2010 Highlight - Higher Education

Exploring Sustainable Practices

When James B. Duke wrote the Indenture of Trust that created The Duke Endowment, he included four institutions of higher education as beneficiaries.

The schools – Davidson College, Duke University and Johnson C. Smith University in North Carolina and Furman University in South Carolina – have unique cultures and priorities. In the past few years, however, they’ve worked together to explore a shared commitment to environmental sustainability.

The Task Force on Campus Sustainability began in 2008 when the Endowment awarded a grant to the four institutions as a whole. Teams from each school – including top-level administrators, faculty and staff – began working together during workshops and campus visits.

“Whenever we get together, there’s as much collaborating done at the dinner table, during the car rides, before the breakfast meetings and on the tours as there is during the group discussions,” says David Holthouser, the facilities director at Davidson. “We’re constantly asking each other questions.”

By exploring ways to reduce their carbon footprints, the schools are hoping to cut long-term energy costs and meet current needs without sacrificing the needs of future generations. They’re also working to provide sustainability-related coursework and learning opportunities for students.

Anthony Cortese, president of Second Nature and co-organizer of the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, calls the collaboration “a model” for the country.

“The idea of people within a local region working together, and then working with the communities they are part of, creates the opportunity for synergy in ways that would not and could not happen if the schools were just doing it alone,” Cortese says. “All the schools are going to have different expertise – and the ability to share resources and learn from each other is enormous.”

Developing Projects

The sustainability initiative is still evolving, but the collaboration has already generated ideas for conserving energy and securing federal- and state-funded grants.

By exploring carbon offset programs at the local level, for example, Duke University has partnered with Duke Energy to develop a pilot project for capturing methane from commercial hog farms in North Carolina.

And thanks to energy audits, Davidson, Johnson C. Smith and Furman have big-picture views of campus energy use and 20 recommendations for improved efficiency.

Furman, for example, replaced a steam boiler in an arts building with an $85,000 natural gas hot water boiler, which will save more than $10,800 annually.

The collaboration has spawned other ideas, too. In the summer of 2010, two graduate students from Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment worked with Johnson C. Smith on several projects as part of their master’s program. Part of their job, for instance, was to work with the school to develop a campus sustainability plan.

“It was a great opportunity to provide learnings for both institutions,” says Sherrill Hampton, special assistant to the president at Johnson C. Smith and director of the school’s Center for Applied Leadership.

In the fall of 2010, task force members began visiting each school to learn first-hand about campus sustainability programs and discover ways to advance their own efforts.

At Davidson, they heard about a computing system that uses technology to reduce paper use.  They toured the college’s new energy-efficient boiler room. And they explored a composting project that turns dining hall scraps into mulch.

Later, on a visit to Furman, they toured an on-campus farm that practices sustainable agriculture and heard about a lake restoration project. The group also learned about a solar aquatic wastewater treatment system.

“Each gathering has been strategically clarifying for me,” Holthouser says. “When we visit each other’s campuses, it helps me solve some of the riddles of detail that were barriers for moving forward.”

Another summit participant put it this way: “I am getting to know faculty and administrators from the other three schools I wouldn’t know otherwise… Because of these growing relationships, the outcomes and actions we end up taking will be organic, coming from those participating, rather than imposed from above. I think this will be a slower process, but will lead to longer lasting and more credible actions in which faculty and administrators are more invested.”

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