As a student who is finishing up at a 4-year public university studying sustainability, I saw firsthand what was being done and what still needs to be done. As time goes on and we continue to fight the battle of climate change, more changes will need to be implemented. The next few years and beyond will be critical in assessing new impacts of climate change in order to meet our needs and make sure future generations will be able to meet their needs as well.
During my time at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, climate change and sustainability have been addressed in my classes - the topic comes up even in classes outside of my major. I learned the importance of living a sustainable life.
On the less climate-focused side of sustainability, I also value mental health as a student. So many students struggle with mental health, and the stress that comes with going to college can really take a toll. It should be part of any university's sustainability goals to provide resources for students and improve the health and wellbeing. Even little things like creating more outdoor spaces with benches or paths to walk outside can be really helpful for the community - outdoor places of respite are proven tools to help reduce stress.
One great way for universities to start stepping toward these goals is to first look inward at current sustainability practices and consider what needs improvement. Even existing buildings have the opportunity to make changes and get a certification. Certifications provide a framework for guiding plans and decision-making. To that end, I took an internship at Emerald Built Environments and helped design a survey specifically for universities looking to assess how they are doing with sustainability.
COVID-19 and Sustainability Goals
An issue on everyone’s minds right now that should be addressed is COVID-19. It is really hard to picture what the future will hold right now, especially for colleges. Some of these green rating systems have actually introduced “COVID credits” as goals now. Things such as better cleaning and sanitizing, improved air quality, and increasing health services and resources. These will become extremely important in buildings where students are in and out of all day. In order for students to feel comfortable returning to campus, plans and protocols must be in place.
A Survey for University Sustainability Assessment
This survey we have created will help universities address their current sustainability practices, as well as future needs and recommendations. Universities are huge institutions that could be leaders in our world of climate change. Sustainability goes way beyond our natural environment. It includes the health, safety, and well-being of students and faculty as well.
The questions in this survey were inspired by LEED and Fitwel, two green rating systems that outline how existing buildings can achieve sustainability and are tailored specifically to college campuses. As a student who lived in a dorm, ate at dining halls, and went in and out of so many different campus buildings, it feels important that those spaces are actually promoting sustainability.
I encourage university employees and administrators to take this survey and consider the feedback to take action. We are responsible for our futures, so get started today!
This article was written by Casey Gregory, Marketing And Business Development Intern at Emerald Built Environments and Miami University student.