AU Sustainability Tour & Brainstorm

2012 EEN Forum

Tour led by Chris O’Brien

The steps that AU has undertaken to green the campus and incorporate the idea of sustainability. To improve stormwater quality through permeable paving, landscaping and rain gardens. The rain gardens slow the stormwater peak discharge and goes to inlets with Bay Savers in the inlet to further improve water quality. Moving towards an all organic landscaping maintenance and away from chemical pesticides. AU is enrolled in the LEED Volume program that is a self-certification program with audits. They are also working with LEED Multiple Building to certify the entire campus as LEED certified. In 2008, the AU president signed the Presidential College Commitment for Climate Change, which is a higher education sector baseline assessment. Part of the commitment included forming and publishing a climate action plan. AU has committed to be carbon neutral by 2020.

AU has a 1 megawatt solar capacity installed with PV on multiple roofs to move towards that goal. They are also seeking methods to reduce emissions or offset them. AU is working with the City of DC and other schools to advance ideas of sustainability and lowering environmental impacts. There is a “cooper-tion” among the members where it is a collaboration about lessons learned but also a competition to continue to push each party to be “greener” and continue to innovate. Also have outreach programs with students and the public to educate and to effect behavioral changes in ways that could impact the environment and climate change. He would like to see higher education as a model for sustainability that can be spread through the surrounding communities and other sectors.


Green Products Roundtable: Higher Education Pilot
Led by Chris O’Brien

Discussion surrounding “STARS,” a sustainability assessment tool that involves a self-reporting system that the various schools ascribe to in order to report their sustainability ratings and efforts. Another part of the efforts at AU is a group known as the “Green Products Roundtable” that Chris is very involved in, that seeks to provide some clarity regarding standards and ratings. The Green Products Roundtable is considering creating another group that will help large academic institutions in their decision-making processes surrounding sustainable practices and purchases. Attempting to create the “LEED” for purchasing by using STARS to determine a standard for purchasing in higher end education. But is it okay to have a program that is totally reliant on self-declarations? Or is it less credible especially when parents and students rely on the reports of the schools themselves? There has been negative feedback to possibly involving third party raters. An audience member suggested submitting verifiable documents to the public as an interim step.

Currently, everyone reports based on a fixed base-line year in order to receive credits, however, should universities be able to pick their own baseline years, or should the goal be “absolute reduction” meaning that all universities would have to ascribe to the same baseline year? Or, should the question be surround a reduction of energy use per square foot? The audience engaged with these questions, responding that each base line or fixed measurement process would have its flaws, but that one member believed there should be a fixed baseline for all universities in order to make sure that universities aren’t disadvantaged. When universities are able to choose their own baseline, there can be a lot of “gaming” between universities.

Hope that overtime, the self-reported numbers will become a self-assessment and a public claim to be used by students and parents as well as by the institutions themselves. An audience member questioned the process of reporting ratings to the public and clarifying the results and data collected from self-assessment. Chris clarified that STARS, there doesn’t seem to be a negative “ranking” aspect to the “rating” process of the program. As a result, universities are still reporting their results despite having low scores.

Another audience member brought up the fact that there is not information regarding the quality of a process or its outcomes, and that is the important value of the STARS program in order to drive higher education and evaluation. Relating “greenness” to outcomes may be an interesting way to generate and encourage higher education. Chris highlighted that the ratings are a mix between performance vs. outcome. The audience member suggested that the STARS program can acknowledge “absolute change per student graduated” in order to focus on outcome.

Discussion revolving around the ratings system as a reward system or a penalty system in terms of motivating change. While some people favor the “change process,” others prefer a different ranking or ratings system. One audience member suggested presenting data through “property types” that show comparisons of ratings between various buildings and properties (i.e. dorms), or through campus engagement projects that involve a “bundle” of activities on campus that will “sell to customers” as well as “stuff that will achieve the sustainability goals of your university.”

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