Tag Archives: campus sustainability

Campus Sustainability Resources

Universities are important testbeds for the development of a sustainable civilization, as sustainability requires learning and innovation, and campuses are societal centers of learning. Many projects have attempted to assess sustainability at universities.

2008 College Sustainability Report Card graded the sustainability of the 200 North American universities with the largest endowments. Schools were graded (from “A” to “F”) in seven categories. McGill improved from last year when in got a C+. This year it got a B- coming 3rd in the Canadian universities evaluated, behind UBC and U of Toronto, but beating U of Alberta. McGill’s grade puts it in the top 1/3 of North American universities.

The Sierra Youth Coalition has a Sustainable Campus Project, part of which has been focussed on developing a Campus Sustainability Assessment Framework. A number of different Canadian universities have conducted CSAF assessments. The Concordia Campus Sustainability Assessment at Concordia is an active and ongoing project. In many ways they are ahead of McGill, however they have been using the CSAF, hopefully we can learn from what they have been doing and build upon it. While CSAF is a start, the framework lacks a conceptual foundation, which makes, prioritizing, interpreting and identifying opportunities for improvement among its many (~170) indicators difficult. Also the CSAF was not developed in collaboration with university decision-makers, consquently it doesn’t have much credibility to them.

Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education is also developing a system Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (STARS) which is a: voluntary, self-reporting framework for gauging relative progress toward sustainability for colleges and universities.

The AASHE and it has also identified an number of other campus sustainability assessments:

Auditing Instrument for Sustainability in Higher Education (AISHE)
Dutch Committee for Sustainable Higher Education (DHO)
An assessment process in which a campus team rates the department/campus on a scale of 1-5 (1 is lowest, 5 highest) for 20 indicators, mostly related to educational goals, process and outcome.

Campus Sustainability Selected Indicators Snapshot
New Jersey Higher Education Partnership for Sustainability (NJHEPS)
A tool for rating a campus’s performance from 1 to 7 (1 being the least sustainable, 7 being the most) for a range of environmental indicators. A series of questions to accompany each assessment category is also provided.

CSA Guidelines and Suggested Indicators
Campus Sustainability Assessment Project (CSAP)
Proposes 38 snapshot indicators in 14 categories; including metrics for assessing each indicator.

Draft List of Environmental Performance Indicators
Campus Consortium for Environmental Excellence (C2E2)
Listing of mostly quantitative environmental performance indicators.

Environmental Management System Self-Assessment Checklist
Campus Consortium for Environmental Excellence (C2E2)
A series of 33 questions in 5 categories for quantitatively evaluating an environmental management system.

Sustainability Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ)
University Leaders For A Sustainable Future (ULSF)
Assessment process in which a campus team rates their institution�s accomplishments on seven dimensions of sustainability in higher education.

McGill Campus Sustainability Report Card

This spring I am working with a student to extend a project from Environmental Research (ENVR 401) project that created a campus sustainability report card for McGill. While universities are important testbeds for the development of a sustainable civilization, too often science is not used to monitor and evaluate what is actually been accomplished. The report card project is meant to address this gap. It is designed to be used to help guide McGill’s sustainability policies by identifying how McGill’s sustainability efforts have been performing. The client for this project is University Services at McGill, whose new sustainability director is Dennis Fortune.

There has been quite a bit of work done on sustainability at McGill. The Sustainable McGill Project conducted a the McGill Sustainability Assessment.

Rethink has a list of the many McGill student groups working on environmental issues. Environmental Officer Kathleen Ng has a good understanding of past and present initiatives, and she has helped organize the ReThink events at McGill – including this years event March 28, and the website hosts lots of documents, and presentations from past years.

Some of various efforts on sustainability at McGill have been reported in the McGill Daily articles Wild students, old monster and Stepping up, and last year, former MSE students made a documentary on recycling at McGill, In the Quiet and Still Air of Delightful Studies, which captures some of the issues and conflicts circulating around sustainability on campus. And the Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education recently had an article on a recent visit one of their staff made to McGill.

Carbon Neutral Universities

Metropolis Magazine writes about the maturing and deepening of the university campus sustainability in Carbon Neutral U:

Higher education has emerged as a thrilling proving ground for a sustainable society. Schools of all statures and sizes—from the Ivies to red-state community colleges—are making the most of their fiefdoms, leveraging their educated and politically engaged populations, long-term outlooks, and self-managed (the often significant) physical footprints to make substantial changes. But with those changes comes a surprising reversal in academe’s typical stance: the mechanics of the campus are occupying the brightest spotlight. Students, administrators, and faculty are obsessing over the cleaning products the janitors use, how dining-hall potatoes are grown, and which dorms consume the least energy. Infrastructure is hot—hotter arguably than research or teaching about sustainability. It is as if the ivory tower has looked out to the world and seen a choking planet, and its first response is to look inward again at its own activities—building designs, power plants, and transportation systems. …

Schools are also looking to one another for help, increasingly collaborating in realms where they have traditionally competed. “There’s long been an incredible amount of peer benchmarking across higher education, but that’s not the same as collaboration,” says Mark Orlowski, executive director of the Sustainable Endowments Institute, the publisher of the College Sustainability Report Card 2008, which evaluated 200 schools on their environmental activities. “Collaboration, while quite widespread in the academic side of the university, has been less prevalent in operations,” he adds.

