffing issues have prevented them from implementing green initiatives on the scale campus administrators would like, according to a new report released recently by the National Wildlife Federation.

The report, entitled "Campus Environment 2008: A National Report Card on Sustainability in Higher Education," reviewed 1,068 institutions of higher education (about a fourth of all campuses in the United States) to track "new developments in environmental performance and sustainability." What it found is that a full third of the campuses surveyed now employ environmental and sustainability directors, and about a half have hired staff or administrators to handle sustainability issues and coordinate energy conservation. And a fourth--double the percentage from 2001--hold orientation sessions or offer publications about environmental sustainability.

The report also found that American colleges and universities are showing overall improvements in green leadership since 2001, the first year of the study. Some of the signs of this improvement, according to NWF, are "increased goal-setting to improve performance, more staffing for sustainability programs, and a rise in orientation programs on waste reduction and other sustainability efforts on campus."

However, the report said, there are still roadblocks hindering green initiatives on campuses, including inadequate funding, inadequate staffing, and a dearth of support for faculty development.

"The 2008 report finds that campus leaders value sustainability. They speak about it, plan for it, hire staff to support it, and the campuses they lead are steadily becoming greener models for the wider society," said Julian Keniry, senior director of campus and community leadership for NWF, in a statement released to coincide with the report. "At the same time, the educational curricula to prepare students for a post-college world influenced by climate change are not keeping pace. On most campuses, the business leaders and facilities managers appear to be making greater strides towards sustainability than their faculty peers."

Overall leadership "grades" in the 2008 report card improved over 2001's grades, including setting and reviewing sustainability goals (B in 2008, B- in 2001); staffing sustainability programs (B- in 2008, C in 2001); and orienting students, staff, and faculty (C- in 2008, D in 2001).

Academic trends, meanwhile, decreased, including the categories of educating a majority of students on the basic functions of earth's natural systems (C- in 2008, C in 2001) and having programs to support faculty professional development on environmental or sustainability topics (C+ in 2008, B in 2001).

In terms of campus operations, the results were middlin', but generally higher in 2008 than in 2001. "Little progress has been made to date," the report said, "in reducing the congestion, pollution and other environmental impacts associated with staff and student commuting." However: "Efforts to green the campus shine most brightly in day-to-day operations. Facilities leaders, together with students and faculty, have been instrumental in driving programs to conserve energy and water, increase the amount of clean energy used to power the campus, and reduce waste. Almost all campuses are working to improve the efficiency of heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, which are responsible for the largest share of direct emissions of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere."

NWF said the most promising developments in campus sustainability/environmental/green progress have included setting goals for reducing greenhouse emissions and prioritizing environmental and sustainability programs highly.

The report also recognized 334 schools for exemplary green/environmental/sustainability programs. These campuses were flagged for their efforts in environmental goal setting, personnel, awareness programs, integration of sustainability issues in the curriculum, faculty support, energy programs, clean energy use, transportation programs, recycling programs, and landscaping/groundskeeping practices. Only those campuses that participated in the research were recognized. A list of these campuses can be found here.

The full report, "Campus Environment 2008: A National Report Card on Sustainability in Higher Education," is available in PDF form here.

About the Author

Executive Producer David Nagel heads up the editorial department for 1105 Media's education publications — which include two daily sites, a variety of newsletters and two monthly digital magazines covering technology in both K-12 and higher education.

A 21-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art and business publications.

He can be reached at dnagel@1105media.com. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/profile/view?id=10390192 or follow him on Twitter at @THEJournalDave (K-12) or @CampusTechDave (higher education). A selection of David Nagel's articles can be found on this site.


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