By Janelle Cowgill
In the first large-scale survey of the environmental performance of the nation’s universities, Catholic University comes out looking especially “green” — a leader in both recycling and energy conservation.
All types of recyclables can now be tossed into one clear plastic bag, like the one shown above.
CUA’s campus environmental committee, its recently improved recycling measures and its low-flow faucets for water conservation are some reasons CUA is being touted as an environmentally green campus in the National Wildlife Federation survey report.
The survey, dubbed the Campus Environmental Report Card, generated responses from 891 universities and colleges, or about 22 percent of the nation’s 3,900 institutions of higher learning. The report of survey results identifies CUA as a leading school “for doing more with energy efficiency and conservation” and “for doing more with recycling, solid waste and materials flow.”
“The idea of the greening of the campus is more than recycling,” says Robert Burhenn, CUA’s director of energy and utility management. “It’s also getting involved in your purchasing: buying energy-efficient office equipment and getting into green construction where you use recycled products.”
For the last four years, Mr. Burhenn has been pursuing changes on campus that will lower his department’s budget and improve energy efficiency. The changes have reaped major rewards for the university: a reported savings of $400,000 each year.
“That was part of what I was hired to do,” he explains. “In the past, the utility bills were paid and that was it. But here you have a $4 million budget in utilities that nobody was really looking at, so I looked at it and started analyzing it.”
Analyzing on-campus utility costs has helped Mr. Burhenn identify buildings in need of some kind of retrofitting, whether it be lighting upgrades, updated air chillers or new low-flow water faucets, he says. New faucets and toilets alone save $70,000 to $80,000 each year, he says.
CUA’s conservation efforts don’t stop with water faucets. At the beginning of the academic year, a new recycling program got underway in which all recyclables — glass, aluminum, paper and plastic — go into the same container at each pickup site and all trash that can’t be recycled goes into a second container.
The bags — clear for recyclables and black for all other trash — are removed from these containers, compacted and later sorted through at the Consolidated Waste Industries facility.
This new “streamlined” approach has confused some students and staff, says Chris Vetick, manager of the grounds department. But recycling guidelines posted in residence halls and other places on campus have explained the new approach to students, faculty and staff, he adds.
“It’s quite a change from traditional recycling,” Mr. Vetick adds.
The new approach already is a big hit, with recycling levels reaching an all-time high of 50 percent to 60 percent, when — only five months ago — just 10 percent of the university’s waste was being recycled.
Mr. Vetick is working with Sodexho, the company that runs the university’s dining service, to recycle the company’s aluminum cans and cardboard boxes. And the grounds department is stockpiling CUA’s yard waste — grass clippings, leaves, branches and sticks — with a goal of grinding it down into a compost material to use as mulch.
That way, Mr. Vetick says, “We’re not putting our organic waste into the landfill.”
But the “greening of the campus” is not just in the hands of staff and faculty. Steve Schatz, president of the Undergraduate Student Government, heads CUA’s Environmental Awareness Committee, a group of students, staff and faculty that meets each month. They discuss ways to educate the campus community on issues such as recycling and cutting down on waste.
So far, the group has posted recycling guideline sheets in all residence halls and has drafted an official recycling policy and procedure for the university. Mr. Schatz also is busy sending out mass e-mails reminding students, faculty and staff to recycle and inviting everyone to tour the local recycling facility.
“From last year, we’ve made huge strides,” Mr. Schatz says. He adds that students and Associate Professor of Biology Barbara Howard are putting together a grant proposal for the National Wildlife Foundation that would fund further environmental improvements at CUA and in the surrounding community.
Efforts like these are what pushed CUA to the top of the list in the NWF “report card,” says Joseph Beres, director of CUA’s environmental health and safety department.
From December 2000 to April 2001, the research firm Princeton Survey Research Associates aided the NWF in distributing the electronic survey to university presidents, provosts and facilities management supervisors around the country.
The NWF says it plans to undertake the survey every three years. You can view the report online at www.nwf.org/campusecology/stateofthecampusenvironment/index.html.