By Julie Mastrine
When it comes to sustainability, universities sometimes find themselves in hot water—schools that teach about global warming and pollution can seem hypocritical if their practices are not eco-friendly.
That’s why many universities have taken steps to reduce their impact on the environment, whether through landscaping, green efforts in the dining commons, or raising awareness on campus.
Conserving Campus Green Space
One university has gone even farther. Sewanee: The University of the South purchased nearly 3,000 acres of land for conservation—with a price tag of $4.3 million. The land is located on the southern Cumberland Plateau, where the campus sits in Tennessee. Besides the conservation of natural resources, the area is used as an outdoor academic laboratory and for recreation.
Sewanee has also launched a summer institute for pre-college students interested in environmental science. The Sewanee Environmental Institute’s Pre-College Field Studies Experience provides an introduction to environmental studies. Students spend two weeks studying the plant and animal life of the Cumberland Plateau and learn how conservation strategies are being used to protect their ecosystems.
Another university has transformed much of its landscape for sustainable efforts. Birmingham-Southern College installed an Urban Environmental Park on campus, creating an area for students to relax and learn. The space also provides a living laboratory for Urban Environmental Studies majors.
The park is fitted with Wi-Fi and features a stage with electrical outlets for outdoor teaching. It harbors a slew of eco-friendly features, including systems to clean storm water before it leaves campus. It also features lighting designed to reduce light pollution—lights are projected downward and placed in trees to reduce the number of poles in the area.
Along with the Urban Environmental Studies Park, Birmingham-Southern College is also the home to the Southern Environmental Center (SEC) , the largest environmental education facility in Alabama. Stationed in a remodeled building that used to house an indoor pool, the center strives to teach students and the community how they can protect the environment. It teaches complex topics, like pollution and water quality, in a way that the majority of the general public can understand. The center includes an Interactive Museum and EcoScape gardens, which illustrates organic gardening.
Switching to Solar Energy
In an effort to curb fossil fuel use, Messiah College in Grantham, Pa. recently installed 112 solar panels on the roofs of residence halls to create the fourth largest solar thermal project in the country. All of the hot water needs of 470 students are met by this extensive solar collection system. This offsets greenhouse gases equivalent to taking 130 cars off the road every year.
Universities are considering greener ways to expand, too. Instead of building brand new structures on campus, Misericordia University is recycling vacant buildings in downtown Dallas, Pa. So far, they’ve built new residence halls and the College of Health Sciences Building in recycled and renovated buildings.
Another university taking similar steps is Albright College in Reading, Pa. The school recycled 95 percent of the vacated Reading Army Reserve Center. When the building was demolished in 2009, materials such as brick and concrete were pulverized and recycled instead of being dumped in a landfill, as is typically done in demolitions.
Making Current Buildings More Green
Instead of creating new buildings or landscaping, other universities are simply making existing structures more environmentally friendly. Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pa., has adopted a commitment to lower its total carbon emissions while reducing the release of other harmful greenhouse gases. The Susquehanna University Climate Commitment outlines an energy-efficient appliance purchasing policy and guidelines for campus renovation projects.
Supplying More Eco-Friendly Resources
Other universities have taken more immediate approaches, like Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pa. The college practices sustainability in its dining commons by choosing manufacturers that utilize eco-friendly practices, such as using windmill power in production or providing plant-based or recyclable bottles. Messiah College employs similar initiatives in the dining halls, including using local produce, recycled napkins, fair trade coffee and growing organic food in the campus’ community garden.
Raising Student Awareness
LVC also has a green blog, which includes posts outlining eco-friendly products at the college store, tips on practicing Earth Day and YouTube videos of Green Man and Enviro Boy, LVC’s sustainable super heroes. The videos show the characters, played by students, fighting crimes against the environment and villains such as the Paper Monster, who signifies paper waste in the computer labs on campus.