November 21, 2008
Loyola has long been known for its high academic standards. But the College is equally concerned with ensuring that its students continue to learn well outside the classroom. Loyola’s Jesuit educational philosophy insists that the College create an environment that shapes leaders and thinkers for the next generation, not only through its curricula, but through events, services and the example set by College leadership. An enduring commitment to social justice has led to enumerable programs that engage students and make them keenly aware of issues facing their local and global communities. Now, Loyola is turning its attention to what is rapidly becoming a primary frontier of social change: the environment.
Environmental issues have posed growing concern for the past quarter-century, but Al Gore’s 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth brought all-new attention to what could easily be seen as a looming crisis. According to Helen Schneider, associate vice president for facilities and campus services, the green buzz has grown even faster in the world of academia as colleges and universities recognized the breadth of their consumption of natural resources, their capacity to generate waste and the unique position they were in as educators to make a difference. As the academic world started to “green” its image, Schneider and other Loyola administrators began to identify strategies that could offer a rare opportunity to teach students crucial lessons about sustainability while realizing cost savings for the College.
“As educational organizations, part of our responsibility is to educate our students and to set an example for being responsible for our impact on the Earth,” says Schneider.
Loyola’s foray into the green movement began quietly under Schneider’s leadership. As the parent of a young child and an avid hiker, she wanted to see the College’s consumption of non-renewable resources reduced, as well as campus waste. In conjunction with an enthusiastic student coalition, a recycling program began approximately four years ago. Since that time, the College’s environmental awareness initiatives have grown exponentially.
It seems that everywhere you turn today, someone is discussing the size of his carbon footprint. For a major academic institution with multiple campuses and large-scale facilities, that question becomes even more pressing.
So, when Loyola’s facilities department developed its current long-term master plan, Schneider wanted to look at ways Loyola could reduce its carbon footprint and lessen the College’s environmental impact. In addition to traditional architects, the College hired environmental consultants to highlight green initiatives the College could consider for implementation
“I really wanted to see us shape it as a community development plan—not just look at our campus, but consider how we relate to the neighborhoods around us and how we impact the environment in this area,” says Schneider.
One of the key outcomes of this planning approach can be seen in the current Intercollegiate Athletic Complex (IAC) project. Situated on the site of a former landfill, the IAC project has raised significant concerns in the community and poses an ideal opportunity for the College to demonstrate through example the power of sensitive environmental leadership. The existing cap on the landfill is degrading and water running through the site carries contaminates into the Jones Falls waterway. Loyola’s plans include stabilizing the landfill with a new cover, creating a storm water management system and adding bioswales to filter parking lot runoff before it enters the system.
“We’re developing the site, but many of the things we’re doing are improving it from what it would have been if we’d left it alone,” says Schneider.
Lessons learned from the IAC have begun to influence other building projects as well. “The athletic complex really got our attention about what kind of impact we could have on the environment, so when we went to construct the new residence hall, I challenged the architect and design team to do some things that would make it a green building and make sense economically,” says Schneider.
Opened in the fall of 2007, the East Residence Hall is Loyola’s first “green” building. Constructed of steel beams made of recycled scrap metal, the residence hall has a living, “green” roof that reduces heat absorption and storm water run off. The building is heated and cooled using a geothermal system, and water-saving, low-flow toilets reduce wastewater.
Creating a building that is sensitive to the environment will reduce the College’s consumption of fuels, which is becoming increasingly important as energy rates skyrocket. Gas and electric expenditures for the campus are projected to increase from $2.9 million in 2004 to $5 million in 2009—a 72 percent increase in five years. Efforts to reduce energy consumption are rapidly becoming as much a fiscal priority as they are a product of environmental concern.
As administrators look at ways to lessen the school’s environmental impact, they have found that even small adjustments can make a big difference. “College campuses are one of the biggest users of electricity and natural gas,” says Charlie Riordan, director of facilities operations. “Now, with energy prices going up as much as they are, trying to conserve electricity and natural gas are good sustainable practices, but also good fiscal practices. The best way to contain costs is through conservation.”
