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Green Machines

Green Machines
More and more universities are turning their campus colors green with sustainable efforts that please students and conference clients

According to the College Sustainability Report Card—an annual evaluation of campus environmental programs that was published by The Sustainable Endowments Institute from 2007-2011—there have been massive improvements in green efforts on academic grounds in the five years of its studies. The Report Card’s robust and active database finds that 79% of participating universities of the survey now have a green building policy while 95% have a sustainability committee and 70% cultivate a campus farm or garden. As more planners look to lessen their environmental impact, campuses and universities are also finding it’s easy being green—thanks to a little concept called supply and demand.

“We want to move towards meeting a green standard because it’s in such high demand from our student population, which is made up of an age profile that is deeply concerned with [environmental] issues,” says Dan Dykstra, associate director of housing and director of conference services at Georgia Tech, which hosts one of the world’s largest LEED certified university housing complexes. “My theory is that what is good for the students is great for our conference guests.”

Dykstra is able to sell his green-seeking planners such as Teach for America and CNN on the campus’ North Avenue complex, which was originally built for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. It includes a residence hall of 2,000 beds, dining hall, meeting space and full gym, all of which were recently overhauled and renovated to receive LEED Gold certification. Some of these initiatives include crafting menus around locally sourced ingredients that reduce carbon emissions and a trayless dining hall that saves 3,000 gallons of water daily during peak hours. As well, Dykstra and his team are able to facilitate vast recycling and waste management programs, and he points to his colleagues at nearby Emory for inspiring a winning formula—they employ a point-based incentive program that rewards each tier of green practices.

According to Dykstra, the new initiatives are a reaction to an evolving standard in green meetings, one that says campuses need to offer these services before they are asked. “The trend is definitely shifting from a few years ago when green was a really hot topic; now it’s pretty much an expectation,” he proclaims.

For Katrina Tu and Vivian Walker, meeting planners based in Vancouver, Canada, that is certainly true.

“Vancouver was recently named one of the world’s greenest cities, so our campuses have a huge commitment to sustainable practices,” says Walker, a planner with ACT - Autism Community Training  who in the past year has booked several events with Simon Fraser University’s downtown campus. “Even RFPs for catering lay out a university’s commitment to sustainability.”

Tu, who is with the Vancouver Economic Commission, sees an even greater responsibility for campuses to take the lead in steering green practices. “Most of our universities are really teaching the future to the corporate world in terms of sustainable practices; they are the innovators in that respect. To draw on their focus and goals on campus is really compatible with the values and mandate that the city of Vancouver upholds to being green.”

Planner Jennifer Bruss of Washington, New Jersey’s Standard Solutions—an educational consulting company—points to Villanova University near Philadelphia as another leader in environmentally conscious practices. “Their entire conference center is green; it’s amazing to see how well they utilize recycling services even in places like lavatories where they are saving towels and water,” she says, noting that her firm strongly believes in the mission. “We like our events to be green because our guests are conscious of it and having green meetings shows to them that we are responsible.”

Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington has even gone as far as to use goats to clear fields and brush so they can save on the emissions from lawn mowers. Yet as the Report Card shows, there is still more work to be done. The annual survey was suspended in 2012 as the Sustainable Endowments Institute focuses their effort and funding on a newly launched Billion Dollar Green Challenge, which leads the charge for large-scale overhauls on campuses. “We want to encourage colleges, universities and other institutions to invest in energy efficiency retrofits by transforming them from perceived expenses to high-return investment opportunities,” said Mark Orlowski, founder and executive director of the Institute, in a statement.

Dykstra couldn’t agree more, noting that more colleges and universities need to find unique ways to employ these standards, even if it means putting in the extra money to renovate their buildings. “Campuses have a unique opportunity to move green practices forward because we are responding to our students who demand this for their home environments—and in the end, meeting planners can benefit from that, too.”
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