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Director's Message

Director of Sustainability Chris O'Brien

Director of Sustainability Chris O’Brien enjoys a fresh coconut in the Costa Rican forest being protected by AU’s carbon neutrality program

My favorite time of the year has again arrived – AU’s celebration of Earth Day. However, there is such an abundance of activity on our campus that we cannot contain it to a single day, so we dedicate the entire month of April to a celebration of our active pursuit of sustainability. This year, we are excited to announce the publication of AU’s first-ever comprehensive sustainability plan, which ties together our long-standing policies and plans for green buildings, zero waste, carbon neutrality, and more, into a single vision of what it means to be a sustainable university. 

Check the Earth Month Calendar for distinguished speakers, expert panels, film screenings, festivals, and exciting community service events to help us turn our sustainability commitment into real action. Clubs, departments, and individuals from every corner of campus participate in what is one of AU’s largest community events, which will culminate in the 21st annual Campus Beautification Day on Earth Day (Tuesday, April 22). This day also will host AU’s second annual Day of Sustainability Service, with a park restoration project in Battery-Kemble Park just next door to campus. Learn more about Earth Month below, and follow along with the excitement on social media by tweeting with the #AUEarthMonth hash tag all month long.

As they say in Costa Rica, Pura Vida,

Chris O’Brien

Director of Sustainability

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Earth Month 2014: Not Just Another Sustainable Campus

Earth Month 2014

Each year, we are pleased to receive recognition from organizations such as The Princeton Review and Sierra Club that AU is one of the top sustainable campuses in the nation. We know, however, that AU is not just “another” green campus, as there is so much that we do that makes us unique. That’s why the theme of Earth Month 2014 is “Not Just Another Sustainable Campus,” as we aim to engage the campus community in the amazing things happening in every corner of campus.

Throughout April, check the Earth Month calendar at, which is updated almost daily with myriad events. Notable events this year include a distinguished panel on energy efficiency on April 11, a lecture by National Geographic Senior Cartographer Rosemary Wander on April 16, and a stop by Teens Turning Green and their College Consciousness Road Tour on April 21. Learn more about each of these events and many more on the calendar.

On Earth Day, Tuesday, April 22, a number of exciting events will cap off the month. The Terrace Dining Room (TDR) will celebrate Farm to Fork Day with a variety of local foods and information about the farms that grow them. We also will hold the second annual Sustainability Service Day, bringing our active pursuit of sustainability into the surrounding community. Partnering with the District Department of the Environment, we will remove invasive species and restore park trails in Battery-Kemble Park, directly across Nebraska Avenue from AU’s campus. Click here to RSVP for the Sustainability Service Day.

In conjunction with service to our DC community, the AU community also will come together on Earth Day to celebrate the 21st annual Campus Beautification Day. Nearly 20 sites around campus will get a facelift as students, faculty, and staff get down and dirty and make their personal mark on AU’s award-winning arboretum. Participants in both Campus Beautification Day and the service project will get to enjoy a barbeque in the Woods-Brown Amphitheater at noon, which will feature the presentation of the Green Teacher of the Year Award by Provost Scott Bass. Click here for more information on Campus Beautification Day.

Earth Month is one of AU’s largest community events each year, and we look forward to again celebrating our active pursuit of sustainability with you. Join us on social media by tweeting with the hashtag #AUEarthMonth throughout April.

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Green Eagles Soar into Spring

Green Eagles

Green Eagles collect pledges during the Do It in the Dark energy competition in March

AU’s Green Eagle sustainability peer educators have been busy on campus and in the residence halls this semester, leading a number of exciting programs and competitions to help the campus community live and work more sustainably.

The Green Eagles began the semester in January by plunging into the frigid Potomac River as part of the Polar Bear Plunge, raising more than $1,000 to fight climate change. They soon warmed up, as the RecycleMania competition began in February and March. From staffing “Zero Waste Stations” in the residence halls to helping students campus-wide use the new orange compost collection bins, the Green Eagles worked hard to defend AU’s 2012 national RecycleMania title. Their efforts culminated with AU’s first-ever Green Eagles RecycleMania Basketball Game (see story below). 

