It's not easy being green, but that's not stopping colleges that have promised to shrink their carbon footprints.
Efforts to go green are often linked to maximizing efficiency as budgets shrink. However -- recession or not -- schools haven't given up on investments in green technology and often build this sustainability-centered mindset into their course catalogues.
"Generally speaking, initiatives to drive energy costs down cut down on schools’ carbon footprint and address waste usage more than pay for sustainability departments and the programs," said Waste Management's Herb Sharpe.
Sharpe has been working with colleges and universities on their sustainability efforts for Waste Management. Sharpe said many universities aren't worried about their rate of investment. Their goal is to be a leader in being more sustainable on their campus.
So how do schools become greener? Sharpe said it's often lead by students pushing for more environment-friendly practices. Yet, they often need to implement changes in baby steps to slowly change student behavior to adapt sustainable practices on campus. Some schools have tried to push students by using competitions to see who can conserve the most on campus.
"Obviously waste cannot be eliminated completely, but you have to take a holistic look at practices across campus and determine where there is room for improvement," Sharpe said. "The most important factor in influencing diversion rates and improving sustainability statistics is student behavior, habits and attitudes."
Take a look at a few ways colleges are implementing sustainable practices:
Some schools, like Iowa State University, use solar-powered trash cans. They automatically compress the trash, then send an alert when it's time to empty them, increasing capacity and cutting down on how often a school's maintence crew needs to travel the campus to empty the cans. Photo Credit: CburnettCburnett
The University of Minnesota, considered one of the greenest schools in the country, generates some of its energy from burning oat hulls as biofuel. Green Mountain College harnesses biogas from manure for energy. The University of California, San Diego campus has a cogeneration plant which provides 85 percent of the school's electricity. Dickinson College in Pennsylvania has a biodiesel plant, and central energy boilers were recently converted to burn waste vegetable oil. Photo of the UM campus, Credit: Ben Franske
Tufts University went completely trayless at its dining centers after a successful pilot program in the spring of 2010. The school said food waste was reduced by 30 percent, and electricity use was reduced by 17.5 percent. Tufts isn't the only school though. The University of Conneticut, Texas A&M, Illinois State and Murray State University are just a few other examples. When tackling food waste, administrations typically implement a broad set of initiatives which address food use/waste in cafeterias, in lounges and dorms and at sporting events.
Waste Management has a large organics business and works with food providers at colleges and universities to cut food waste across campuses. WM says food that does get thrown out can be converted into various forms of energy. They've worked with Florida International University, Rutgers University, Arizona State University, the University of Arizona, Vanderbilt University, Spellman College, Georgia Tech and Duke University.
The University of Washington, rated as the Sierra Club's "Coolest" college, has instituted environmental concerns into its governing policies. They require themselves to maintain an extensive recycling program and ensure all appliances bought are Energy Star rated. Good notes In Vermont, Green Mountain College requires all students to take classes on the "natural world and healthy communities." Photo Credit: University of Washington - J.Smith