George Washington University Signs Sustainability Pledge

Steven Knapp and DC Mayor VIncent Gray sit together as Knapp signs sustainability pledge
President Steven Knapp signs D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray's College and University Sustainability Pledge.
February 29, 2012

President Steven Knapp, along with eight other D.C. university presidents, signed a pledge Wednesday to reduce energy use and promote greener college campuses.

The pledge, which is a partnership between the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area and the District of Columbia to advance sustainability, is the first of its kind in the nation.

“The commitment made by our universities today demonstrates their dedication to making the District the most sustainable city in the country,” said Mayor Vincent Gray, B.A. ’64. “This is an exercise in saving the planet.”

The pledge signing was held at American University’s School of International Service, a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold-certified building. As part of the pledge, GW, AU, Corcoran College of Art and Design, the Catholic University of America, Gallaudet University, Georgetown University, Howard University, Trinity Washington University and the University of the District of Columbia will each select its own commitments and goals for sustainability. These commitments are required to be implemented by the end of the year.

“In signing this pledge with the other universities, the George Washington University is reaffirming its commitment to help the District of Columbia become one of the greenest cities in the nation,” said Dr. Knapp, who is also a member of the mayor’s Sustainable D.C. Green Ribbon Committee. “George Washington will fulfill its pledge by completing 20 projects, including continuing to build LEED-certified buildings, expanding our urban vegetable gardens, reducing energy use in buildings and offering a new sustainability minor for undergraduate students this fall.”

GW has made several commitments around improving its buildings’ energy efficiency including reducing its energy use in buildings by 35 percent per square foot compared with a 2008 baseline and purchasing or generating at least 10 percent of total energy consumed from renewable sources. GW is already home to three LEED-certified buildings and one of the largest solar thermal installations, which provides hot water to three residence halls. South Hall was the first university campus building in the District to earn LEED gold certification. The university plans to obtain LEED silver certification or equivalent status in all new construction and major renovations.

Last week, the university launched a new undergraduate sustainability minor. As part of this new initiative, the university will be awarding four grants to faculty this spring to develop green leaf courses related to sustainability. At least 2 percent of the total courses offered at GW will be sustainability focused. The university already offers over 100 green leaf courses.

Meghan Chapple-Brown, director of GW's Office of Sustainability, said GW will be one of only a handful of schools – and the only one in the District – that offer an undergraduate minor in sustainability.

“The new sustainability minor reflects GW's commitment to bringing sustainability into our core mission – education – in addition to what we are doing outside of the classroom on our campus,” she said.

In 2010, GW unveiled its Climate Action Plan with goals to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2025 and reach carbon neutrality by 2040. Sixty percent of the GW community uses low carbon commuting options.

Last year, the university unveiled its GWater Plan to reduce its direct expenditures on bottled water by 50 percent by 2016 and expand bottle-filling stations around campus. As part of the pledge signed Wednesday, GW plans to reduce its potable water use by 25 percent through plumbing enhancements.

Other commitments include reducing solid waste by 30 percent through increased recycling, purchasing at least 15 percent of total food and beverages from sustainable sources and expanding its two urban vegetable gardens that provide fresh food to Miriam’s Kitchen, a nonprofit organization in Foggy Bottom that provides nutritious meals, case management and art therapy to the homeless.

In addition to supporting research in sustainability and providing sustainability-related service projects, GW plans to continue to host a variety of sustainability events. On April 17, the university will host a symposium titled GW Moving the Planet Forward: Turning Innovation into Action. GW faculty and staff as well as leaders in government, industry and nongovernmental organizations will discuss innovative approaches to energy and sustainability. And on Earth Day this year, the university will announce plans to enhance ecosystems touched by its footprint.

The District of Columbia Mayor’s College and University Sustainability Pledge aims to make D.C. the “greenest college town in America” by Dec. 31. Last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recognized Washington, D.C. as the leading EPA Green Power Community. The District, including government, businesses, institutions and residents, purchase enough green power to meet 8 percent of the community’s total electricity use. The nation’s capital has also been recognized by the U.S. Green Building Council as the leading city per capita in LEED-certified commercial and institutional green buildings in 2011.

“We seek to help the District to build upon this record and maintain its top green rankings while at the same time advancing our individual commitments and strengthening environmentally sustainable practices on our campuses,” said Georgetown University President John DeGioia, president of the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area. “We are proud to be supporting the mayor’s ambitious goal of making Washington, D.C. the most sustainable city in America.”

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