After spring break, the Green Eagles turned their focus to energy efficiency, hosting the "Do It in the Dark" energy efficiency competition, part of Campus Conservation Nationals. Students were able to see their residence hall or other building’s energy use in real-time by going to Green Eagles recruited hundreds of students to Pledge to Conserve Energy at a kickoff event during which students were encouraged to shut off the lights and come outside to roast delicious s’mores, exchange incandescent light bulbs for compact fluorescent ones, “Dine in the Dark” in TDR, and more. You still can take the pledge by clicking here, and be entered into a raffle to win a solar backpack. The winner will be drawn on Monday, April 14.

The Green Eagles look forward to finishing off the year by participating in AU’s Earth Month festivities throughout April.

Now Hiring

Interested in promoting sustainability on campus? The Office of Sustainability is now hiring Green Eagles for the 2014-15 school year.

If you are a campus resident, you can apply to become a Green Eagle sustainability peer educator and work directly in the residence hall where you live to educate your peers about living sustainably. Twelve positions (one to two per residence hall) are available. If you live off-campus, Green Eagles also can work across campus to lead sustainability tours, support sustainability initiatives in academic and administrative buildings, and give class presentations. Four positions are available. Positions require a 5-10 hour/week time commitment from August through May, including mandatory weekly training sessions. You will be paid $10/hour. All high-energy, creative students who are passionate about sustainability are encouraged to apply by visiting and searching for “Sustainability.” A current resume and cover letter explaining your greatest sustainability concerns are required. Please contact the Office of Sustainability at with any questions.

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Take the Green Graduation Pledge

Green Graduation Pledge

Our active pursuit of sustainability doesn’t end when we don our caps and gowns at commencement. Take a moment to sign the Green Graduation Pledge, a national initiative promoting sustainability awareness after graduation. As the future leaders of our nation, American University graduates have a huge impact on our nation and the world. Click here to sign the pledge. 

All pledge takers will receive a green ribbon to wear at commencement that can be picked up outside the Campus Store when you pick up your regalia May 7, 8, and 9. You do not need to be graduating this semester to sign the pledge.

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Green Eagles RecycleMania Basketball Game A Win for Sustainability

By Ravi Raman

Green Eagles Bring Awareness to RecycleMania 2014 at AU Basketball Game

Green Eagles Make a Slam Dunk for RecycleMania 2014 at AU "Trashketball" Game

Excitement about AU’s men’s basketball program was palpable this semester, with a dream season capped off by a trip to the NCAA Tournament in March. In addition to winning on the court and in the classroom, the basketball program made a “slam dunk” for campus sustainability this semester.

Although their game against the Colgate University Raiders may have resulted in a narrow loss on the scoreboard, the day turned out to be a win for the university’s sustainability efforts. The game marked the first-ever Green Eagles RecycleMania Game, which itself was a part of AU’s participation in the national RecycleMania competition that ran through March 29. The goal of RecycleMania Day was to produce as little landfill waste as possible.

Click here to read more about the game.

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Student Environment Initiatives in Action: Eco-Sense Update

By Deirdre Shelly, Eco-Sense President

Eco-Sense at the Polar Plunge

Eco-Sense members participate in the Polar Plunge in January. Image c Flickr user jdoughertydc

Eco-Sense is winding down after a busy and fun semester. We kicked things off with our January tradition of participating in the Chesapeake Climate Action Network's Polar Bear Plunge, during which Eco-Sense members jumped into the icy Potomac to raise money for the organization. Since then, we have hosted a series of events on food justice and discussed the potential for food cooperatives as a solution to a broken food system. Three Eco-Sense members will head to the final round of the Agricultural Innovation Prize in Madison, Wisconsin later this month to compete for a $100,000 prize. The AU Ag Prize Team has partnered with members of the DC food scene to write a business proposal for "Squash the Boss," a cooperatively-owned commercial kitchen space that connects local, small-scale farmers with independent food entrepreneurs here in DC. Wish our team the best of luck, and please vote for them by clicking here.

