The 'Elements' of a Healthy Campus

Across the country, college and university administrators are devising innovative programs to help protect our most valuable asset — our planet. Here, we take a look at programs on three campuses.

A visitor to Kenmore, WA-based Bastyr University will find compost bins placed throughout the campus and student housing areas. “Students, staff, and visitors are encouraged to deposit food, paper products that have been contaminated with food, and small scraps of paper into the bins, which are lined with compostable liners,” said Daniel Clark, director of Facilities and Safety. The post-consumer waste is collected from the bins by Cedar Grove, a company that transforms grass, leaves, yard clippings, and food waste into a rich compost that is sold commercially. This program reduces the University’s landfill waste tonnage significantly.

Separate bins are kept to create compost for use on campus. Two worm composting, or vermicomposting, bins are primarily used for food scraps, and two three-bin composting systems break down trimmings and other vegetation waste in a cold composting three-stage system. “We even encourage those who do not have worm compost bins at home to bring their food waste with them to put in our bins,” said Jenny Perez, garden manager for the University and a former Bastyr student. A primary goal is to reuse all the kitchen food waste from the garden materials, such as peelings, stems, and stalks. Even the disposable “plastic” plates and cups used in the cafeteria are recycled, since they are actually derived from cornstarch.

The composting circle is completed when the herbs and vegetables grown in the gardens are used as ingredients in the food prepared by the cafeteria. The University boasts nearly a quarter acre of medicinal and food gardens. “We have about 40 produce-generating, raised beds that are certified organic,” said Perez. The vegetables are used in the cafeteria, in cooking classes, and in affordable community sales, which are open to the public.

The University is not only reaping financial benefits from growing its own food, but also giving back to the community. Produce is donated to a food bank via Hopelink in Kirkland, WA. “Nutrition students are in charge of the Giving Garden, selecting which crops to grow and donate. Last year, we donated more than 500 pounds of produce,” said Perez.

St. Paul, MN-based Macalester College is an old hand at sustainability projects, having started experimenting with them in the 1960s. Two-and-a-half years ago, however, administrators increased their efforts, opening a Sustainability Office and committing to a Sustainability Plan that includes becoming carbon neutral by 2025 and zero waste by 2020. To date, the College has saved more than $1M by implementing sustainability projects.

One such project is their wind turbine. “This was the first wind turbine in the city of St. Paul,” said Suzanne Savanick Hansen, sustainability manager at the College. “And one of the first turbines on a college campus in the United States.” In 2003, Xcel Energy donated the nearly $35,000 necessary to cover the costs of manufacturing the wind turbine for the College. The 2003 senior class gift paid for the $16,000 installation.

A well-maintained wind turbine can last 20 to 30 years, offsetting up to 1.2 tons of air pollutants and 250 tons of greenhouse gases in that time period. Maintenance for the turbine includes annual oil changes and semi-annual greasing. A 2009 lightning strike provided an unforeseen maintenance expense for the College, requiring the inverter box to be replaced.

The 10-kW BWC Excel wind turbine is mounted next to and provides some electricity for the Olin-Rice Hall science center, which is the heaviest user of electricity on campus. As wind turns the rotor, a shaft is spun, which is connected to the building’s electrical system, running the electric meter backwards. “The building uses too much energy for the turbine to cover all the usage,” said Savanick Hansen. “The size of our turbine is actually more appropriate for a residential building; it provides about 50 percent of the energy that would be used in an eco house.”

Yearly compiled turbine data from 2003-2009 is available at

At Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, CA., conservation is the name of the game. University administrators have committed to reducing the use of potable water on campus and increasing the use of reclaimed water.

“The water goes through a three-stage treatment process, which is why it is defined as ‘reclaimed’ water versus ‘recycled’ water,” said Christopher Dinno, senior director of Facilities Management/Capital Planning, Design and Construction at the University. Administrators have partnered with the city of Santa Rosa to use reclaimed water in all the campus’s fire suppression and landscaping systems. Fifty percent of the water used on the campus is reclaimed water, reducing the campus’s use of groundwater by 50 percent.

To aid in reducing water use, waterless urinals and low-flow toilets, faucets, and showerheads have been installed in all six Student Housing Villages. Two-stage indirect/direct evaporative cooling IDEC HVAC systems have been installed in three campus buildings to reduce the plant thermal energy storage cooling tower water loads. And, a “Dolphin” filtration system was installed on the chilled water loop side, increasing the cycles in the chilled water loop. The filtration system allows the water to be used more efficiently, with less recharge of the chilled water loop.

Students are involved in the conservation effort as well. They are asked to take shorter showers, turn the water off while shaving and brushing their teeth, and not run the dishwasher or washing machine until they have a full load. The University gives students tips for saving water, such as filling a pot or the kitchen sink with water to wash fruits and vegetables, instead of rinsing the produce under a running stream from the faucet. “All students on campus receive a brochure developed by Facilities Management that combines information on water conservation with other energy and natural resource conservation efforts,” said Dinno.

University administrators have big plans for the future, too. “We plan to expand the program of replacing existing plumbing fixtures with low-flow fixtures,” said Dinno. “We are also continuously improving the irrigations systems to reduce the use of the reclaimed water. After all, even reclaimed water should be conserved.”

Danielle Przyborowski is a Dayton, OH-based freelance writer with experience in educational and architectural topics.

About the Author

Danielle Przyborowski is a Dayton, Ohio-based freelance writer with experience in educational and architectural topics.

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