For several years now, forward-looking professional associations like APPA and SCUP (the Society for College and University Planning) have identified “sustainability” as an important area for expending some of their energies. There is a confluence of many things that has led to a growing recognition of the importance of sustainability and technological and knowledge advancements that allow us to intervene in traditional practices and do things “green” instead of, say, “sooty” or “brown.”
What most scientists have known for some time is now well-known by most of the rest of us—that few except partisan ideologues now doubt that climate change is real, and that human activities have a major impact on global warming. When the average person reads about possible polar bear extinction and dying coral reefs, dead zones at the mouths of large rivers, and the effects of the Emerald Ash Borer currently destroying ash tree populations (not so long after Dutch Elm Disease did the same for our majestic campus elms), then it is easy to see the need for change.
But where does that change start? Where does it come from? One very important place is from higher education.
So, campuses are where problems are recognized and solved, where the leaders of the future are, where there are leaders who take the long view with regard to institutional infrastructure, where there are motivated and eager advocates coming from student and faculty ranks, where sustainability can be modeled while it is being taught to future generations of leaders, and where many professionals of a certain age are in a position to do some real good before we ride off into the sunset. Quite a confluence, eh?
We’ve been watching the trends and happenings in sustainability in higher education for some time now, particularly during the past year as SCUP prepared for Campus Sustainability Day 2 in October 2004. Here are some, not all, of the interesting and important things you’re likely to see happening around you and interacting with in 2005.
Before I even get further into what the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is up to that will affect you, let me clear up what I hear as a common confusion. It is “LEED” certification not “LEEDs” certification. The root of it all is something known as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. There is no easier way to tell someone that you don’t know what’s going on than by referring to “
The USGBC developed the LEED program to tap into the creative and competitive aspects of the personalities of architects and designers to create a huge economic force for improving the sustainability of newly built buildings. Buildings qualify for a basic LEED certification, or for levels going up through Silver, Gold, and Platinum designations. The architects who want to convince clients that they can design these buildings also compete in standardized examinations to become LEED-certified professionals.
Following are two indications of how successful LEED has been:
The LEED certification that has been in place for four years now is LEED “NC” for “new construction.” But there are additional designations coming down the pike that will affect you even more directly. Coming soon are:
EB and CI are already underway, CS is being developed. Also being developed is a LEED certification for entire campuses rather than just individual buildings, but the folks working on that are finding it to be a rocky road with lots of thorny issues to be addressed.
Most of what you’ll hear about in 2005 is LEED-EB, which is aimed right at upgrading the operations and management of existing buildings, because there are so many of them and because about 75 percent of the lifecycle costs of buildings actually come from operations and maintenance—not design and construction.
To gain LEED-EB certification, a building must gain “points” based on considerations such as:
It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see where these kinds of things are likely to impact your work life. A lot of what’s involved in greening an existing building is simply keeping better track of and making more informed choices about procedures and purchases. That’s one reason why the
The Growing Body of Campus “Green” Professionals
For years, there have been student movements and activist campaigns. There have been faculty in specialized disciplines who sometimes create what are intended to be integrated environmental studies centers and who turn out graduates prepared to work in environmental fields. There are also scientists in various disciplines who research climate change and work on tools to address it. But now there’s a new kind of campus staffer—the “green” professional.
In October I attended the North American Conference on Sustainability in Higher Education. My role was to present a paper on how higher education professional associations are working together to impact sustainability in higher education. I expected that I would be speaking to and hearing from primarily sustainability advocates from all the usual places (see the above paragraph).
Those folks were there, of course, but I was astounded at the degree of interconnectedness they are beginning to introduce “back home” on campus among themselves, across disciplinary and departmental boundaries. And I was outright shocked at the clear existence in the nearly 450 conference attendees of a core of “green professionals” on campuses. The sessions at this conference were quite a bit like those you might see at the SCUP or APPA conferences—descriptions of how teams of people, often quite diverse, work to cause of manage change on campus. Change that often saves the campus money at the same time as it results in cleaner, healthier, more energy efficient, and more comfortable surroundings for students, faculty, and staff. Not a lot of head-banging or wailing about the need for change—just a lot of professionals sharing ideas about how to do their jobs better.
Why is this important to you? Well, many of those new professionals are finding their homes in facilities departments; often with funding provided by demonstrated savings in energy efficiencies. And there are a number of suggestions to provide more such funds for more such professionals by building them into capital expenditure budgets, or by soliciting alumni for donations to special sustainability funds. A campus’ demonstrated commitment to sustainability in its operations is also fast becoming one check list item that can attract new students, as well.
Specific Reports and Projects
There’s not room in this article to go into a lot of details, but I am recommending several places you can go to on the Internet to find out more about such specific projects and case studies. Before I do so, as a “resource list” at the end, here is just a bullet-point list of a handful of the projects and case studies out there for you to learn about:
Have no doubt about it, you’re going to get sick of hearing the word “sustainability” in 2005. Try to think of it as the architects at SCUP-39 in
Early findings on the work already done on campuses are showing us that sustainable buildings and practices are often simple good buildings and practices. We’re just paying more and more attention, in a systematic way, to design, maintenance, and operations—and the side-effect of doing all of what we do better may itself justify all the work and thought that’s going into it.
Campus Sustainability Day
Campus Sustainability Day is aimed at bringing people on campus together—from across academic and professional disciplines and from across departmental boundaries—to annually display, discuss, and celebrate their various accomplishments at greening the campus.
It’s a day, intended to be late in October each year, which we hope campuses all over North America will use as the core of half-day or all-day local celebrations, panels, brown bag lunches, and so forth.
Since sustainability is by its nature an integrated, systems-type effort, it is hoped that faculty researchers, faculty advocates, students of all sorts, and administrators from budget and planning and facilities offices and the like can spend some time together talking about how their work affects a campus’s sustainability.
Following each year’s Campus Sustainability Day a summary white paper of what’s been accomplished on campus that year and a projection of what to expect in the next will be broadly published.
Campus Sustainability Day for 2005 is on Thursday, October 26.