Eco-Sense also has dedicated much of the spring semester to issues of climate justice. We have hosted events about the Keystone XL pipeline, and will be collaborating with AU's Students for Native Communities group for an event on tar sands development. Earlier in March, members of Eco-Sense were arrested in an act of civil disobedience for 'XL Dissent,' a day in which 400 students from across the country were arrested at the White House in an effort to bring President Obama's attention to the importance of rejecting KXL. This climate work is a complement to the Fossil Free AU campaign, of which Eco-Sense is a main coalition member. The campaign has had a successful semester. We have met with: the Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing, which includes Eco-Sense member Kate Brunette; the Board of Trustees; and President Kerwin. We are excited to continue building student power around the importance of saying 'no' to fossil fuels. Eco-Sense members look forward to our remaining events of the year, which can be found on the Office of Sustainability's Earth Month Calendar and are excited to continue working towards environmental justice for all.

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Green Across Campus: Sustainability in Education and Research

In the spirit of Earth Month, we highlight the work being done in each of AU’s schools and colleges to teach, research, and integrate sustainability across curricula. Did you know more than 1,000 sustainability-related courses are taught at AU each year? Click here for a full list, published on the Office of Sustainability’s website.

Professor Robin Broad Named Green Teacher of the Year

By Anna Olsson, Center for Teaching, Research, and Learning

SIS Professor Robin Broad

Professor Robin Broad, 2014 Green Teacher of the Year

The Green Teaching Certificate program would like to congratulate Professor Robin Broad (School of International Service), who has been selected the winner of the 2014 Green Teacher of the Year Award. Professor Broad was selected as the winner of the award because of her long-time commitment to teaching sustainably – she was a “green teacher” before the Green Teaching Certification program existed, and has consistently lived up to her reputation by earning top scores every year since the program’s inception in 2008. In addition to committing to more than 40 sustainability measures through the certification questionnaire, Professor Broad is recognized for her commitment to not only make her courses greener, but for helping her students become “green students” as well as “green citizens” by teaching them how to turn ideas into action, and how their actions are connected to a broader movement that extends well beyond the classroom. Professor Broad also has contributed greatly to the growth and development of the Green Teaching Program over the years, by pioneering green measures that later became standard items for which professors can get points when certified. The award will be presented to Professor Broad during the Campus Beautification Day Luncheon in the Woods-Brown Amphitheater on Tuesday, April 22. Please join us to celebrate her achievements!

The Green Teaching Program has certified more than 350 AU professors since 2008, and inspired five other universities across the U.S. to start similar programs. You can learn more about the program at

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Sustainability Research Spotlight: Monitoring a Tropical Paradise 

By Caitlin Friess

Envs Kiho Kim

This past summer, coral reefs in Guam underwent a mass bleaching event. This means that the algae that live in the corals, and provide them with nutrients, were released into the water during a period of high seawater temperatures. When the warming period ended, some of the corals recovered but many died. This event is called “bleaching” due to the resulting loss of color in the corals, often turning them white.

Professor Kiho Kim, a marine ecologist specializing in tropical coral reefs, has been monitoring the recovery of coral reefs in Guam following this mass bleaching event as part of a RAPID grant awarded to him by the National Science Foundation. The grant is designed to fund researchers in scientific fields whose projects are considered very timely.

Click here to read more about the work of Professor Kiho Kim.

