Insight Blog

Second Nature Recognizes Universities for Their Climate Leadership

Second Nature's Climate Leadership Award Program is now in its 6th year, and it continues to garner much attention and participation from U.S. universities and colleges as they strive to be recognized for their sustainability efforts. The program is a national competition among two and four-year institutions that are signatories of the American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment (ACUPCC). As most of our readers know, Helbling & Associates is deeply engaged in the higher education facilities management sector, securing executives for a wide range of facilities positions with colleges and universities, including those who play instrumental roles in sustainability. As such, we understand the diverse objectives and initiatives of these institutions and the significance of sustainability in their strategies.

There's no doubt that it must be a difficult decision for Second Nature and its board to choose only one four-year institution to win its award with so many organizations executing diverse and innovative strategies. So, let's take a look at this year's winner as well as some finalists and their climate leadership initiatives that captured attention.

And the winner is...

Appalachian State University, Boone, NC 

  • Climate Neutrality Target Date: 2050
  • Boasts unprecedented support at the highest level with the University's 2014 - 2019 Strategic Plan being titled "The Appalachian Experience: Envisioning a Just and Sustainable Future".
  • Received gold rating with The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System™(STARS) a transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance.
  • Has 70-member sustainability council and newly established student sustainability council.
  • Implemented Renewable Energy Initiative, and Appalachian State University Sustainable Living Guide; Goodnight Sustainable farm, and carbon neutral commuter campaign.
  • Recently installed solar-paneled electric vehicle charging station.

Finalists that stand out for their progress and initiatives are...

George Washington University, Washington, DC (GW)

  • Climate Neutrality Target Date: 2025

  • Capital Partners Solar Project: This renewable energy project will generate solar power for three project sites to GW, its University Hospital, and American University. When three solar farm sites go online by early 2016, they will deliver 123,000 MWh of renewable energy to the three partners in its first year.

  • Eco Building Program: Provides a comprehensive capital improvement plan to strategically implement energy and water conservation projects in campus buildings. This program will result in a decrease in energy and water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, and will result in short- and long-term financial savings. Through these projects, GW projects that it will reduce energy use from the buildings by 15%. Since 2012, 30% of GW's buildings (by square footage) have undergone an energy-efficiency oriented retrofit as part of the Eco Building Program.

  • On-Site Renewable Energy: An 18-panel photovoltaic array operates above what is called the Solar Walk. The Solar Walk, itself, is the first walkable solar-paneled pathway in the world. It includes 27 slip-resistant, semitransparent panels comprising 100 square feet. In peak conditions, the walkable panels generate enough energy to power 450 LED pathway lights, while the panels on the trellis generate energy that feeds the nearby Innovation Hall.

  • Building Commissioning/Retrofits: GW has commissioned all of its new buildings for the past 20 years, and a formal building retrofit program is now underway.

  • Energy Metering/Building Management Systems: GW's building management systems currently interconnect 40 buildings with remote monitoring or control functionality. The buildings with BMSs are the largest buildings on campus and therefore, the BMS coverage is extensive (~78.5%). The BMS primarily monitors and controls space temperatures, humidity, and HVAC functions. Lighting is generally controlled with local occupancy sensors, daylight sensors, or photocells.

Furman University, Greenville, SC (FU)

  • Climate Neutrality Target Date: 2026

  • An early adopter of sustainability, the concept was implemented into the University's 1996 strategic plan.

  • FU's plan, entitled Sustainable Furman, is a thorough master plan that includes 8 goals, 132 supporting strategies, and a climate action plan.

  • When reviewing its progress in 2013, 73 projects had already been achieved and completed, 46 were ongoing, and 21 strategies were under review.

  • Sustainability concepts are infused across FU's curriculum and it has the only sustainability science major in a private liberal arts school.

  • Seven campus buildings have achieved LEED certification.

  • Three major energy efficiency retrofits have been completed.

  • Geothermal ground source heat pump systems have been installed in 10 on-campus student apartments, and there has been 32% average monthly reduction in energy use of those buildings.

Loyola University, Chicago, IL (LU)

  • Climate Neutrality Target Date: 2025

  • Received a Gold rating in the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System Program.

  • LU's Institute of Environmental Sustainability has developed and executed initiatives such as the Biodiesel program, Clean Air/Clear Water monitoring, and Health Homes Initiative.

  • Has more green roofs than any other Midwest university.

