GW Recognized for its Sustainability Efforts

President Steven Knapp and Meghan Chapple-Brown, director of GW's Office of Sustainability, at GW's 2012 Earth Day fair.
August 20, 2012

The Sierra Club recognized GW as one of the nation’s top environmentally-friendly universities as the campus implements a new minor and Ecosystems Plan.

Over the past year, the George Washington University launched a minor in sustainability, signed a sustainability pledge with other universities in the District and unveiled its plan to enhance ecosystems touched by its footprint.

The Sierra Club, an environmental nonprofit organization, ranks colleges and universities each year based on how environmentally friendly their campuses are and how much sustainability is incorporated into their mission. This year, GW placed 27 out of 96 schools, its highest ranking ever and the fifth consecutive year of increase, in the Sierra Club’s Coolest Schools rankings.

Meghan Chapple-Brown, director of GW’s Office of Sustainability, answered a few questions for George Washington Today about why GW’s recognition is on the rise and the sustainability efforts planned for this coming academic year.

Q: Why was GW recognized in this year's Sierra Club’s America’s Coolest Schools rankings?

A: GW continues to make progress on the university’s ambitious, yet practicable, sustainability goals related to climate change, water and ecosystems. The Office of Sustainability is working with partners across campus in student activities, facilities, information technology, campus services, procurement, investment and human resources to manage the university’s sustainability impact for the long term. GW has a goal of reducing its carbon footprint by 40 percent by 2025 and its water usage by 25 percent by 2021. The university also plans to become a zero-waste campus. It is possible that the rankings reflect GW’s ongoing accomplishments toward these goals.

One of GW’s most notable accomplishments for 2012 has been the launch of the sustainability minor with its first cohort of students starting in the program this fall. GW’s operations team is clearly focused on green buildings with five new LEED Gold certifications. The university has also made strides on energy efficiency and renewable energy this past year. The Building Energy Efficiency Program approved by the Innovation Task Force will help the university meet its Climate Action Plan goals by retrofitting equipment in campus buildings to be more energy efficient. The installation of solar thermal panels on three residence halls and the continuation of programs like the Eco-Challenge have contributed to improvements in GW’s sustainability performance.

Q: What sustainability efforts will GW focus on for the upcoming school year?

A: In the year ahead, incoming freshman are bound to become more engaged with sustainability given the opportunity to participate in the Eco-Challenge in residence halls for the fall, as well as enrolling in the sustainability minor. Class sessions for the primary course for the minor are already filled for the fall. The minor has uncovered opportunities for faculty to highlight existing courses and develop new courses and academic initiatives around sustainability. In addition, the GW Ecosystems Plan, which was announced on Earth Day this year, will dictate much of the work for the year ahead. As part of the comprehensive Ecosystems Plan, GW has committed to being a zero-waste campus in the long term, and the sustainability office will be working to lay the groundwork to implement that goal in the year ahead. The sustainability office also has a new partnership with the GW procurement office to explore GW’s paper procurement practices and will be offering a tool to help offices and academic programs make decisions about what type of paper to buy.

Q: Many undergraduate students will be taking Sustainability 1001 this fall as part of the new sustainability minor. Can you tell us a little bit about the course?

A: The required intro course for the undergraduate sustainability minor is listed as SUST 1001. Led by Professor Lisa Benton-Short, this course will be an innovative team-taught class with professors from five different schools. This course will introduce students to the goals, principles and practical applications of sustainability. In this course, we will examine the major environmental and social issues and trends happening in modern society from a multidisciplinary perspective. Topics will include the intellectual origins of sustainability, environmental law and regulation, pollution, water, climate, energy and public health. This course serves as the gateway course for the minor. The class is already full for the fall so we’re excited to see so much interest in the topic! It is open to all students regardless if they are minoring in sustainability.