Achievements, goals in campus sustainability

New strategic plan highlights advances of last five years; offers blueprint for next five

Workers installing solar panels on Hillman Hall.
Workers install solar panels on the roof of the Brown School's Hillman Hall, the newest building on the Danforth Campus — and the greenest, having earned LEED Platinum certification. (Photo: Joe Angeles/Washington University)

As people across the globe celebrate Earth day April 22, Washington University in St. Louis recognizes its sustainability achievements over the past five years and lays out its sustainability goals for the next five years.

The university’s new 2015-2020 Strategic Plan for Sustainable Operations was recently developed and it builds on the framework established by the university’s first strategic plan for sustainable operations released in 2010.

While highlighting progress made since 2010, the newest plan lays out in detail the university’s vision and commitment for the next five years and sets even more ambitious goals.

“Climate change and environmental degradation are among the greatest challenges humanity faces in the 21st century,” said Henry S. Webber, executive vice chancellor for administration, who charged a leadership team in fall 2014 with identifying further energy and emissions reduction opportunities and establishing a more aggressive 2020 emissions reduction goal.

Phil Valko, assistant vice chancellor for sustainability, led the effort and collaborated with a broad group of university leaders to develop the new sustainability plan, which includes an emissions reduction goal that is nearly double the previous goal.

“Washington University’s sustainability efforts and accomplishments have expanded by leaps and bounds in the past five years due to leadership from faculty, staff and students throughout the university,” Valko said. “Our community is engaged in a multi-decade process to transform traditional business operations into truly sustainable operations.

“While we have made a great deal of progress in the last five years, the new strategic plan sets loftier goals that quicken our pace toward a more sustainable future,” Valko said.

He noted that while the Danforth and Medical campuses have nearly doubled in size since 1990, the university has been able to hold energy use flat.

And from 2010 to 2015, the university’s carbon emissions decreased by 17,199 metric tons of CO2, the equivalent of permanently removing 3,600 cars from the roads, despite the addition of more than 585,000 square feet of new space for teaching, research and patient care.

Other achievements since the university’s original 2010 sustainability plan include:

  • Of the 1.4 million square feet of new buildings and major renovations over the past five years, 95 percent of that space has exceeded the university’s LEED Silver building minimum, with 22 percent certified LEED Platinum and 73 percent LEED Gold.
  • Energy meters have been installed in all Danforth and Medical campuses buildings, allowing quick corrections and identification of inefficient buildings for energy conservation projects.
  • Community engagement efforts have rapidly expanded, including student-run organizations, staff-driven programs and new interdisciplinary courses focusing on broader issues of sustainability.
  • Dining Services received the 2014 National Association of College and University Food Services Sustainability Gold Award for Excellence in Waste Management. Efforts such as donating unused food, composting initiatives, and converting fryer oil to biodiesel all contributed to the award.
  • The Danforth Campus has seen a 12.2 percent decrease in the number of single-occupancy vehicle commuters, normalized for population growth, thanks to such alternative transportation initiatives as the subsidized CarShare program; free public transportation access for all full-time staff, faculty and students; and a new full-time alternative transportation coordinator.

The new plan outlines actionable strategies and targets eight key areas: energy and emissions; buildings; community; food; landscape; transportation; waste; and water, which is an additional focus since the 2010 plan.

Each target area has several goals, including the following specific top-priority goals:

  • Energy and emissions: Reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, including all Danforth and Medical campus growth (a reduction of 51,300 metric tons of CO2-equivalent over five years). By including campus growth, the new goal nearly doubles the reduction required by the previous goal.
  • Buildings: Achieve a minimum of LEED Silver certification for all new construction and major renovations while seeking LEED Gold or Platinum where feasible and integrating principles from the Living Building Challenge.
  • Community: Institutionalize sustainability as a core priority that runs through all aspects of the university by expanding outreach during student, faculty and staff orientation programs; integrate sustainable practices into existing campus activities and events; and expand the Green Office Program to 100 offices by 2017.
  • Food: Spend 20 percent of food costs locally by 2017 and 22 percent by 2020; and spend 15 percent of food costs on environmentally preferable, humane and fair food by 2017 and 25 percent by 2020.
  • Landscape: Create an institutional focus on the environmental performance of landscape by evaluating all new landscape construction projects under the Sustainable SITES design standard.
  • Transportation: Reduce the number of single occupancy vehicles coming to campus by an additional 10 percent by 2017 from a 2013 baseline, normalized for population growth. Decrease emissions from the campus fleet by 22 percent by 2020.
  • Waste: Achieve a 55 percent waste diversion rate on the Danforth Campus and a 45 percent diversion rate at the School of Medicine by 2020, excluding construction and demolition waste. Reduce consumer waste tonnage per capita by 35 percent by 2020, relative to a 2010 baseline.
  • Water: Decrease campus potable water use by 15 percent by 2020, relative to a 2010 baseline.

“As an institution of higher education, Washington University has a crucial role to play and we are fully committed to being part of the solution,” Webber said.

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