  • LU's Lake Shore Campus prevents 10M gallons of stormwater from entering the combined sewer system. Energy use on this campus has been reduced by 18% since 2008, saving the LU over $6.2M in energy costs.

  • Student-led initiatives (9 groups at LU have an environmental focus) include a sustainability fund for student projects and a ban on bottled water to a community farmer’s market.

  • Committed to a USGBC Silver LEED rating for all new construction and renovations.

  • LU's Retreat & Ecology Campus has a goal to be a Net Zero Energy Campus. The plan is currently underway with replacement of HVAC systems, and renewable installations that include solar panels, solar thermal, wind turbine, and ground loop geothermal.

Southern Oregon University, Ashland, OR (SOU)

  • Climate Neutrality Target Date: 2050

  • Efforts include renovations to meet LEED standards, purchasing water restoration certificates to help save the Klamath watershed, and creating a Center for Sustainability on campus that meets with the SOU president and guides environmental programs.

  • First university to offset 100% of its water use by conservation and purchase of $67,000 worth of water restoration certificates to the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, which uses it for restoring the now-dry Seven Mile Creek in the Klamath watershed.

  • Climate Action Plan has influenced purchasing practices and led to the planning and completion of dozens of conservation projects on campus, including energy efficiency, water conservation, and waste reduction initiatives.

State University of New York, Loch Sheldrake, NY (SUNY Sullivan)

  • Carbon Neutrality Target Date: 2017

  • Living laboratory includes 2MW solar farm, 2.5 kW wind turbine, community garden, straw bale constructed shed, forced air food waste composting, green roof and campus wide geothermal heating and cooling via ground source heat pumps.

  • Carbon reduction efforts including purchasing policies aimed at waste reduction, and installing a green roof on one of the campus buildings.

  • Improved waste reduction including new recycling containers; signage and educational material; new forced air food waste composting effort including signage and educational material; and new campus wide water bottle fill stations.

  • Students collect and compost over 3000 pounds of food scraps each year using an on-campus forced air compost area.

  • Offers degree programs or professional certificates in: Solar, Wind, Energy Efficiency, Sustainable Agriculture, Food, and Land; Green Building; and General Sustainability.

  • Offers Green Building Maintenance and Management associate degree and Sustainability Studies courses.

 University of California, Merced, CA (UC Merced)

  • Climate Neutrality Target Date: 2020

  • UC Merced has a triple net zero goal - zero net energy, zero net waste, and zero net greenhouse gas emissions.

  • The triple Net Zero commitment and an evidence-based approach to benchmarking and sustainability has yielded significant results in terms of buildings’ water and energy use. As of the 2012-13 school year, UC Merced had reduced its per capita water use by 43% since 2007.

  • Triple Zero plan includes enhancement of UC Merced's 1 megawatt solar array, which supplies about 20% of the campus’s power now. Rooftop solar systems were installed in 2014 on main campus buildings and they will further reduce the University's environmental footprint.

  • Identifies sustainability-related courses, including sustainability-related learning outcomes for all freshmen, and actively engages students in achieving the campus triple zero goals.

Other 4-year institution finalists are: Agnes Scott College; California State University, Northridge, Cedar Valley College; Huston-Tillotson University; University at Buffalo (SUNY); University of Massachusetts Lowell; and University of Tennessee. At the beginning of this century, sustainability was not even on the radar at most higher education institutions. As awareness has grown around the globe about the human impact on our planet, universities and colleges have been progressive and innovative in utilizing advanced technologies and concepts, and have dedicated a tremendous amount of time, effort, and dedication to addressing their own carbon footprints. As a result, these organizations have become recognized leaders in the sustainability movement. There's no doubt that these institutions will continue to transcend other organizations in their sustainability commitments and environmental consciousness. As recruiters who secure facilities executives who are developing and executing these types of strategies within universities and colleges, we look forward to continuing to play an instrumental role in the long-term success of these institutions.

About Second Nature: Second Nature works to create a healthy, just, and sustainable society beginning with the transformation of higher education. Second Nature is the support organization of the American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) and the Alliance for Resilient Campuses (ARC). About the American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment (ACUPCC): The ACUPCC is a high-visibility effort to address global warming by garnering institutional commitments from college and universities to accelerate the education, research and community engagement to equip society to re-stabilize the earth's climate, and eliminate net greenhouse gas emissions from their own operations.