Sustainability in Higher Education: University Perspective

Why Sustainability Matters

Sustainability in Higher Education: University Perspective

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The impacts of applying sustainable principles can have significant bearing on higher education in relation to environmental factors, student wellness, operating costs and attracting new students.

Sustainability is not a new topic for higher education. Yet, the level to which higher education has embraced sustainability in its operations is still a work-in-progress. The higher-ed, student-led movement called the Green Office Movement Organization provides a guide for higher education as far as what students think a sustainable college or university means:  

A sustainable university is an educational institution that educates global citizens for sustainable development, offers relevant insights on urgent societal challenges and reduces the environmental and social footprints of its campus operations, empowers students and staff to act, and makes sustainability a central priority.

The impacts of applying sustainable principles can have significant bearing on higher education in relation to environmental factors, student wellness, operating costs and attracting new students. As climate change continues to grow in importance to our youth, it’s important for colleges and universities to assess their sustainability practices and make continuous improvements for the wellbeing of all stakeholders.

Emerald has the benefit of working with colleges and universities across our region to help them set and achieve sustainability goals. From Student Centers to Wellness Centers, Business Schools and classroom buildings, (and more building types! check out our portfolio), we see administrators and faculty working hard to meet student goals. One example is Cuyahoga Community College, Ohio's oldest and largest community college, which also ranks #25 in the nation by way of number of conferred associates degrees.

"Cuyahoga Community College is committed to building and operating healthy environments for learning and work, and we adopted the USGBC LEED system to ensure all new construction supports these goals. Dedication to the environment is woven into our fabric at Tri-C, and the College strives to be a leader in green design and development to protect natural resources and set an example for the community," said David November, Sustainability Manager.

Sustainable certifications can help qualify a university as being sustainable, with the ability to earn credits resulting in potential tax breaks and grants, depending on its organizational structure and location. Some benefits of using sustainable certifications to guide ongoing operations as well as new construction and major renovation include:

Impact on Environmental Factors

  • Pollution reduction occurs when we ensure easy access to public transportation, student parking, ample bike racks, and access to bike share programs.
  • An efficient rainwater management system reduces groundwater contamination and lowers the risk of flooding and soil erosion.
  • Protecting sensitive habitats during construction can help guard wildlife and natural water bodies.
  • Recycling stations, water bottle filling stations and composting stations help reduce and reuse waste, campus wide.

Impact on Student Wellness

  • Providing ample green space creates an environment that helps students de-stress.
  • Banning tobacco use campus wide provides better air quality and improved health benefits.
  • Offering free health amenities such as gyms, yoga classes, and flu shot clinics improve both fitness and mental health.
  • Providing healthy food options in the dining halls, vending machines and access to nearby farmers markets allows students to make better choices to improve their diets.

Impact on Operating Costs

  • Reduce water expense by implementing monitoring systems that manage indoor and outdoor water usage and installing low flush toilets, sinks, and shower heads.
  • Convert to LED lighting and monitoring energy usage along with regular energy audits to help control costs and help make us aware of needed improvements.
  • Reduce the introduction of outside contaminants with regular pest control, a system to manage entryway pollutants and the monitoring of indoor air quality.

Impact on Attracting New Students

  • Ensuring buildings have plenty of windows to allow for daylight, classrooms with outdoor views and a student-friendly walkable campus creates a healthy campus experience.
  • Routine surveys to the students about their campus living and education experience, along with communicating changes being implemented due to their suggestions helps students be an active part of the improvement process.
  • Cleaning and sanitization consistency within all buildings, dorms, surfaces, and bathrooms along with green cleaning product usage provides students with confidence of cleanliness.

Sustainability is the Future

According to one study, ”a staggering 94 percent of student respondents want to see their [college and] universities do more (for sustainability), while only two percent believe they don’t need to do more, and four percent are unsure. This mixed report card suggests that while prospective international students believe that universities care about the environment and exhibit environmentally friendly behaviors, they can still do more.”

Emerald developed a free survey tool to help you assess how you are performing in regards to sustainability on campus. Learn how you measure up by clicking below. 

Take the University Sustainability Survey

Learn About Our   #365DaysofSustainability  Initiative for 2021

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