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Northwestern Turning Green

There is a lot of talk about sustainability on campus these days, and the students are pushing the conversation.

Last winter, when Northwestern's Undergraduate Budget Priorities Committee polled students for their opinions on where the University should invest its resources in improving the campus culture, sustainability issues ranked high on the list.

One of the UBPC's recommendations to the administration suggested the formation of a sustainability committee to coordinate the disparate conservation efforts on campus. The NU Green Initiative, a new committee of student leaders and University staff and administrators, will do just that.

Eugene Sunshine (WCAS71), senior vice president for business and finance, says efforts toward sustainability are a win-win situation for the University. "Obviously we're committed to protecting the environment," Sunshine says, "and sustainability makes sense for us from a business point of view. ... There's no down side to any of this."

The University has a number of initiatives already underway.

Northwestern recycled nearly 1,500 tons of material in 2006. That's 26 percent of the University's overall waste stream, according to recycling and refuse manager Julie Cahillane, who presented on sustainability during Northwestern's new student orientation. She also published Sustainable You! A Guide to Living Green @ NU.

At the Kellogg School of Management, student leaders Jeff Crystal (KSM07) and Rebekah Scheinfeld led the launch of the Kellogg Greening Initiative. In its first actions, KGI worked with Kellogg's information technology staff to switch all of the school's public printers to double-sided printing by default. The group also collaborated with Cahillane to increase recycling accessibility.

The printing initiative resulted in a 25 percent reduction in paper usage, and, despite that decrease, the school's recycling load increased by 20 percent. KGI won the international nonprofit organization Net Impact's 2007 Green Challenge based on the success of its initiatives.

On the undergraduate level, residence hall community assistants will provide programming on conservation and recycling to educate students about their part in sustainability. In an effort to reduce plastic consumption, all first-year students received a reusable purple plastic bottle from the Associated Student Government and the Northwestern Alumni Association as a welcome gift. Students who use the bottle at select cafés receive a 14-cent discount on fountain beverages.

In other areas, Northwestern's dining services tries to buy locally grown foods. It also utilizes recyclable packaging in many of its operations, and cooking oil will soon be recycled into a new commercial cleaner developed by a local company.

Where possible in the residence halls, the University is converting to low-flow toilets, replacing windows with double-insulated glass, changing incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent light bulbs and installing automatic shutoffs on light switches in common areas.

With the technology in place to measure each residence hall's water and energy use, Students for Ecological and Environmental Development plans to continue its conservation competition, the Green Cup. (Other student organizations committed to environmental issues include Engineers for a Sustainable World and the Northwestern University Solar Car Team.)

In the facilities area, Northwestern has pledged that all future construction and major renovations will meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards. The Ford Engineering Design Center, completed in 2005, was the first Northwestern building to achieve LEED certification. The University expects that Silverman Hall for Molecular Therapeutics & Diagnostics, to be completed in 2009, will also be certified at LEED silver, and the Wieboldt Hall renovation and Searle Hall addition will be similarly certified.

In spring 2006 the University purchased renewable energy certificates for 20 percent of its yearly energy needs. At the time, Northwestern's investment made it the second-largest purchaser of alternative energy sources (now eighth largest) among the nation's colleges and universities.

According to Ron Nayler, associate vice president for facilities management, the University is hoping to soon select an outside consultant to lead a University-wide energy conservation project that will implement short-term improvements and examine longer-term issues, including an assessment of the Evanston campus heating system.

Nayler says Northwestern will also explore a cogeneration system, which burns natural gas to generate steam for heat and runs the steam through a turbine that spins to create electricity, for the Evanston campus. A 2008 study will look at the feasibility of renewable energy generation, including consideration of investing in or purchasing a wind farm.

The University will continue its successful water conservation initiative, first implemented in the academic buildings, that includes installation of low-flush urinals, dual-flush toilets and automatic sink faucets. Facilities management is moving forward with similar upgrades in the residence halls with plans to next address the athletic facilities.

Among other efforts, the University's escort service, SafeRide, employs Toyota Prius hybrids. The University's motor pool includes 18 dual-fuel E-85 vehicles, and facilities management's fleet includes four natural gas vehicles. Northwestern is also home to three I-GO cars, part of a Chicago-based, nonprofit car-sharing network.

It's all part of an institutional shift toward sustainability. -- S.H.

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The Ford Motor Co. Engineering Design Center.Photo by Neil Alexander