Colleges & Universities
- Transitioning to a More Sustainable Campus
|In December 2002, United
Nations Resolution 57/254 was adopted which established the United Nations
Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014). Today
it is hard to find a professional association related to building design,
construction, maintenance, and operation, as well as community planning
and development, which does not have some initiative related to sustainability
and USGBC). Higher education
across the country has adopted the movement toward sustainability.
Many universities and colleges are in various stages of organizing for
The words “sustainability,”
“going green,” or “green building” is coming up more often in discussions
about the management of resources and business practices. The concept
has been around for many years. However, it has gotten much more
visibility in the past three to four years. The definition of the
word varies depending on who you ask. Simply put, sustainability
has to do with reducing our footprint on the future. Most people
will agree it contains the following main components – 1) improving economic
efficiency, 2) protecting and restoring ecological systems, and 3) enhancing
the well-being of all peoples. A sustainable campus program addresses
all of these components. Of course, you will find many definitions
depending on who you ask. But, they generally will have these three
components. Sustainable inititiatives must account for all of these
at the same time.
Driving Forces Behind Sustainable
The driving forces behind
the implementation of sustainability, or as some would say, the transition
to a more sustainable future are many, including economic, the indoor environment,
growing limitation on non-renewable energy sources, and pollution and its
effect on climate change and ecological health. Some would ask, "Why
is this such an urgent issue now?" One can look at the "signs of
the times" for an indication of the answer. Energy costs and availability,
global ecological impact of energy use, availability of new technology,
and a growing world-wide concern and interest.
As energy prices begin to
climb, business managers are beginning to see the value of life cycle cost
analysis as a more effective means of determining economic benefits.
“First cost” as an overriding economic consideration in decision making
is beginning to give way to strategies that consider the entire economic
life of facilities including operating costs. Some “green building”
strategies actually have negligible or no effect on the first cost of a
new facility. Building retrofits that replace old technology with
new and more efficient have an immediate payback in terms of operating
costs. The “bottom line” is that these green buildings are less expensive
to operate because they consume less energy and water. And, this
benefit is immediate.
chart to the right shows a 20-year history of crude oil prices since 1986.
One question would be, although we are seeing historical high crude oil
prices, how does it compare to past high prices? The blue bars show
actual costs. The purple bars show the 1986 cost adjusted for inflation
by the yearly inflation rate for each year to 2005. During the past
20 years actual oil prices have fluctuated near the expected price based
on the 1986 price. However, after 9/11 (2001) actual prices have
greatly increased each year. This is having a significant impact
on both transportation and facilities energy costs.
|Another trend in economic
accounting which is beginning to gain in popularity is the "Triple
Bottom Line" approach. It is being used as a way for businesses
to determine their financial health in terms of economic performance, as
well as its social/ethical and environmental performance.
2. Indoor Environment
A myth that is being busted
by the new green building approach is that saving energy means you have
to give up comfort or risk health issues. This myth is false!
Sure, you can save money by making everyone turn back their thermostats
causing less HVAC operating hours, but you run the risk of poor comfort,
health issues, and eventually productivity concerns. This leaves
out the social welbeing component of sustainability. The green building
approach uses technology that requires less energy to achieve the same
results or even better, such as in the case of lighting and building commissioning.
Properly commissioned buildings can improve the comfort, indoor air quality,
and energy efficiency (see the ORNL guide on building
commissioning). Better design in the use of daylight harvesting
has been shown to increase student performance by over 20% in some of the
cases studied, while greatly reducing energy consumption (see the Heschong
Mahone Group studies on daylighting). The positive effect on
employees by using green building design principles helps to enhance the
welfare of the workforce. This is also an immediate benefit.
3. Growing Limitation
of Non-renewable Energy Sources
The past two hurricane seasons
have given people in the Gulf States region a snap shot of the future.
We don’t yet know how far in the future this scenario will occur, but it
is possible that it will be coming sooner than we expect. For a brief
period we experienced energy shortages and high energy prices. This
by itself is not new. But the reason for it is different than in
the past. Some experts predict that “cheap” oil will no longer be
available 30 to 50 years from now, causing prices to rise and a significant
shift to coal (which has an expectancy of 150 to 200 years). Many
communities are facing decisions to build new coal fired energy plants
instead of the cleaner burning natural gas plants due to cost and availability
of those resources. The end of the oil age is not here yet.
But, we can see it from here.
Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO)
has developed a projection that we are nearing the peak in oil production.
The chart on the right shows a possible scenario for the near future.
Not everyone agrees with their theory, but the data shown in this chart
does give one pause to consider whether the urgency is greater than most
of us realize. At some point we will be transitioning from a buyer's
market to a seller's market. That means significantly higher costs
and the social ramifications that go with it.
Pollution and its Effect on Climate Change and Ecological Health
There is a growing body of
evidence that the additional increase of green house gases and particulates
added to the air while producing electrical energy and manufacturing commercial
goods is significant and is having some impact on the earth’s natural climate.
The effect on ecosystems caused by acid rain is already clearly evident.
As more and more utility companies go to coal-based plants the outside
air quality will continue to deteriorate. One of the signs of our
times is the increase in coal-fired energy plants being proposed in recent
years (see article
in CSMonitor). Reducing energy consumption creates an immediate reduction
Courtesy of J. Chanton, Florida
Transitioning to a Sustainable Campus
endeavor to transition to a sustainable or green campus involves four aspects
of the university community – the administration, academic departments
(students and faculty), the university research effort, and the local community.
