The Sustainable Campus (Trends and Innovations)

Sustainable Grounds

Villanova University is located in the suburbs of Philadelphia, surrounded by picturesque neighborhoods and quaint downtowns. Although Villanova does not have vast open space or pristine native forests, we do have a dedicated grounds crew that is committed to sustainable management of the campus.

Operating under integrative pest management protocols, the campus is filled with native and adaptive species that are maintained with minimal chemical use. In recent years, Villanova has been recognized as a Bee Protective Campus for our commitment to not using neonicotinoids on campus. Neonicotinoids have been linked to bee population decline, which harms the larger ecosystem. In addition to not using neonicotinoids, the Grounds Department has continued to expand the use of pollinator-attractive plants to support bee populations.

A Growing Connection

One of Villanova’s sustainability goals is to foster greater connection to the environment within our campus community. Villanova students spend four years on campus, and we want them to feel that they are part of the natural world. To build that link, we offer campus tree tours several times during the academic year and once in the summer for Reunion weekend. All are invited to join on the campus tour, and we get a mix of students, faculty and staff who come out for the 90-minute tour. For our alumni, the tour is a great way for them to connect with the campus and the memories they have of the trees that have been here since they were students.

The tour includes a full narration on tree species, history and care.

These efforts have allowed Villanova to be recognized as a Tree Campus USA. Tree Campus USA is a program of the Arbor Day Foundation that helps colleges and universities around the country establish and sustain healthy community forests.

“Villanova is only one of 15 universities in Pennsylvania with this designation. Tree Campus USA has given us an avenue to show our community, visitors and neighbors that we are committed to caring for, protecting and preserving the trees of Villanova, reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and continuing to grow a healthy outdoor classroom for our students,” says Jared Rudy, superintendent of Grounds for the university.

Sustaining Infrastructure

In addition to tree and plant care, Villanova has installed more than two dozen green stormwater infrastructure solutions, an effort started by the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department to use the campus as a living lab. A partnership has been built between the Civil and Environmental Engineering faculty and students and the Facilities Management office, and while some of the first attempts at porous pavements had some challenges, the partnership has resulted in more than two dozen green stormwater sites on campus. These sites include more than a dozen rain gardens, a green roof, a treatment train, an infiltration trench, porous pavements and a constructed wetlands that captures 41 acres of runoff.

Many of these sites are equipped with testing equipment that allows students in the Civil and Environmental Engineering program to study the success of a site’s performance. The stormwater infrastructure has proved its effectiveness for water quality and quantity management.

Villanova exceeds the regulatory requirements where possible in order to plan for the future, as Philadelphia is projected to receive more rain annually, with higher-intensity storms.

Rob Traver, Ph.D., director of the Villanova Urban Stormwater Partnership, sees this work as “the use of the campus as a living laboratory supporting both our undergraduate and graduate education programs, and has been instrumental in our becoming a national leader in research.”

Looking Ahead

Considerations for the future and the partnership with the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department led to the decision to incorporate new stormwater management infrastructure in a new residence hall construction project. Once complete, the site will capture approximately the first two inches of rainfall on site.

Stormwater solutions include rain gardens, bio swales, infiltration systems and cisterns to hold stormwater for HVAC makeup water. The site for the new residence halls is being monitored for changes in performance before, during and after construction, and students are scheduled to move in by the start of the fall 2019 semester.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2017 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Author

Liesel Schwarz serves as sustainability manager for Villanova University. She can be contacted via email at

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