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Last modified: Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Sustainability an 'operational and academic imperative' at IU Bloomington

May 21, 2013

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- National awards and progress in meeting internal metrics highlight the remarkable success Indiana University Bloomington has achieved in creating a more sustainable campus.

Five years after a campus report called for IU Bloomington to become a national leader in environmental sustainability, the effort is well on track. Hundreds of students, faculty and staff are engaged in more than 20 initiatives involving energy conservation, waste reduction, environmental studies and other aspects of sustainability practice and education.

"We are seeing tremendous results from establishing sustainability as an operational and academic imperative through the Office of Sustainability," said Provost Lauren Robel. "Not only have we had immense success in environmental stewardship, resource management and emissions reduction, but we are also advancing a new Integrated Program in the Environment that will tie together sustainability-focused courses and experiences in several disciplines.

"Our success in all of these areas is due to an extraordinary level of faculty, staff and student engagement across campus," she added. "Sustainability is clearly an issue of great importance to the entire IU Bloomington community."

Recent highlights include, on the academic side, the creation of an Integrated Program in the Environment that brings together faculty and students with interests in environmental science and sustainability from the College of Arts and Sciences, School of Public and Environmental Affairs and School of Public Health; and, on the operations side, adoption of an Integrated Energy Master Plan with detailed guidelines for reducing energy use and cutting carbon emissions.

In recent weeks:

  • IU Bloomington was named a Tree Campus USA by the Arbor Day Foundation for the fifth year in a row. The designation honors colleges and universities for practicing effective forest management and for engaging staff and students in conservation goals. In related news, IU Professor Burney Fischer received the foundation's Frederick Law Olmsted Award for his work in community and urban forestry, including the Tree Campus USA program.
  • The Princeton Review selected the campus for inclusion in the third edition of "The Princeton Review's Guide to 322 Green Colleges." This is the second year IU Bloomington has been included. It received a score of 95 out of a possible 99 points.
  • IU's Cyberinfrastructure Building was awarded gold certification under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program, or LEED. It is the campus's first gold LEED building.
  • For the second straight year, IU Bloomington ranked in the top five for water conservation in the Campus Conservation Nationals, a competition among 120 colleges and universities to save energy and water.
  • Greenhouse gas emissions from campus-owned sources were reduced by 43 percent last year and have now been cut by more than half in the past two years. The reduction came primarily from shifting from coal to natural gas at the Central Heating Plant.
  • The Student Sustainability Council, which includes 24 student organizations, held its first Leadership Summit last month. The council also announced its first project funded from student donations, a pilot demonstration of energy-saving controls and lighting in Ballantine Hall.
  • This year saw a record number of applications for the Sustainability Course Development Fellowships and Sustainability Research Development Grants programs.
  • A Community of Practice, a gathering of faculty to foster excellence in the teaching of sustainability, convened recently as a collaboration among the Integrated Program in the Environment, the Center for Teaching and Learning, and the IU Office of Sustainability

IU Bloomington established an Office of Sustainability in 2009. With just two full-time employees, it leverages campus resources through student internships, voluntary involvement of faculty and staff experts, and close relationships with campus organizations and services.

Dunn Woods

Photo by Chris Meyer

Dunn's Woods

Print-Quality Photo

Bill Brown, director of sustainability, said two factors make IU Bloomington stand out among colleges and universities with sustainability programs. One is in the scope and power of the sustainability internship program, in which dozens of student interns design and lead major projects each year in concert with faculty and staff mentors in collaboration with academic and operations stakeholders.

The other is the fact that the office reports both to Robel, the chief academic officer of the campus, and to Tom Morrison, IU vice president for capital planning and facilities -- which helps make sustainability a topic that links the academic and operations sides of the campus.

"The concept of using the campus as a learning lab has really become a reality," Brown said. "We're seeing it with research and with teaching."

Brown and Assistant Director of Sustainability Emilie Rex said the office serves as a catalyst for making things happen, often acting through partnerships with entities such as Residential Programs and Services, the Indiana Memorial Union, IU Health Center and IU Athletics.

In addition to academic initiatives, sustainability activities are organized around a half-dozen topics -- buildings and energy, computing, environmental quality, food, resource use and transportation -- which bring together working groups that, in total, include more than 200 faculty, staff and students.

Forty "green teams" have taken ownership of sustainability measures in departments, museums, offices and auxiliary organizations. Some, such as the IU Foundation green team, which recently received the campus's highest level of green team certification, pre-date the establishment of the IU Office of Sustainability.

Meanwhile, intern projects evolve to serve larger purposes. IU Bloomington recently had its fifth and final E-Waste Collection Days because local government organizations have now stepped up to provide ongoing collection and recycling of electronic waste. The IU Energy Challenge, begun as a competition between residence halls, has created a focus on using data on energy and water usage to encourage more responsible and less wasteful behavior across campus.

For detailed information about sustainability at IU Bloomington, see the recently reorganized IU Office of Sustainability website.