In honor of Earth Day, the George Washington University unveiled a new plan Friday to enhance ecosystems touched by its footprint.
The Ecosystem Plan includes goals to increase natural space, create urban gardens on campus and increase its recycling rate to 50 percent.
“Few institutions across the country have taken an honest look at their interaction with the system of plants, animals, soil and water that provide us with air to breathe, food to eat and places to enjoy,” said Meghan Chapple-Brown, director of GW’s Office of Sustainability. “GW is taking an ambitious step. By outlining its dependence on ecosystems, we hope to model for universities and other institutions that it is possible to be a healthy part of local and global ecosystems.”
As part of the Ecosystem Plan, GW committed to enhancing the biological richness of its campuses and sourcing products that reduce the impact on the climate, biodiversity and water. GW will also increase food sustainability by working with on-campus vendors to promote green practices and to increase the transparency of food sources.
“We want to become the chief model for urban sustainability in the city,” said George Washington President Steven Knapp during remarks at GW’s Earth Day fair Friday. “We want to practice what we teach and teach what we practice.”
GW also plans to reduce litter on campus by increasing recycling to 50 percent by 2017 and connect students to service projects in local natural areas including Rock Creek Park, the Anacostia Watershed and the Potomac River.
“We want to help students, faculty and staff understand that when they come to GW, they’re not signing up for a less sustainable lifestyle because they’re in a city,” said Ms. Chapple-Brown. “But in fact they’re signing up for a more sustainable lifestyle because of the resources we have in the city to use things more efficiently but also to connect to the natural areas around us.”
For the second year in a row, GW was named to this year’s Princeton Review’s Guide to 322 Green Colleges. This year, GW received a rating of 92 out of a possible 99 points. Universities with scores of 83 or higher are named to the Princeton Review’s Guide.
The Ecosystem Plan builds on both GW’s Climate Action Plan and its GWater Plan. The Climate Action Plan was released in 2010 with goals to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2025 and reach carbon neutrality by 2040. Unveiled last year, the GWater Plan aims to reduce the university’s direct expenditures on bottled water by 50 percent by 2016.
Suzanne Ozment, an associate for the business and ecosystem services project at the World Resources Institute, thanked GW for creating its Ecosystems Plan.
“People everywhere depend on nature for ecosystem services such as food and fresh water,” said Ms. Ozment. “Ecosystems also provide less obvious services such as pollination and protection from storms. These and other benefits of nature’s ecosystems have supported the extraordinary growth and progress of the human population. Since many ecosystem services are in a state of decline, we commend GW for attempting to address their dependence and impact on ecosystems."
Earlier this month, the GW Grounds Team released over 12,000 ladybugs and 400 praying mantises on GW’s Foggy Bottom Campus to control mosquitoes and other pests. And as part of the Earth Day festivities, the Grounds Team and student volunteers assisted GW senior Heidi Wolff in replacing existing plants on campus with native flowering plants to bolster pollinators.
During the Earth Day fair, Lisa Benton-Short, associate professor of geography, encouraged GW students to sign up for the university’s new sustainability minor. The 18-credit undergraduate minor, which will not be housed in one particular school but rather overseen by the Office of the Provost, will offer courses in all of the university’s schools and colleges.
“I think it’s an incredible opportunity for every GW student whether you’re an engineer, whether you’re in the School of Public Health and Health Services, whether you’re an anthropologist, a biologist or a geographer or a religion major, philosophy major, there is an opportunity for you with our sustainability minor to really complement everything you’re doing at GW and learn how sustainability can make interesting connections to what you do with the rest of your life,” said Dr. Benton-Short. “This is a tremendous moment of transformation at GW.”