The past 12 months were a banner year for sustainability at AU. After earning one of the nation's highest scores in the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (STARS), AU continued to aspire to new heights, hosting a week of events celebrating Earth Day, piloting the new Green Office (GO!) program, and installing DC's largest solar energy system. While each of these accomplishments is noteworthy on its own, we turned to the AU community to help us decide which sustainability stories from the past year were their favorites by voting on our Facebook Page. We are pleased to present the Top 10 American University Sustainability Stories of 2011. There's so much to be proud of this year, and as we look toward 2012, the horizon becomes even brighter as our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends - all green wonks - work toward a more sustainable future for AU and the world.
10: Personal Energy Meters Offered in Bender Library
It is said that "Knowledge is Power", and now it's even easier for the AU community to have knowledge about power. Bender Library now offers personal energy meters for loan at its technology desk. The easy to use "Kill A Watt" meters display power usage for almost all personal and home appliances in kilowatt hours (kWh), the same units used by utility companies to calculate energy bills. This data makes it easy to determine what each appliance costs to operate - powerful information if you are looking to protect your wallet as well as the environment. To learn more about the Kill A Watt meters, visit the library's Technology Borrowing webpage and our easy-to-use online Kill A Watt instruction guide.
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9: AU's Green Roofs Grow to Ten
Five new green roofs were built on campus this past year, bringing the campus total to ten roofs with over 40,000 square feet of vegetation. While green roofs are catching on all over the country, these roofs, on the Mary Graydon Center, Ward Circle Building, and Butler Pavilion, are uniquely AU. The Butler Pavilion roof was built by members of the campus community, including the Office of Sustainability's Green Eagle ecoreps (pictured left). On the Mary Graydon Center, one of the roofs on the second-floor courtyards, visible to all who walk through the building, spells the word "WONK," proclaiming our status as a sustainability leader. Click here to watch a short video about the design and installation of the "WONK" roof. All of the new roofs help retain storm water, keeping the city's sewer system from overflowing and polluting the Potomac River. Additional benefits include creation of natural habitat, insulation, and cooler temperatures on the roofs. AU has the most green roofs of any university in the Washington metro region.
8: Earth Week 2011 - Green Campus, Green Communities
This year Earth Day expanded to an entire week, dubbed Earth Week 2011: Green Campus-Green Communities. From April 18th to 22nd, each day featured a different theme, ranging from Energy & Climate to Food & Water, and even a day of Public Service. Highlights of the week included a "Car Free Day," and a groundbreaking ceremony for AU's new solar installations led by President Kerwin. Departments from across AU joined in, with the Department of Philosophy hosting a conference on "Eating Green," the Career Center holding a panel on green careers, and many others. After this year's runaway success, we can't wait for Earth Week 2012!
This summer, two prominent publications recognized AU as a sustainability leader. The Princeton Review named AU to its "Green Honor Roll" for achieving the highest possible score of 99 in the Green School category. AU joined 15 other schools on the list by "taking a series of practical steps to make sure that its students are green-equipped all the way from the classroom to Congress,” according to the magazine. The Sierra Club also took notice of AU's environmental achievements, such as food, energy, and waste, by ranking AU 26th of 118 schools on its annual "Cool Schools" list. “With AU’s top rating in STARS, and now appearing in the PrincetonReview’s 'Green Honor Roll', it has certainly been a banner year for sustainability at AU," says Chris O’Brien, AU’s Director of Sustainability.
Nearly a year after it first opened its doors, the School of International Service building was certified as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold by the U.S. Green Building Council in March. To achieve LEED certification, the building had to demonstrate efficiency in areas such as energy and water, reduced CO2 emissions, indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of material resources. Unique features of the building include LED lights in the parking garage, a solar preheat system for air intake, and a triple solar water heating system. Additionally, skylights in the atrium bring in natural daylight, sunshades on the windows prevent solar heat gain in the building, and minimize heating and cooling system usage. Low-flow faucets and fixtures reduce water consumption, and two rain gardens on opposite ends of the building are designed to clean and slow storm water runoff. According to SIS Dean Emeritus Louis Goodman, “Now it's official that we're not only the largest school of international affairs in the world; we're also the greenest.
