There are currently almost 20 million students enrolled in higher education in the US now, according to Statista. I’ve got one child at the University of Dayton and another high-school junior prospecting colleges and universities that excel in agribusiness. Without a doubt, the physical environment offered to students for housing and classroom space influences my children's choices. It matters to me too.
Now, more than ever, the physical environment on college and university campuses is so important. COVID-19 has driven us inside, keeping many students out of the classroom. For those living on campus, this means isolation in student housing, inability move about campus, and impacts on food service. It translates to inability for personal connection with fellow students and faculty for those not living on campus. The fall-out is not pretty. PBS recently reported that 1 in 4 students reported contemplating suicide, and drop-out rates are skyrocketing.
Our work at Emerald gives me a perspective on campus life and I am sharing it in hopes I inspire other parents to tune-in and encourage action. We help organizations achieve sustainability goals for buildings – for design and construction of new and renovated buildings, and those already open and operating. Pre-COVID, ongoing operational engagements focused primarily on improving energy efficiency. Case Western Reserve University is one example of a university that engaged us for energy audits and retro-commissioning. These services produce roadmaps of how to improve a building’s energy consumption, potentially improve indoor air quality and thermal comfort, and are grounded in return on investment (ROI). Pre-COVID, ROI didn’t include metrics such as student enrollment or mental health and wellness. Today, it must.
Pre-COVID, ROI didn’t include metrics such as student enrollment or mental health and wellness. Today, it must.
Sustainability practitioners will often tell you that an existing building is the most sustainable building. If one thing is true, colleges and universities across America have a lot of existing buildings. According to University Business, there was a 16% increase in gross square footage of buildings in research institutions between 2007-2017, a trend that began across all campus types in 2000. With this expanded footprint, it is clear that colleges and universities have an opportunity to really make a difference by focusing on improving existing buildings - a difference that could be one of life or death for their student bodies.
To get us back to normal life on college campuses, a look to WELL Health-Safety certification provides a very clear, science-backed roadmap for policies and procedures to allow re-opening of facilities right now. We developed a template set of policies and procedures that we will give to any college or university president or board chair that reaches out to us directly – for free. We are doing this because we feel strongly that these policies and procedures can address issues that prevent universal opening of buildings on college campuses.
When we get back to ‘new normal’ and are not actively managing a pandemic, we hope all colleges and universities will broaden their sustainability efforts to include systemic change across the campus concerning ongoing operational policies, practices, space design, and services to support sustainable concepts such as:
- Mental Health and Wellness
- Support for local economies
- Reduced carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions
- Healthy indoor air quality and thermal comfort
Maybe you are a student, graduate, parent or prospective parent of a college or university. Our University Survey is available to you to use to evaluate the campus of your choice. This survey presents a series of questions that gather data on a variety of sustainable operations principles for a campus, using one building for illustration. For example, you could take the survey thinking about your dorm or student union at your alma mater. The survey produces a report with a score and narrative specific to your answers. Send this report to the college to encourage action - action towards a more sustainable future.
Many definitions of sustainability exist, and in most instances, there is a reference to protecting future generations and the resources they will need to survive. We are no longer looking only to protecting future generations – we are looking at protecting the lives of our kids. Today.