The range of projects is staggering. After a decade of bring-your-own-coffee-mug student environmentalism, the opening salvo of a new, more glamorous era in campus sustainability came in 2001, when the daughter of famed Berkeley, California, chef Alice Waters enrolled as a freshman at Yale. Waters’s initial disgust at the cafeteria steam tables evolved into the Yale Sustainable Food Project, which today manages an organic campus farm, directs a sustainable dining program, and serves as the base for a series of academic classes. It’s also been a lightning rod for PR—“A Dining Hall Where Students Sneak In,” crowed the New York Times—and dozens of schools have launched similar programs. More recently, as campuses have turned their attention to carbon reduction, no detail is too small: dorms are providing laundry racks for no-energy clothes drying, offering free bike maintenance as well as shared bikes, encouraging students to disconnect their dorm appliances over vacations, and recycling their organic potato French fry grease into biodiesel fuel for campus buses.

… For the cadre of campus sustainability coordinators, “creating a culture of sustainability” is one of the measures of success. The administrative structures for sustainability offices vary school by school, with some coordinators reporting through facilities, some through the provost or president’s offices, and some through both. But they all have the mandate to bridge the university’s operational initiatives to its teaching and research—to make the nuts and bolts count toward the big teachable ideas. With the wave of interest sweeping the students and faculty, new projects are coming from everywhere. The sustainability coordinator plays traffic cop, diplomat, and “facilitator.” As Yale’s Newman puts it, “What’s so fascinating about these positions is that we don’t directly oversee any of these functions. We have no power to do any of it. Our role is to be a sustainability generalist and then to develop questions and frameworks to understand how these systems work independently and together—so that, in the aggregate, does it lead to a sustainable Yale?”

Rooftop gardening in Montreal

Rooftop garden at McGillMontreal’s Rooftop gardening project has had a demonstration garden outside my office at McGill this summer. Montreal is very dense, it has a lack of gardening space, but many people have balconies and external staircases where they can have gardens. The rooftop gardeners aim to produce good healthy food, in a way that also improves urban environmental quality.

The Rooftop gardening project have been working with McGill Architecture’s global edible landscapes project, which is workingin Colombo, Sri Lanka; Kampala, Uganda and Rosario, Argentina, as well as Montreal. The McGill reporter had an article Garden of eating about the project in May 2007.

The Rooftop gardening project have made a film about their work Des Jardins sur les toit (Rooftop gardens) – it is in French with English subtitles.

Photos from the Montreal Rooftop gardening project and the AASHE weblog.

Building Interdisciplinarity

An article in Harvard Magazine (January-February 2007) describes The Janelia Experiment, an new biomedical research facility designed to foster great inter-discplinary research. Fostering interdisciplinary research is topic the Stockholm Resilience Center is grapling with as it organizes itself (but without the problems a $16 billion endowment brings).

Great scientific research organizations, of the rare variety that produce multiple Nobel Prize-caliber breakthroughs, share common traits that can be imitated. This is the precept behind the creation of Janelia Farm, the new biological-research campus of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). In November, scientists from the Harvard Stem Cell Institute visited the new campus, where everything from architecture to organization to social culture has been planned to nurture an optimal environment for scientific discovery. What the visitors saw may offer ideas for Harvard, which is planning an ambitious science-research campus in Allston and working to ensure that the organizational structure of the sciences, as well as the architecture of new buildings, will promote a culture of interdisciplinary collaboration.

Such places did exist in the past. Both Bell Labs and the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) in Cambridge, England, took a long-term approach to problem-solving, one in the physical sciences, the other in biology. Both produced results that were “offscale,” Rubin says, “even compared to the best private institutions.” Both were used as models for Janelia Farm.

Common to Bell Labs and the LMB were small research groups, leaders who were active bench scientists, internal funding for research, outstanding shared support and infrastructure, limited tenure, and a culture that rewarded collegiality and cooperation.

Sociological research, Rubin says, has shown that humans don’t have meaningful interactions with more than about 20 people. “If you want to have interactions between groups and every group is 20 people, well, it’s just not going to happen,” says Rubin. “It’s fundamental human nature.” Thus groups at Janelia Farm, with its goal of increasing interdisciplinary cooperation between labs, are limited to no more than six members.

Yet even if the opportunities to create an organizational structure that promotes interdisciplinary collaboration are somewhat limited within the university environment, there is no such limitation on design and architecture that promotes collaboration. In this sense, Janelia Farm is also a model that blends lessons of the past with the most contemporary thinking in lab design. There are spaces that promote interaction: a cafeteria with good, inexpensive food, and a pub that serves coffee and tea during the day and cheeseburgers and beer after work. Forcing people out of their normal environments is a good thing, says Rubin. The LMB had a canteen and the culture there, he says, was that you were free to sit down with people you didn’t know. (A 2004 study by the National Academy of Sciences asked research administrators what they would cut last in a hypothetical budget crunch. They overwhelmingly named their cafeteria.)