The Fall 2011 semester marked the first pilot phase of the Green Office (GO!) program, an outgrowth of the successful Eco-Certification program begun by student environmental club Eco-Sense. The GO! program helps faculty and staff green their work environments through a year-round sustainability program; each month of the academic year focuses on a different "Green Theme." Over 300 participating staff members in 14 offices and departments exceeded all expectations during Green Transportation month (September) and Green Office Supplies month (October), and are keeping up the pace through the two Energy-themed months (November/December). Student Green Eagle ecoreps have worked with the offices to change over 60 printers to print double-sided, purchase over 250 reams of 100% recycled paper, and use green transportation methods for over 70% of trips to campus. Visit the GO webpage to learn what you can do to green your office.
Early this year, paper towels from AU restrooms stopped heading to the landfill. Instead, these paper products are now collected in green compostable bags and sent to Recycled Green composting in Maryland. A waste audit conducted by AU’s resident Green Eagles measured and categorized waste from the residence halls in fall 2010 and determined that "tissue paper" - tissues, napkins, and paper towel waste, largely coming from restrooms in the halls - comprised 13.3% of the total trash for the day. At a rate of 150 pounds of paper towels per day just from South Halls, composting the paper towels has had a big impact and helps AU get closer to zero waste. Look for more news in 2012 about AU's Zero Waste Initiative designed to divert 100% of campus waste from landfill through a combination of reducing, recycling, composting, and reuse.
This fall semester the Green Eagle program expanded from 15 resident students to more than 20 undergraduate and graduate students as peer sustainability educators in each of AU's residence halls and 10 staff offices. The Green Eagles began the year by planting the university’s tenth green roof during the first week of classes. In the ensuing three months, Green Eagle accomplishments included:
Helping AU win the inaugural Capital Campus Car-Free Competition
Hosting a Halloween costume swap that helped nearly 30 costumes find new homes instead of being discarded
Developed easy-to-read maps of local bus routes
Hosted bike tours to Georgetown and the National Mall
Helped AU decrease its energy consumption by over 20,000 kilowatt hours during the "Do It in the Dark" competition and had over 20% of campus residents pledge to conserve energy
Created bi-monthly newsletters addressing sustainability topics for staff offices
Implemented the Green Office (GO!) Program
In addition, each Green Eagle is undertaking an individual project to promote sustainability on campus, ranging from developing a model green residence hall room to studying the impacts of reusable to-go containers in the Terrace Dining Room. Find out more about the 2011-12 Green Eagles and the exciting work they do by reading their bios.
Soon after we rang in the new year in January, 2011, AU became one of the first schools in the country to earn a gold rating in STARS (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System). STARS was developed by representatives from colleges and universities, higher education associations, nonprofit organizations, businesses, and government agencies and is administered by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). STARS serves as a comprehensive public sustainability report, allowing colleges and universities across the US and Canada to track their progress in the categories of "Operations", "Education & Research", and "Planning, Administration, and Engagement" with identical metrics. Nearly 12 months later, AU still holds one of the top scores in the nation among the 297 higher education institutions that have registered to use STARS.
This year's most popular sustainability story is certainly a bright one; AU's new solar installations - featuring the largest solar photovoltaic (electric) system in DC and the largest urban solar hot water system on the East Coast - became fully operational in mid-November. Over 2,150 solar photovoltaic panels spread across six campus buildings are estimate to produce about 637 megawatt hours of electricity per year. The 134 solar hot water panels on the Mary Graydon Center and Anderson, Letts, and Centennial Halls will produce 5,700,000 BTUs of energy a day (609 megawatt hours annually) - enough energy to produce 20,795 cheeseburgers every year.
These two systems began reducing American University’s energy bills the day they went into operation. The University partnered with Washington Gas Energy Services to install the solar photovoltaic system and with Skyline Innovations on the solar hot water system. Each sells the solar energy produced by its respective system through long term "power purchase" contracts - providing energy savings to the university while avoiding the greenhouse gases produced by conventional fossil fuels. Combined these 2,300 solar panels create the largest use of solar technology in the Washington Metro area.
Pictured Above: The solar hot water systems on the Mary Graydon Centerare situated on top of the building's green roof systems. There are 30 evacuated tubes on each rack (more than 4,000 tubes in all) that heat the chemical glycol, which in turn is used to heat water. Below is an image of photovoltaic panels adorning Bender Library.