Riordan describes the vast campus consumption arena as “a target-rich environment when it comes to sustainability opportunities.” His office strives to better educate members of the Campus Community about the conservation effects of keeping thermostats turned down and fixing inefficient or poorly functioning plumbing. This year, the College began using electric vehicles to transport maintenance and grounds workers to far-flung campus locations. Two fully electric vehicles are now in use—one a “souped-up golf cart,” the other a small pick-up truck.
When fully charged, the vehicles can work an eight-hour day and reduce the College’s reliance on expensive and polluting gasoline. Riordan says the vehicles are still in the experimentation and evaluation stage, but that they have already saved the school on maintenance costs, and are able to manage light chores while making virtually no noise. The College hopes to add two more this summer.
A major culprit in campus waste lurks in the dormitories and cafeterias where legions of students batter sofas, beds, dining chairs and desks. In the past, these items were relegated to the dumpster where they were carted off to landfills already brimming with waste. The campus now evaluates furniture annually prior to disposal, and repairs items that can be salvaged without sacrificing the quality of product. This strategy offers cost-savings, too. Let’s say a new sofa costs $900 to replace. Before this annual evaluation process began, Loyola typically ordered 50 new sofas each year. Now, only about five new sofas are needed each year. That’s a savings of more than $40,000.
Even items that cannot be saved or repaired have found new purpose. Riordan sent a dorm-load of worn but usable furniture to a Native American college in Oklahoma that had gone over budget on dorm construction and was struggling to furnish the dorms. Mattresses, which are a messy addition to landfills, are often donated to a supplier who gives them to people who are homeless.
Despite an initial push to encourage recycling on campus, when the program first began the amount of refuse recycled was fairly low. Students come to Loyola from different states with different approaches to recycling. Many may have grown up in families where Mom and Dad took care of recycling or where no recycling took place at all. And busy students and faculty were perhaps not inclined to seek out recycling bins. But thanks to a 2006 partnership with Waste Management’s Recycle America facility in Elkridge, the College has launched a radical new approach to recycling.
According to Sam LaMachia, assistant director for facilities operations, prior to starting the new recycling program, the campus-wide recycling rate was only about 17 percent. The new partnership has enabled a single stream recycling system where the College population no longer needs to separate recyclables. Now, all recyclables (glass, plastic, soda cans, even pizza boxes with remnants inside) can be placed in one container, which is later sorted at the recycling facility. The move to single stream recycling quickly raised the campus recycling rate to more than 30 percent in just one month.
In 2007, Loyola joined 201 schools in “Recyclemania,” a 10-week-long, national competition which challenged colleges and universities to reduce, reuse and recycle more than their fellow academic institutions. Loyola recycled more than 180,000 pounds of waste, making the College the overall per capita winner in the State of Maryland.
Like Schneider, LaMachia is passionate about climate change and protecting the environment. He can often be found jetting around campus on a Segway, educating the College Community about what can and can’t be recycled. He says that, “It’s one thing for students to come to the College and learn history and math, but it’s critical for students to learn how to become members of society. Part of that is caring about your environment and your neighbor.”
Loyola’s recycling pays off in more than just stewardship lessons for students; the payback to the College is substantial. In 2006, the College generated 1,413 tons of trash and 354 tons of recyclables, compared to approximately 906 tons of trash in 2007 and 464 tons of recyclables. By reducing trash, even on this limited basis, the cost of emptying large dumpsters is reduced. It costs approximately $624 a week to remove conventional waste from dumpsters compared to only $279 to remove recyclable waste.
“Had we not been involved in this type of recycling program and the same volume of stuff continued to go to landfills, it would definitely impact budgets,” says LaMachia.
The Bottom Line
There is still much to do to bring Loyola to the forefront of environmental leadership. A comprehensive energy conservation policy is still in development and the school is weighing the benefits and drawbacks to signing the President’s Climate Commitment, a plan that aggressively combats climate change. And changing the behaviors of students and staff is an ongoing process. However, even these first, landmark forays into environmental consciousness have shown that the bottom line at an eco-friendly college can—and should—be as green as it is black.
“A lot of this is driven by the rising cost of energy,” says Schneider. “These are real numbers and that, if nothing else, should give us pause to look at our processes. All the money we spend to turn on the lights or turn the heat to 80 degrees in the winter takes away from where we should be spending our money, which is in educating our students and compensating our faculty appropriately. That’s what’s really important.”