Green U: Area colleges find paths to sustainability

By Julie Thibodeaux    
    
File 2177Meghna Tare grew up in Nagpur, India, where the local university, Nagpur University,  was one of the first schools in India to offer environmental science.“It was a city that was very environmentally conscious,” said Tare, whose hometown was also the site of the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute.  Ten years ago, her progressive alma mater led her to choose a green career. Today, she’s pioneering a new role found on campuses across the country teaching the next generation of students to “think green” as the University of Texas at Arlington’s first sustainability director.

File 2175Since being hired in 2010, Tare has implemented a variety of eco-friendly programs, including three that reduce cars on campus. A car-sharing program allows students to rent a gas-efficient car for $8 per hour, while a ride-sharing program promotes carpooling. For those who’d rather peddle, students can rent a bike for $30 per semester.  Other initiatives include installing an electric car charging station and water bottle filling kiosks. The university is also working to expand green space, reduce energy use and increase recycling.

The changes are part of a growing national trend of colleges becoming more sustainable.  Paul Rowland is the executive director for the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. The Denver-based organization, formed in 2006, provides networking, resources and professional development to universities striving to be more sustainable. AASHE has 913 members who represent schools from every state.

According to Rowland, faculty, staff and students are all equally driving the changes to colleges across the U.S, in advance of other institutions in society.  “There’s a well-founded belief that [universities] have the capacity to lead the country forward in sustainable practices, partly because we have the people who do the research and partly because there’s a willingness to test out some of the new ideas.”

Other North Texas universities are also going down the green path. Here’s a sampling of some of the local campus trends.

Southern Methodist University, Dallas
Kim Cobb is the co-chair for SMU’s Sustainability Committee, formed in 2007, that serves as advocate for eco-friendly practices on campus.  Cobb, who has been an environmental advocate since her college days in the 1970s, wanted to help influence the younger generation. Although she admits it becomes easier every year.

File 2172“As each new class arrives, they are increasingly looking for ways to behave in a sustainable way.”  The committee has increased recycling “dramatically” by adding brightly colored recycling bins next to trash cans around campus. Meanwhile, the cafeteria’s trayless dining system saves on dish washing while reducing food waste, because without trays students are less likely to grab more food then they can eat.

The campus also hosts an Earth Day celebration called Barefoot on the Boulevard. “Each year it gets bigger and bigger,” said Cobb. Other changes include implementing grey water irrigation, constructing LEED-certified buildings and installing a solar panel array, which generates energy and serves as a teaching tool.  (Photo REBECCA HANNA/The Daily Campus)

Texas Christian University, Fort Worth
File 2173TCU is one of three Texas schools, along with UNT, listed in the Princeton Review’s Guide to 311 Green Colleges.   In the last few years, the Fort Worth-based school has worked aggressively to reduce its energy use, according to Will Stallworth, the associate vice chancellor for facilities. Our sustainability goes way beyond recycling and purple bikes,” he said, referring to TCU’s popular free bike check-out program.

The university, whose chancellor signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, has replaced steam boilers with hot water boilers, installed high-efficiency water chillers for its AC system and reduced irrigation by using a computerized system. One third of maintenance vehicles are electric while six buildings are LEED certified with three pending certification, he said. In addition, LED bulbs are replacing fluorescent, and a green cleaning program is used for facilities.

“We’ve done all the cheap things,” joked Stallworth, who said they recently hired an energy engineer to adopt more extensive changes.

The University of North Texas, Denton
File 2176When Dr. Todd Spinks was hired by UNT as its first sustainability director in 2008, he was amazed at the green programs already in place.Curious about the roots of UNT’s green streak, the former EPA coordinator did some research. Back in the 1890s, when it was called the Texas Normal College and Teachers’ Training Institute, its small student body included a number of influential Native Americans. Around 1900, students chose green and white for its school colors, representing nature. Later the eagle, a powerful animal totem, was picked for its mascot.

“They said if the school would protect and take care of nature, then nature would take care of the school,” said Spinks, who holds a PhD in information science.

Today UNT is building on its reputation as a good environmental steward, not only with its sustainability efforts but for its advanced environmental curriculum. Graduate level environmental courses are offered in applied science, engineering and ethics, and the school is becoming an international leader in its environmental research, said Spinks.

Since UNT’s president signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, the school has rigorously worked to reduce emissions and save energy. In addition, the Office of Sustainability works closely with faculty, staff and students to implement recycling programs, protect trees and raise money for green initiatives.

Spinks said one of the biggest symbols of its drive to be an environmental leader is its new LEED Platinum-certified football stadium, in which three wind turbines will be installed.  “It’s two very different worlds coming together and shows how hard UNT is driving itself to be a leader in sustainability.”

 


Julie Thibodeaux is a former writer and editor for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Contact her at julie@jthibodeaux.com.

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