With sustainability practices reaching nearly every corner of mainstream society, it should come as no surprise that many of our nation’s colleges are adopting various eco-friendly habits of their own. Whether their actions revolve around the construction of energy efficient facilities, the increasing use of recycled materials or incentives for carpooling and public transportation, our academic institutions can do a lot to help preserve the environment for generations to come.
Exploring Alternative Energy Options
Although our nation’s dependency on fossil fuels has steadily declined in recent years, while the adoption of renewable energy sources has risen, there’s still a lot to be accomplished within the alternative energy sector.
Colorado State University — one of the very first academic institutions in the world to attain a Platinum STARS rating — utilizes a number of alternative energy systems. The school is also home to the first on-campus facility equipped with solar-powered heating and cooling infrastructure. Moreover, their CloudStat weather radar system, developed in tandem with NASA, supports student research into future breakthroughs regarding alternative energy and efficiency.
The team working with the University of California, Irvine made a pledge to bolster their school’s energy efficiency by 20 percent by the year 2020. They’ve already reached that target utilizing three separate solar power installations, a cogeneration plant with combustion and steam-powered turbines and a highly effective water recycling initiative. As a result of their early success, officials with UC Irvine are aiming for an additional 20 percent reducing in energy usage by the target year.
Calling on the Help of Mother Nature
Some colleges are beginning to realize the benefits of utilizing the natural features of the surrounding landscape within the design of their buildings themselves. By taking advantage of a construction method known as integrated site design, architects can further improve the energy efficiency of their floor plans with lower overall construction costs. This process works by incorporating some of the inherent properties of the surrounding landscape into the eco-friendly architecture of modern structures.
Originally breaking ground in early 2010, the Botanical Research Institute of Texas was one of the first colleges to adopt the common practice of integrated site design. Student and faculty parking areas feature integrated rain gardens for rainwater collection and common walkways are shaded by native trees. The entire roof of the building is adorned with locally sourced plants, which adds a tremendous amount to the facility’s aesthetic appeal.
Reducing, Reusing and Recycling
Commonly referred to as the three R’s, many academic institutions are implementing practices to reduce waste, reuse materials and recycle those they can’t. The University of Oregon, for example, provides students and faculty members with an extensive list of waste reduction tips that are relevant to nearly any college campus.
Ranked amongst the top 10 of greenest universities as listed by The Sierra Club, the University of Washington is also home to the Green Greeks — an academic community focused on sustainability. Their chapters have participated in a number of greening initiatives, including programs in composting and recycling.
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Focusing on Local Sources
Many colleges are demonstrating an increased reliance on locally sourced materials for use in their cafeterias. Apart from providing healthier dining options for students and faculty members, the use of local produce is a great way to minimize costs across the board.
American University in Washington, D.C. has already outlawed the purchase of water bottles by academic clubs. Moreover, college officials are now sourcing at least 50 percent of their meal ingredients from sustainable and local sources.
Boston University has set a stellar example in this niche. Their dining service has recently committed to a goal of purchasing 25 percent of all their ingredients from local and sustainable sources by 2020. They’ve also pledged to use 100 percent sustainable seafood and crate-free pork in the near future, to promote environmental sustainability in conjunction with the ethical treatment of animals.
Leading the Way for Sustainability
According to some, colleges are doing far more than working toward sustainability — they’re leading the way. By demonstrating their dedication to the environment and setting an example for students, staff members and the surrounding cities, today’s higher learning facilities are in a position to extend their teaching abilities beyond the classroom and into the heart of local communities.