Painting the Ivory Towers Green

Painting the Ivory Towers Green

Creating sustainable campuses for the 21st century

AS NEW ENGLAND AND the Midwest broiled under an October heat wave, we pondered the common threads in this year's interrupted Chicago marathon, this fall's sweltering Head of the Charles Regatta in Cambridge, Mass., and next summer's Olympics in Beijing. What do these three athletic events have in common? Unhappily, the answer is heat and pollution. The Beijing Olympics are predicted to be more oppressive than Chicago and Cambridge, there jumpers, runners, and rowers can no longer compete in the brutal heat of global warming.

In Hocus Pocus, the late Kurt Vonnegut wrote that "we could have saved [the earth], but we were too cheap." Considered by many an enigmatic literary light with a knack for painting iconoclastic pictures of the future, Vonnegut was for many an author who was slightly ahead of his time.

Across the nation and overseas, college and university students and faculty are exploring new paths to save the earth. At the same time, they are looking inward, creating new ways of thinking about sustainable campus infrastructure.

Driven by social responsibility, global warming, the energy crunch, and the environmental economy, institutions are creating green campuses for the 21st century. This fast growing concern for matters environmental has now moved beyond the campus enclave and found its way into conversations among high school guidance counselors and college admissions staff .

Increasingly, visiting students and parents ask about environmental career choices, carbon footprints, waste recycling, and service learning opportunities in the fields of energy, environmental technology, and green chemistry. No longer are such green content interests limited to only a few environmental engineering students. Indeed, passionate concern for the environment ranges from automotive technology students interested in hybrid cars and low sulfur diesel fuel, to agricultural science students studying ethanol yield, to mining technology students seeking to harness methane from coal beds.

Concern for matters environmental has now found its way into conversations among high school guidance counselors.

Over the past decade, environmental organizations, conservation foundations, and energy companies have partnered with government to create tax incentives aimed at promoting the design and construction of new green campuses. Beyond tax subsidies, federal and state funding agencies and private philanthropic organizations are focusing their support on environmental protection, sustainable energy, and green technologies. Whether supported by the National Wildlife Federation or the National Science Foundation, campus development staffs now pay close attention to RFPs that target environmental sustainability in campus infrastructure, curricula, and environmental career pathways.

From Massachusetts to Minnesota, from Connecticut to California, education systems are incorporating environmental course components as part of their college track core requirements for admission. Consider Minnesota, where the transferable curricula standards for public universities require courses in "people and the environment."

As a prime example, the College of Du-Page in Glen Ellyn, Ill., no longer strictly views its future growth and development from the perspective of scale alone. Rather, these days DuPage leaders envision their institutional niche in the forefront of environmental sustainability. Indeed, its campus facilities master plan focuses on preserving its future, by utilizing the natural prairie surrounding the campus as a green buff er and outdoor laboratory in the midst of Chicagoland's urban sprawl.

Toward this end, DuPage just opened a brand new early childhood center that relies on organic building materials and geothermal heating and cooling systems in an effort to minimize its carbon footprint. Impressively, this geothermal approach to heating and cooling is capable of cost savings in the range of 25 percent to 50 percent per year-with a projected five- to seven-year payback.

DuPage President Sunil Chand conveyed a sense of pride and imagination as he led our recent tour around campus on a beautiful fall day: "No longer will DuPage be known as a megasize campus building surrounded by parking lots. Rather, visitors will think of us as an environmentally focused learning community surrounded by prairie, parks, and gardens."

He added: "We take considerable pride in our design and modeling of the campus by extending the aesthetics of the native prairie vegetation as the dominant campus landscaping theme, and earthworks defi ne exterior rooms, provide vistas, seating areas, and entrance plazas to enrich the collegiate experience. We have made a conscious decision to deploy ecotechnologies like solar orientation, green roofs, daylight harvesting, natural ventilation, VOC contaminant reduction, recycled building materials, and water and energy reduction in all of our new construction and renovations from this point forward."

Vermilion Community College (Minn.)-located in the heart of Superior National Forest at the threshold of the Boundary Waters-has splendid isolation. When students enroll in outdoor classes in natural resource management and wildlife preservation, they learn about measuring, handling, and calibrating new solutions designed to save our rivers and forests.

On the cocurricular side of campus life, the majority of students at Vermilion are genuinely involved in student organizations, and many of these student clubs have a direct relationship to natural resource management, environmental science, and ecology. According to Mary Koski, provost of the college, "The driving force in the community focuses on outdoor travel. Our community has reinvented itself and moved beyond logging and mining to ecotourism. We use every resource available to us, like state, county, and federal agencies, to provide us with land to use as natural learning laboratories. Our students, whether they are going into logging or into the Sierra Club, will wave a broad-based approach to dealing with natural resources."

Kingwood Community College is constructing a gateway entry drive that complements the surrounding forest.

At The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., officials have committed to reaching climate neutrality by 2020. President Thomas Purce observes, "Since early on in our 40 year history we have been sensitive to the earth and how we walk on the earth. When you visit the campus today you still see many of the original trees."

Evergreen students are so committed to ecological preservation that they instituted an environmental fee that enables Evergreen to obtain 100 percent of its electricity from green sources. Purce says, "We are putting together a challenge to all staff and faculty to purchase green energy in their homes. We are trying to create a critical mass so that green energy will be cheaper to the community as a whole."

In Evergreen's Seminar II building, integrated natural light and external hallways minimize energy consumption, while low-flow toilets and waterless urinals, combined with rainwater holding gardens, reduce runoff. According to Purce, "The Seminar II building, which received architectural awards, was an idea of Evergreen students in our architectural design class."

He adds, "Our historic practices are now becoming vogue, and that is reflected in our enrollment growth; we are up about 4 percent in all our enrollment numbers."

Kingwood Community College (Texas) is implementing a pedestrian culture, designing building footprints around the natural environment to preserve nature, and focusing on sustainability and efficiency in its facilities.

Kingwood officials have recognized a need for an additional 512 parking spaces for its students. In order to preserve the surrounding forest, they are developing plans for a parking garage as opposed to surface parking with its larger footprint.

In this context, Kingwood is a good example of commonsense planning that is aimed at environmental preservation. Seeking to build closer bonds with the community yet preserve the towering pines that envelope this east Texas campus, the institution is also constructing a gateway entry drive that compliments the surrounding forest.

At the urging of its environmentally engaged faculty, McIntosh College in Dover, N.H., invested in the construction of greenhouses to educate all its culinary arts students in locally grown produce. President Michael Hoyle says, "The chefs teach students where ingredients come from, beginning with the actual planting of the seeds in the ground through serving them to the customer." Hoyle continues: "Our instructors are involved in the local food movement and believe if students actively grow food they will ultimately care more about its freshness, nutrition, and taste. They'll become better chefs."

Students across the nation know the precarious fragility of our environment. For this reason, they are demanding that leaders in higher education step up to preserve our Planet Earth.


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