Green Focus

The Sustainable Campus

University green initiatives propel schools toward greater efficiency and cost savings

Where building owners once settled for whatever was placed in front of them--with little or no regard as to how those materials or systems would affect the environment--a revolution is underway, driven by closer attention to issues like global warming, renewable energy sources, and high fuel costs.

Buildings equipped with solar panels, light sensors, tankless water heaters, low-flow toilets, Energy Star appliances, and rain collection systems are becoming more mainstream in today's environmentally conscious world, and universities aren't exempt from the trend. Many of them are taking steps to improve sustainability on campus and are being recognized for their efforts.

This year, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) scored high on the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education's STARS (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System) Pilot Survey for its academic, philosophical, and capital investments in becoming a "green" campus. The university's overall score of 58.01 was higher than the 40.3 average overall score of the 37 national participating universities in the "Large Doctorate-granting Universities" category.

The STARS survey was created for colleges and universities to be able to recognize and gauge relative progress toward sustainability. The survey is divided into three main categories: education and research, operations, and administration and finance; WPI scored well above average in each.

Colleges and universities are encouraged to use STARS as a method for understanding sustainability in all sectors of higher education; enable meaningful comparisons over time and across institutions; create incentives for continual improvement toward sustainability; facilitate information sharing about best practices and performances; and build stronger, more diverse campus sustainability communities.

WPI has launched several sustainability initiatives, including the establishment of a President's Task Force on Sustainability that serves to drive a "sustainability sensibility" into WPI's academic, research ,and administrative endeavors. Two years ago, WPI's board of trustees voted to endorse a policy calling for all future buildings on campus to be environmentally friendly and LEED-certified structures.

WPI has installed the city of Worcester's first "living green roof" atop the university's newest residence hall, East Hall. In addition, Gateway Park LLC, a partnership between WPI and Worcester Business Development Corp., has transformed an area of abandoned buildings and contaminated properties in the city of Worcester into a site for life sciences research and economic development.

The university's commitment to going green doesn't stop there. Its energy consumption decreased by 6.8 percent from 2005 to 2006 thanks to a switch from oil to gas in its main power plant. Timers and an energy management system are used to regulate temperature base on occupancy hours, LED lighting is used throughout the campus and incandescent lighting has been substantially reduced. The university also expanded its recycling program to include aluminum, glass, and plastic returnable and non-returnable containers.

"We wanted to take on sustainability as a campus-wide initiative," said John Bartleson, WPI's director of computing services, who added that technology has played a key role in helping the school meet that goal. "There are many ways we can 'green' the campus with technology, including the reduction of power consumption and more efficient equipment utilization."

Other green initiatives at WPI include the use of EP-certified desktops for lower power consumption and a power management pilot currently underway on the university's laboratory PCs and workstations. "Everyone on campus got rid of the cathode ray tubes and moved to LCD monitors," Bartleson added, "and we've been advocating the use of double-sided printing across the entire campus."

Another institution that's making inroads in the environmental sustainability arena is Ave Maria University in Naples, FL, where the school is focused on gaining efficiencies, reducing its carbon footprint (defined as the total set of greenhouse gas emissions caused directly and indirectly by an individual, organization, event, or product) and minimizing its reliance on water, gas, propane, and electricity.

Bryan Mehaffey, vice president for technology, systems, and engineering, said Ave Maria's biggest green initiative to date is the adoption of IPv6 across its two data centers and all of its facilities management systems, which are used for monitoring building access, temperature control and power management.

The goal, said Mehaffey, will be to improve energy conservation across Ave Maria's campus. Put simply, IPv6 is an upgrade to the Internet's main communications protocol, which is known as IPv4. The new iteration includes more address space, built-in security, and enhanced support for video streaming and peer-to-peer applications. "We're positioning ourselves to take advantage of IPv6 as soon as it becomes available," said Mehaffey.

Ave Maria also combined its IT operations and facilities operations into a single group and developed a Web-based infrastructure for handling system failures and related issues. If an electrical storm comes through the area and fail safes kick in to shut the university's utility plant down, for example, the system can be repaired and restarted from a desktop computer. "We've significantly reduced the amount of driving around that our facilities operations personnel have to do to keep the campus running," said Mehaffey.

Mehaffey, who speaks often to groups internationally and domestically about the role that universities play in environmental sustainability, said institutions that have yet to get onboard with the green movement are doing themselves and their students a disservice. "Universities are training the minds that will go out into the world and shape it," said Mehaffey. "If we aren't judicious about the natural resources of the earth, how are we going to train people to go out and do it?"

While some green initiatives are undeniably costly and time-consuming, Bartleson said many steps in the right direction are fairly inexpensive and easy to implement. "Some minor changes--such as switching out old, energy-hogging technology for newer options--can add up to pretty significant carbon footprint reductions and cost savings for universities," said Bartleson. "The good news is that once your institutions becomes committed to moving forward with a green agenda, it's pretty easy to realize those savings and other benefits."

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at bridgetmc@earthlink.net.

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