IU campuses working to achieve university-wide sustainability goals

Apr. 22, 2015

When it comes to choosing a college, most students look at the institution’s academic reputation, location and campus appearance.

But according to a survey by Aramark Higher Education, a college’s sustainability initiatives are a “very important” factor in students’ decisions about where to attend school 

“It’s something on the mind of the generations that are coming to the campus,” said Bill Brown, director of sustainability at IU.

For the past six years, IU has worked to make sustainability a priority, launching a number of initiatives and setting it as a core value in IU’s Bicentennial Strategic Plan. 

Student collects recycling at IU football game

Volunteer Anna Politiski makes her way through the stands of Memorial Stadium to collect recyclables during the EPA Game Day Challenge in fall 2014. | Photo By ERIC RUDD, IU COMMUNICATIONS

The IU Office of Sustainability was created on the Bloomington campus in 2009, following recommendations from the IU Task Force on Campus Sustainability -- the product of a grassroots effort by IU faculty, staff and students who advocated for a comprehensive institutional plan to address issues of environmental sustainability. 

Brown was hired as director of the office and, in 2012, the office moved into the E-House -- a restored, carbon-neutral building on East 10th Street in Bloomington that is solar powered and has geothermal heating and cooling system. The office raised the funding for the geothermal and PV systems and designed them as a demonstration project.

With more than 240 paid interns to date, the office has been the hub for a number of initiatives on the Bloomington campus including Greening Cream and Crimson, a recycling program at IU football games; the annual Hoosier to Hoosier Sale, which sells donated student move-out items that would otherwise end up in the landfill; IU Energy Challenge, the largest on-campus energy and water challenge in the country; and Crimson Cruisers, a bike-lending program on campus. 

Through the hiring of associate director Andrew Predmore in 2014, the office is also formally developing a Transitions Lab, which seeks to connect students and faculty with sustainability learning opportunities on campus and in the community.

“At every turn we are asking who else can we bring to the table, who else can get involved, how else does this benefit the students, how can students get involved in leading this effort,” Brown said.

In January 2015, Brown became university director of sustainability, responsible for coordinating sustainability efforts with all IU campuses. Brown said he would like to form stronger connections, allowing campuses to learn from one another about best practices.

“That’s my role, to look at those statewide opportunities and hopefully gather all of the folks from the state and regional campuses to see what we can learn from each other,” he said.

IUPUI supporting sustainability efforts in an urban landscape 

IU Bloomington is one of three IU campuses that have a formal office of sustainability. An office was created at IUPUI in 2011 under the direction of Colleen McCormick, who recently resigned. A search for a new director is ongoing.

For the past four years, the IUPUI office has focused on initiatives such as recycling and urban gardening, spreading awareness about sustainability issues and programs, and working closely with the community.

Pacers Bikeshare station

There are two Indiana Pacers Bikeshares stations on the IUPUI campus. | Photo By IUPUI

“We are unique in being in an urban environment,” said Deb Ferguson, assistant director of the IUPUI Office of Sustainability. “So we collaborate a lot with our Indianapolis community members to work toward the same initiatives. The Indianapolis Cultural Trail runs right through our campus, and we’ve been lucky that they’ve placed two Indiana Pacers Bikeshares on campus. So it’s important to collaborate with the community.”

Like Bloomington, IUPUI has been working to incorporate students into such initiatives. Each year, the Student Sustainability Council chooses a sustainability theme to push. The first revolved around bicycles and resulted in a bike maintenance program on campus. The second involved local food and resulted in campus gardens, a collaboration with IUPUI Food Services to host a monthly fresh produce market and The Campus Kitchen at IUPUI, the first of its kind in Indiana that helps feed the homeless.

This year’s theme is recycling. Single-stream recycling was rolled out two years ago on campus. Now the office, along with its interns and the Student Sustainability Council, will focus on continuing to build awareness about the program. 

The office also recently played an integral role in sustainability efforts during this year’s NCAA Final Four, serving on the NCAA Sustainability Committee. As part of the collaboration, the school joined a program that collects bottle caps, which are then turned into benches for area public schools.

In addition, the office is preparing to announce the campus’s first indoor, secure bicycle storage facility, which will be in the Hine Hall parking garage. The location will help provide more bike parking in a secure location, Ferguson said.

Moving forward, Ferguson said she is excited about continuing to expand both the office and sustainability efforts on campus. Having Brown serve as university director of sustainability coordinating the university sustainability effort will hopefully bring more opportunities, she said, and having sustainability in the university’s bicentennial plan should also help continue to push campus initiatives.

“I see a lot of good opportunity moving forward,” Ferguson said. “I definitely see more and more awareness and interest. I hope to continue our momentum to get our awareness out there and make connections with classes, projects and community members.”

Students work on sustainability class project

IU South Bend students work on a model for a new "Sustainability Showcase" area on camps for their urban gardening class. | Photo By IU South Bend

IU South Bend a community partner in sustainability efforts

IU South Bend created a Center for a Sustainable Future in 2008 and has developed a new sustainability curriculum, facilitated research in sustainability and developed sustainability action plans through civic engagement.

“I think one of the things that distinguishes our program is we really are focused on breaking down barriers between campus and community,” said Mike Keen, director of the center.

In 2011, IU South Bend developed a minor in sustainability. In 2014, it launched a graduate certificate in strategic sustainability leadership and developed a bachelor’s degree in sustainability studies.

In addition to expanding sustainability studies, the center has initiated a number of projects with campus students, employees and the community, including developing a sustainability fellows program for practitioners and professionals in the community and being part of community initiatives such as Unity Gardens, the Green Foundation and Green Bridge Growers. The center also hosts a number of workshops and an e-waste collection, which has helped divert more than 1.2 million pounds of electronic waste from landfills.

IU South Bend is also developing a plot of land next to its library that will serve as a sustainability living learning laboratory, or “sustainability showcase.” The idea, according to Keen, is to create a space that will help highlight sustainability efforts and new ideas. 

“Our idea is when somebody comes up with a new product, technology or process, we can showcase it here, and our students would be able to continue to do research to see what is possible with sustainability,” he said. 

Although other campuses do not have a formal office, Brown said faculty, staff and students on all campuses are working on sustainability initiatives. 

Moving forward 

Most recently, sustainability efforts have been further solidified by the IU Bicentennial Strategic Plan, which names sustainability as one of the core values of the university.

The plan calls for IU to:

  • Implement plans to solidify the university's focus on efficient and environmentally conscious campus design and operation by completing and implementing pedestrian, transportation and bicycle master plans on each campus.
  • Certify all new buildings with the LEED Green Building Certification, eliminating the minimum certification level to Gold.
  • Continue to explore and research a variety of energy and utility supply and delivery options that reflect changes in economies, demand and climate variables.
  • Achieve the goals for energy efficiency and emissions reductions called for in the campus master plan and the integrated energy master plan for IU Bloomington and expand that analysis to all campuses.
  • Continue emphasis on all campuses to improve traffic flow, making them more “pedestrian and bicycle friendly.”
  • Improve parking and alternative modes of transportation for students, faculty and staff.
  • Expand efforts to make all IU campuses more energy efficient and sustainable.

“This is big for us to have sustainability as part of the core values of the university,” Brown said.

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