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Campuses Going Greener

Regarding school management, American colleges show greener overall leadership than they did in 2001. However, sustainability initiatives still face roadblocks such as inadequate funding and support for faculty development.

The National Wildlife Federation’s just-released Campus Environment 2008 Report Card, based on a survey conducted in partnership with Princeton Survey Research Associates International, found that environmentally progressive and sustainable operations are now ranked among the highest priorities on campus. Ironically however, students are less likely to be environmentally literate when they graduate than their predecessors.

The study, which reviews programs at 1,068 institutions, recognizes colleges and universities for exemplary performance and awards academic letter grades (A through D) for collective, national performance on a broad range of conservation issues, including energy, water, transportation, landscaping, waste reduction and environmental literacy. Campuses in the survey are not graded or ranked on an individual basis; rather, the survey analyzes collective trends in the areas of management, operations, and academics.

With 27% of U.S. colleges and universities responding, the 2008 survey (sent to presidents, administrators, and facilities managers) is the nation’s largest study to date created to gauge trends and new developments in campus sustainability. It was also the first study of its kind when conducted in 2001.

“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, NWF’s senior director of campus and community leadership. “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.”

The study reveals trends including:
• The most prevalent environmental initiative is water conservation, versus recycling in 2001;
• Conserving energy is 2008’s most popular performance goal, versus the 2001 goal of upping environmental performance in new buildings;
• The biggest green opportunity colleges are missing is adequate education about sustainability for their students;
• Funding is the biggest obstacle to expanding environmental and sustainability programming, versus the “other priorities” cited in 2001.

Efforts to green our campuses 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. Since 2001, the number of campuses using clean renewable energy has grown significantly, and a new movement to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases has taken hold. However, little progress has been made to date in reducing the congestion, pollution and other environmental impacts associated with campus commuting.

Results show that academics still lag behind the operations vision of the campus—even more so than when this survey was first conducted in 2001. Sustainability-related education offerings and recruitment programs have declined, as have faculty doing environmental and sustainability research. Just over half of colleges and universities now offer either an undergraduate major or minor in environmental and sustainability studies, down from two-thirds in 2001.

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November 18, 2019, 10:37 am PDT

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