By John Everett, the Director of Physical Plant at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary
In early October 2018, I attended the annual conference of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).
The AASHE conference is the largest stage in North America to exchange effective models, policies, research, collaborations and transformative actions that advance sustainability in the higher education and surrounding communities.
This year, the event had over 2,000 participants from across the world, with most from institutions here in the US (including schools like Emory University, Boston University, University of Texas, Texas A&M, Arizona).
There were 379 classes over four days in 1 hr – 4 hr intervals. Below, I want to reflect on some of the classes I went to. First, however, I want to acknowledge that the conference sought to center and uphold the United Nation’s 17 Sustainability Development Goals:
* No poverty * Zero hunger * Good health and well-being * Quality education * Clean water and sanitation * Affordable and clean energy * Decent work and economic growth * Industry, innovation and infrastructure * Reduce inequalities * Sustainable cities and communities * Responsible consumption and production * Climate action * Life below water * Life on land * Peace, justice and strong institutions * Partnership for the goals
In terms of energy conservation (as schools are rising to meet the challenge of 100% renewable energy through wind and solar) there are many challenges and opportunities.
* Not enough space * Not enough money * No buy-in from stakeholders * Students want to “see” renewable energy * Administration not comfortable with long term deals (15-20 years) * Wind farm tax credits go away in 2020 * Utility regulations
* Reputational enhancement * Students are asking for this – Green energy/ carbon neutrality * Financial opportunities
There were also several resources that were talked about at the AASHE conferences. The first was a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). An institution can purchase power from wind farms or solar farms to reduce cost and carbon footprint and then can sell back energy to power companies for Renewable Energy Credits RECs. These contracts are lengthy and have long term deals (15-20 years) and should not be attempted without consulting counsel that specifically deals with renewable energy contracts. The second resource was looking at renewable energy usage on campus. Each school should check with your local power company to see where your energy is coming from (this information is typically on their website). For my institution, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Austin Energy is nearly 50% carbon emission free and 23% of power supplied to customers is from renewable energy. Wind power will cost us an additional $.04 per KWh on top of our regular rate of $.05 per KWh. I learned specifically from Texas Regional Alliance for Campus Sustainability, which is a coalition of higher education institutions from across Texas. They meet annually to discuss PPAs, renewable energy and best practices, and they have no issue with smaller schools and campuses riding their coattails while seeking more efficient and renewable source of energy.
I learned more about waste management from representatives from Emory University. They have 640 acres and have a 95% landfill diversion plan by 2025. They hired a waste auditor to go through their current trash and found that 67% was compostable, 20% was recyclable and 9% was landfill. They did not have to move the needle very far to get to their goal of only sending 5% to the landfill. However, in their process they created a “waste think tank,” came up with a strategy and action plan.
They then made their plan data driven and measurable. Throughout this work, they coordinated with a variety of stakeholders:
* Office of sustainability * Emory Recycles * Custodial staff * Students * Dining hall * Facilities, maintenance * Environmental Health and Services * Graphic design students to come up with slogans and campaign material
Their plan included putting waste stations throughout campus, about 100’ apart. Each station was universally color coded, including the bags:
* Blue for recycling * Green for compostable * Black for landfill
They also took away personal trash cans at each desk and forced everyone to use these waste collection centers. These collection centers cost big dollars but Emory had savings redirected from proper use of custodial staff. Biggest obstacle was behavioral change. The President started it all off with a video to show buy-in will start at the top.
Before implementation, Emory had over 150 presentations and “snack and learns”. Six weeks before there was a presentation hosted by the Dean and Directors. 12 A-frames were systematically moved around campus weekly. A month before implementation all signage was installed. The morning of the President sent out a final email to everyone kicking it off.
Finally, I learned more about Themed Living and Learning Communities from Boston University. BU housed 19 students in the “Earth House.” This house is set aside for 25 years as part of College of the Arts and Science along with the School of Global Studies. Students have to attend weekly meetings and give a seminar once a semester. “Earth House” is also used for field trips and have special guests to show what is possible. Projects by students living in the house have included
* Sustainability and growing options for food * Reducing electrical usage to compensate for peak demand time * Timing and logging shower time to reduce water consumption * Using bio-degradable straws and materials