BY: Virginia Osella, Nicole Cummings, Coleman Clark, Jacklyn Faraci
Despite the University of Mary Washington’s small size, the school’s recent construction projects have demonstrated a commitment to increase sustainability, remaining competitive with larger Virginia. schools.
Behind the numerous construction projects on the UMW campus is an administration focused on increasing sustainability and remaining competitive with other Virginia schools.
According to the 2010 College Sustainability Report Card, the UMW received a B-, the same grade given to the University of Virginia. Virginia Tech and the College of William & Mary received a B.
The report is an initiative of the Sustainable Endowments Institute in Cambridge, Mass. Founded in 2005. This nonprofit organization is involved with advancing sustainability on college campuses. The report is based on a survey sent to schools across the nation. Colleges receive their letter grade based on responses to questions in nine categories, such as food and recycling, administration involvement and “green” building.
Despite fewer students and less funding, UMW sizes up to much larger Virginia colleges with regard to sustainability efforts. For example, both Virginia Tech and UMW received a B in the category of food and recycling, though VT’s budget was $12.8 million and UMW’s was $1.85 million.
Senior Tori Wong, co-chair of the President’s Council on Sustainability (PCS), has done research on other schools’ sustainability plans.
“I think we’re pretty comparable to other schools,” Wong said. “Granted we’re a lot smaller and we have a lot fewer resources than other schools, but the things that we’re doing measure up pretty well, and we just find that there’s not as much publicity for the things that we do.”
Formed in December 2009, PCS consists of 22 members from faculty, staff and students.
According to its website, “The PCS is charged with the creation of a five-year plan and making recommendations on sustainability issues and policy, developing strategies for implementation of sustainability initiatives, and providing a cohesive public face for UMW sustainability efforts.”
Joni Wilson, UMW director of landscape and grounds, is one of three chairs for PCS. Wilson has stayed involved in campus construction, renovation and sustainability projects for 24 years and started the Recycling Club in 1991.
Wilson has a positive view of the university’s commitment to sustainability. She cited the partnership with the energy service company NORESCO, which works with organizations to reduce energy costs.
UMW invested $8.5 million in 2006 to upgrade its lighting and water fixtures, including low-flow toilets and showerheads, motion sensor lights in some classrooms, natural gas pipe insulation and new monitoring systems for controlling peak energy uses of air conditioning systems.
Darryl Sullivan, director of utilities management said, “It cut our bills in half.”
Another project with NORESCO, implemented through residence life, targeted behaviors, such as turning off lights and taking shorter showers. “We were the first university in the country to do that, with energy conservation through behavior modification,” said Wilson.
According to Wilson, 94 percent of all materials removed from the Mason and Randolph construction site are being recycled. They will be the first two LEED-certified buildings on the UMW Fredericksburg campus. LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a globally recognized green building certification system. Wilson said that in July 2010, the university committed to meeting all requirements for LEED Silver certification for new building projects.
LEED provides “a concise framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions,” according to the U.S. Green Building Council website. Construction projects are evaluated and awarded points to determine their level of LEED certification. There are four levels of certification: Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum.
According to Michael Spencer, assistant professor of historic preservation, LEED “puts everyone on the same playing field.”
However, he stated that the certification is not perfect, because it is building industry-driven.
One of the issues with LEED is that some clients seek certification because it is good for marketing, not because they are sincerely invested in environmentalism.
“It’s kind of a branding that they use,” Spencer said.
Spencer commented on inconsistencies in the point system as well.
According to the LEED checklist, companies can get the same amount of points for installing a bike rack as they can for maintaining existing walls, floors, or roofs. However, Spencer recognized the advantages of LEED, as well.
“If you have to build new, I would definitely recommend doing LEED. It does promote sustainability and it is green and it is friendly,” Spencer said.
Andrea Smith, professor of historic preservation, is passionate about looking at sustainability within the big picture.
“Green ethos has to permeate throughout the system, not just the buildings. It should be within every level of the school,” Smith said.
Wilson hopes to increase student engagement through internships.
There are two positions with Recyclemania, an annual intercollegiate recycling contest. The most recent internship opportunity, so far unfilled, is working with George Farrar, director of communications, writing press releases on sustainability.
The PCS is also considering community outreach internships to help local schools recycle.
The 2011 College Sustainability Report Card, published online in fall 2010, shows that Virginia colleges and universities are making progress. Virginia Tech and William & Mary received a grade of B+, and UVA received a B.
UMW statistics were unavailable for 2011, but Wong said that the school has improved since the last survey.
“Without saying that we are the most sustainable school that exists, I think that we’re working on it and it’s getting to the point where it’s going to be a priority,” she said.