6 Ways to Boost Sustainability on College Campuses

Colleges improving sustainability on college campuses by reducing food-related wasteSustainability is vital to all institutions. College campuses are no exception, especially as students are now quite likely to consider sustainability on college campuses when they choose where to apply. The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education produces an annual index to help potential students and faculty make an educated choice.

So, how do you make your college campus more sustainable?

1. Reduce Food Waste

Feeding hundreds or thousands of students a day can generate a lot of waste. It can be hard to predict who will eat on campus and who will get takeout or cook in their dorm. At the same time, colleges can’t afford to run out of food, often leading to a surplus. In 2015, the average college student generated 142 pounds of food waste a year—per student. 

A variety of tactics can be employed to increase sustainability on college campuses in this area. They include donating extra food to soup kitchens, eliminating trays so students can’t carry as much food, and reducing food choices. 

Composting food waste and then using it on a campus garden or donating it to community gardens can also help. Buying food as locally as possible can even help reduce energy and save money.

2. Go Digital

Today’s textbooks are often digital. Students take notes on a laptop or tablet and send in assignments over the college network. Reducing the amount of paper used for learning helps reduce waste. In addition, what paper is used can be recycled. Textbook buyback programs also help, both in terms of limiting paper waste and helping students afford the often high costs of learning materials.

3. Invest in Solar

College campuses often have extensive roofs. More and more colleges are investing in solar energy to reduce bills (which can help keep tuition down) and increase sustainability.

For example, the largest solar installation in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area is on the campus of The Catholic University of America. While few campuses can meet 100% of their needs through solar, it can definitely help.

4. Reduce Energy Use

Investing in solar goes hand in hand with reducing energy use. New builds and renovations on campuses are often green buildings. But colleges and universities also have a lot of older, less efficient buildings.

One simple way to reduce energy use is switching to more efficient lighting. A combination of switching out energy-intensive incandescents and even fluorescents with tunable LEDs and smart lighting systems that make sure lights are turned off when the room is not being used can bring bills down substantially. Switching out fluorescents is also good for accessibility; some students may develop headaches and other symptoms when spending extended periods of time under fluorescent lights.

Other ways include setting campus computers to go into sleep mode and using smart thermostats to reduce the heating or air conditioning in empty classrooms and other areas not in use. Smart campus technology can help control all of these avenues of boosting sustainability on college campuses.

5. Reduce Single-Use Items

Reducing the number of single-use items used in the cafeteria makes a huge difference, too. Using real cutlery and dishes and then washing them in high-efficiency machines is more sustainable than using styrofoam. Straws should be provided only on request. While you can’t completely eliminate single-use items, you can reduce them.

Bottled water should not be available on campus. Instead, provide water stations where students can refill reusable water bottles. In addition, you can sell branded reusable bottles in the campus store for a little extra income.

6. Reduce Water Waste

Text: College student with a reusable water bottle to boost sustainability
Young freelancer woman working on her laptop outdoors, sitting in a park.

Campuses use a lot of water. The combination of hundreds of students in dorm rooms showering and water used in, say, the science building can quickly mount up.

Facility-wide smart metering and a water audit are good first steps toward reducing the amount of water that is both used and wasted by your campus. An audit can help you find hidden leaks (older universities may have older plumbing) and establish which buildings use the most water. 

A few areas to consider:

Dorm bathrooms can be retrofitted with low-flow toilets and shower heads to reduce water use without significantly affecting students.

Another trick for reducing water waste is to irrigate landscaping at night when water does not evaporate as quickly. This means you can use less water to achieve the same effect. 

Finally, if you have top loaders in campus laundry machines, switch them out for front loaders, which use substantially less water. To save energy and increase sustainability on college campuses, encourage students to wash their clothes in cold water; with modern cleaning systems and detergent, it makes them just as clean.

If you want to improve sustainability on your college campus, contact Envocore. Working alongside one of our ESCO partners, we perform comprehensive energy and water efficiency  projects. With Envocore focused on water efficiency, lighting, solar, and building envelope and teamed with an ESCO to develop a comprehensive program, we will work with you to increase the efficiency of all of your campus systems.

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