Measuring Impact of Campus Sustainability

Measuring Impact of Campus Sustainability

In May 2008, The Duke Endowment launched an initiative to help four schools in the Carolinas – Davidson College, Duke University, Furman University and Johnson C. Smith University –become more environmentally sustainable.

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A new report looks at the Campus Sustainability Initiative’s impact – and shows impressive results.

Over the next several years, the Campus Sustainability Initiative brought the schools together for collaborative projects and campus summits. Overall, the Endowment distributed $751,000 in grants.

The Endowment commissioned an evaluation in 2012 that would help catalog achievements, find lessons learned and help determine next steps. The results were impressive. The schools are saving a combined $175,000 annually in energy costs, and they will reduce annual emissions of greenhouse gases by more than 7,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide.

“Aside from these measurable outcomes,” writes the report’s author, Tatjana Vujic, “creating – and sustaining – momentum around sustainability may be the most significant benefit.”

Vujic, director of the Duke Carbon Offsets Initiative at Duke University, talks more about the project in the following interview.

In your mind, why was an evaluation important?

The Duke Endowment had a great story to tell and an opportunity to show others how investments like in sustainability pay off.  The outcomes of sustainability efforts can be hard to measure, but this evaluation provided a way to catalog both quantitative and qualitative results, which were impressive to see in one place.

How did you begin the project?

We started with a survey of the four schools involved. The Endowment had been doing a good job over the years of collecting information, but it was on more discreet topics. The evaluation was meant to be a comprehensive review of what each school had done individually and collaboratively, and the cumulative effect.

What surprised you about the findings?

I really enjoyed seeing the organic development of relationships between the schools and collaboration beyond the more formal initiative. Although working together was one of the goals of the Campus Sustainability Initiative, building successful collaborations is not always easy. The evaluation highlighted just how much the schools worked together and helped each other, both formally and informally. It was more than I expected.

Could you give an example?

Duke and Johnson C. Smith, for instance, worked together on an environmental justice course and training that grew out of relationships fostered by the initiative, which touched many students and educators from the Charlotte area. That’s a great example of how bringing people together evolved into collaboration beyond the formal context of the initiative.

What else surprised you?

Adding up all of the investments the Endowment made, and then looking at how the schools leveraged that money, made it clear that the Endowment’s support was well-justified. As part of the initiative, the Endowment disbursed $751,000, and that led to more than $3.85 million in new projects – a more than fivefold increase. A great example of this is the Baker Sports Complex on Davidson’s campus. Thanks to a $50,000 grant from the Endowment, Davidson was able to make $670,000 worth of energy efficiency upgrades, plus install photovoltaic and thermal solar arrays. The report provides even more instances of how Endowment funds were leveraged.

Do you think campuses across the country could learn something from this?

Absolutely. For one thing, they can learn that it doesn’t take a huge investment to make a difference.

It’s also important to realize that being more sustainable means being more careful with resources, which often includes being more careful with energy. Campuses can reduce expenses quite a bit when they invest in measures that reduce energy use and conserve other resources. The payback is quite stark, plus the improvements means a more comfortable and desirable campus.

What final thoughts do you have about the Campus Sustainability Initiative?

Colleges and universities have a special role to play in the area of environmental sustainability, especially if they commit to taking their work into the public domain. They can make a big difference in terms of innovation and research, but also in the example they set.

The Duke Endowment’s support of sustainability at the four schools not only made a big difference on the individual campuses, but on the communities around the schools and the world beyond by moving innovative practices into the public’s grasp. In many cases, much ground was gained because of the Endowment’s efforts to support projects that otherwise would not have been undertaken.

It might be hard to put resources into sustainability when the results can be so intangible. This report, however, shows very tangible results from such investments and the significant things that can happen when schools are given the opportunity to come together.

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