It’s Easy Being Green

Universities Lead the Way

Stanford is one of many colleges changing to more energy efficient and environmentally-friendly buildings, programs, and amenities.

Stanford University is a school with a history of environmental awareness. But lately this awareness is translating into action, influencing the construction of academic buildings, dorms, and handling food waste. New faculty members are hired for such positions as sustainable foods coordinator. There are new environmental teaching programs and research underway. Students are even complaining about the lack of compostable serviceware in dining halls.

Here’s a few examples of how the school is embracing the green life:

  • The new Jerry Yang and Akiko Yamazaki Environment and Energy Building, nicknamed Y2E2, consumes 57 percent less energy than a traditional equivalent. It includes four atria providing natural light and a system monitoring indoor and outdoor air temperature, telling the windows to open and close to naturally cool the building.
  • Jonas Ketterle, a senior mechanical engineering major, is leading the development of a green dorm, which will serve as a lab for energy-conscious living. Researchers will collect data on the dorm’s environmental effects, and energy-consumption meters will allow each resident to track his or her usage.
  • The school’s Arbuckle and Cool cafés now offer compost bins, and the dorm eateries supervised by Stanford Dining Services will offer bins starting soon. Although there were problems in the past with diners sorting their trash, sustainable foods coordinator Erin Gaines thinks the problems can be resolved through proper education and labeling and by switching many of the items to compostables.
  • The university offers a number of incentive programs to encourage employees to use alternative transportation. For example, every day a staffer uses alternative transportation they can submit an entry for a bimonthly prize drawing. The programs appear to be working: The percentage of employees who drive to work has dropped from 72 percent in 2002 to 52 percent in 2007.
  • In 2004, the school launched the Initiative on the Environment and Sustainability with the central goal of promoting environmental sustainability and helping societies learn to meet their resource demands without undermining the ability of the planet to provide for future generations. The university has introduced a number of interdisciplinary environmental learning programs, including Earth Systems, an interdisciplinary graduate program in environment and resources.

Stanford is hardly alone as an environmentally ambitious school. To date, 486 colleges and universities have signed the fast-growing Presidents Climate Commitment to set climate neutral targets and integrate sustainability into their curriculums. Such indicators of environmental awareness and stewardship on college campuses are an encouraging sign, suggesting that up-and-coming generations will have the knowledge and understanding to tackle the climate-related problems we will face in the future.

This feature is the first in a new series from CAP recognizing those who are taking action to address climate change and help create a low-carbon economy.

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