University Sustainability Projects: 3 Innovative Schools Making a Creative Difference

CSS_Scott Mechler_Headshot
Written by: Scott Mechler

BS Mechanical Engineering, Mechanical Engineer

Today, sustainability initiatives are being adopted by nearly every business, organization, and project in the United States—and for good reason. “Going green” not only helps reduce waste and conserve environmental resources, it enables organizations to promote a healthier workplace and save money.

Many of our own CSS customers have found creative ways to implement “green thinking” into everyday university operations.  In this article, we identify three innovative sustainability projects making an impact at universities around the country:

1. Plastic Water Bottle Ban at Washington University of St. Louis

In 2009, Washington University in St. Louis became the first university to ban the sale of bottled water on campus and prohibit its purchase for meetings and events. Instead, staff and students were and continue to be encouraged to fill reusable bottles from tap water spouts around campus. Since it’s inception, the program has eliminated 386,000 plastic bottles annually.

The negative environmental impact from plastic water bottles is astounding. Production and transportation of the plastic bottles in 2007 used enough fuel to power 1.5 million cars. And worse, about 75% of plastic bottles are not recycled and can then take up to 1,000 years to degrade in landfills, lakes, and oceans. Get the detailed facts here.

Looking back at this tremendous environmental success, the University administration emphasized that, “the bottled water ban couldn’t have been implemented without the support of others on campus—especially students and Washington University Dining Services”.

2. Harvard’s “Shut the Sash” Program

Laboratories are notorious for consuming a large amounts of energy, up to 5-10 times more energy than traditional classrooms and offices.  At Harvard, labs account for nearly 50% of campus energy use, but take up only 23% of its space.  Researchers at Harvard discovered that open fume hoods were the most energy intensive laboratory equipment, but noticed that significant savings could be achieved simply by closing the hood when not in use.

Harvard’s Green Labs program instituted the Shut the Sash fume hood competition, a monthly contest for 19 labs and 350 researchers. Each lab is outfitted with variable air volume fume hoods and has a customized goal of airflow exhaust averages based on their usage patterns. Labs that meet their exhaust goals are rewarded with pizza parties and a bi-annual wine and cheese celebration.

To date, the project achieves annual energy savings of over $240,000 (at $7/cfm) and annual reductions of 300 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. This project saves more energy than any other behavioral project at the university.

“Our Shut the Sash Program is one of our most successful programs to date, and the energy and money saved by it easily outstrips the cost of the program. Furthermore, it encourages safe lab practices, and has dramatically increased awareness amongst researchers of the importance of keeping their fume hood closed.”

-Brandon Geller, Senior Coordinator, Harvard Office for Sustainability FAS Green Program.

3. UC DavisLEED Platinum Brewery, Winery, and Food Service Laboratory

In the United States, buildings account for 39% of total energy use and 38% of carbon emissions. The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) is trying to change this by setting sustainability standards for buildings, known as LEED certification.

In January 2011, UC Davis opened the first LEED Platinum Brewery, Winery, and Food Science Laboratory—the first building of its kind. Within the facility, students can test brew small batches of beer, grow grapes in an organic vineyard, refine them into wine, and study food processing.

LEED Platinum is the top building sustainability certification given by the USGBC. The building achieved the excellent rating based on special features in six categories:

  1. Sustainable site
  2. Water efficiency
  3. Energy and atmosphere
  4. Materials and resources
  5. Healthful indoor environment
  6. Innovation and design processes that exceed LEED standards

Some examples of sustainable design features in the facility include photovoltaic cells; rainwater collection systems; re-use of processing water; energy efficient appliances; and sustainably harvested lumber. A full list of the buildings features can be found here.

Consolidated Sterilizer Systems applauds these universities for implementing innovative sustainability projects.  From making behavioral changes like refilling water bottles to engineering green technologies into laboratory construction, there are opportunities for every person and every institution to reduce waste and conserve natural resources.

For information on Consolidated Sterilizer System’s contributions towards sustainability and LEED Credits, click here.

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