Some type of committee or
council is needed in the beginning in order to share information, understand
the issues and concepts, and develop plans for future initiatives.
Nearly every department on campus has some role to play. Some universities
have established an "Office of Sustainability" to coordinate the many planning
initiatives, projects, networking, and monitoring of the program's progress
in achieving its goals.
The administration has a
very significant impact by the business decisions they make concerning
new building design, repair and renovation projects, building operations
and maintenance, procurement practices, landscaping, recycling at various
levels, waste management, custodial services, energy management, transportation,
food service and dining operations, and residential operations.
2. Academic Departments
The educational side is also
significant but in different ways. The investment in the education
of students on these subjects has a long term benefit. They will
eventually become leaders in their community and bring with them the important
concepts of sustainability. Service-learning is an important teaching
method that allows students to learn required curriculum while applying
what they learn to real world problems. This learning model is very
well suited to the university environment and is a way to integrate knowledge
base with local requirements and applications. This can have an immediate
benefit depending on the nature of the service requirement. Further
educational opportunities exist with developing courses on sustainable
development, informal workshops and training, as well as distance learning.
The research sector of the
university has a significant role in terms of its near and long term impacts.
There are already on-going projects with ecological habitats and other
environmental issues. Areas for research could also include large
scale composting, procurement practices, production methods, alternative
energy sources, and any number of building design, construction, operations,
and maintenance practices.
4. Local Community
The local community can also
provide various levels of resources to assist the sustainability effort
and includes alumni, the business community, utility suppliers, transportation
providers, vendors, community organizations, and local chapters of professional
One of the most effective
structures for implementing a green and sustainable campus is the Leadership
in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program established by the US
Green Building Council. The certification process for existing buildings
provides a list of projects and standards. The University could establish
a goal to develop a plan on how it could achieve a LEED certified existing
building leading to a goal to achieve it. The LEED
Project Checklist is composed of prerequisites and creditable items
in the major categories of building siting, water efficiency, energy and
atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and
innovation in operation, upgrades, and maintenance.
This structured approach can
help to integrate the efforts of the four aspects of the campus community
(administration, academic, research, and local community) toward a common
goal. It can help form the basis of planning and organizing efforts
to accomplish a sustainable campus. Individual and disconnected on-going
initiatives can be brought in under the overall green development umbrella.
See "Taking Action - What Can Be Done."
Obstacles and Challenges to Implementation
Every good and worthy endeavor
will run into obstacles in spite of its apparently good and worthy potential
outcome. Otherwise, we would already be doing it. It is important
to understand why it is not already being done. An understanding
of the obstacles to attaining a sustainable campus is critical to a successful
planning and implementation process. The following list, although
certainly not complete, shows the most significant issues that will be
faced in terms of implementing a sustainable campus. It also provides
a process for how these obstacles can be overcome.
1. Understanding the significance
and urgency of sustainable development
The first and most challenging
obstacle is communicating to the organization the need. Universities
like most organizations with a large mission and limited resources work
on priorities. Regardless of how beneficent the endeavor, it will
not be resourced unless there is an organizational demand for it.
The more in demand it is, the higher the priority it will have for the
organization’s attention. In the beginning, the organization’s attention
(interest, concern, and knowledge of the issue) is more important than
money. Based on initial surveys and discussions with people in various
departments on campus there is an underlying interest in the subject of
sustainability and developing a green campus. What is needed at first
is a common vocabulary and understanding of the “why” and the “how” of
a sustainable campus. This must occur at all levels of the organization.
2. Availability of information
Information on this topic
is not easy to find in one place. Many people know a little bit about
different aspects of the problem but are not often able to see the big
picture. Unfortunately, myths also abound and complicate the task
of informed decision making.
3. Cost of consumption
Very few organizations widely
publish the cost of utility resources. In most cases only a select
few administration officials are aware of the amount of money spent on
energy, water, and waste management. This contributes to the ambivalence
toward energy, water, and other utility consumption. Even most department
heads are not aware of the utility cost of their operations.
4. Perceived insignificance
of the individuals role
One of the problems with
getting people involved in a conservation program is the perception that
what one person can do is very little and therefore the effort is not worth
the trouble. The problem is compounded by the fact that it is basically
true! However, when viewed from the perspective of a total organizational
effort, all these little bits of effort can add up to tens of thousands
of dollars for the organization. Also, there are many practical tips
that people are not aware of.
5. Actions devoted to conservation
perceived as more cost than benefit
This is another area where
myths abound. This is also reinforced by the lack of consumption
cost information. Most people are not aware of the significance and
impact of conservation efforts whether embodied in retrofit projects, training,
education, or individual actions to control energy consumption in their
own environment. They are also unaware of the embedded energy related
to the choices they make.
6. Conservation perceived
as doing without
To many people conservation
means being cold in winter, hot in summer, and dimly lit working areas.
Some prefer the term energy “management” to energy “conservation” because
it more nearly gives the sense of optimization. Energy management
focuses on eliminating energy waste and optimizing the use of energy when
it is needed. There is a lot that can be saved just by eliminating
waste before we get to reducing the level of service. The green approach
allows for improved working and learning spaces while reducing the cost
of utility resources significantly.