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From Theory to Practice: SIS Practicum Course Examines AU’s Carbon Offset Program

Practicum Group in Costa Rica

This semester, Global Environmental Policy master’s students enrolled in a practicum course in the School of International Service are critically examining a key component of AU’s plan to be carbon neutral by 2020. The class, taught by Director of Sustainability Chris O’Brien, is learning about a project designed to preserve and restore Costa Rican rainforest, which sequesters an amount of greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the total amount produced by AU’s study abroad air travel. During spring break, the class visited the tropical rainforest in Costa Rica to study the project on the ground. This is a testimonial from Evan Vaughan, one of the students taking the course this semester:

“The trip was a unique opportunity to experience environmental policy and local sustainability perspectives in a developing country; personally, this was my first time visiting Central America and walking in the rainforest. During the trip, we deepened our understanding of AU's carbon offset purchases and their connection to Costa Rica's Payment for Environmental Services (PES) program. Carbon offsets are a fairly abstract concept to begin with, but those derived from avoided deforestation are an even more challenging subject to master. Accountable verification of carbon offsets through avoided deforestation is made difficult by a variety of issues related to tracking carbon leakage, the tendency for supposedly avoided greenhouse gas emissions to be displaced outside of the offset project area. Though the final conclusions of our report have yet to be published, we discovered that many of the non-carbon co-benefits of the PES program, including sustainable economic development, biodiversity preservation, and watershed management (not to mention academic benefits directly related to AU's investment), are well worth the expenditure.”

Hands-on engagement with cutting-edge issues are a signature component of many of AU’s academic programs, including the Global Environmental Policy and Natural Resources and Sustainable Development masters programs, housed in the School of International Service. AU’s institutional sustainability initiatives provide an important academic training ground for future sustainability leaders. Click here to learn more about AU’s Climate Action Plan.

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Israel and Water Conference Examines Critical Issues

By Jamie McCrary

Water Conference

Heather Speight, MA international peace and conflict resolution '13, spoke about transboundary water projects as peace-keeping tools.

For Israel, water scarcity is not just a problem; it is a way of life. Located in one of the driest regions in the world, the country historically has suffered from a continuous shortage of water, exacerbated in recent years by droughts and a steadily increasing population. While lack of water is certainly a pervasive problem throughout the region, Israel is better recognized not for its water scarcity, but for its creative and innovative approaches in addressing this challenge.

These approaches—as well as their potential for facilitating peacemaking in the region—were the focus of Israel and Water: Scarcity, Innovation and Cooperation, an intensive one-day conference organized and sponsored in part by AU’s Center for Israel Studies. Held at AU on March 4, the conference brought together academics, scientists, entrepreneurs, and policy-makers to learn and reflect diverse Israeli methods of water management and collaboration.

Click here to learn more about the Israel and Water Conference. 

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Water Project Catalyzes Communications Students

Still from

Still from "Olivia" a short film by SOC student Terence Johnson developed with Raise the River

In news, policy, politics, and entertainment, water is a hot topic. Safe drinking water; water scarcity; pollution and toxic contamination; conservation and resources management; and hygiene and sanitation.

American University students are mapping the treatment of these issues in their professional fields and producing new reporting, strategic communication campaigns, media productions, and communication research through the Water Project, an innovative, experiential cross-disciplinary initiative launched by the School of Communication.

Click here to read more about SOC’s Water Project.

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The Green Wonks of CAS

By Alyssa Rohricht

The Green Wonks of CAS

At AU, we take sustainability seriously, and the College of Arts and Sciences is no exception. From green teaching practices to courses focused on sustainability to solar rooftops, CAS is pushing the green agenda all across campus.

Click here to learn more about what AU’s largest college is doing to green the American Dream.

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Environmental Law Events Abound During Spring Semester

By Erika Lennon

German Vera

German Vera and WCL Professor David Hunter

From the Chesapeake Bay to International Climate Negotiations and from endangered species protection to resource extraction, WCL hosts myriad events related to environmental law. In February, WCL’s Environmental Law Society hosted an event about the Chesapeake Bay’s “pollution diet” with lawyers working on the plan to reduce the pollutants going into the bay. Later that month, a variety of WCL programs worked with the American Red Cross’s Humanitarian Law Program to hold a panel discussion about natural resource conflicts and pillage. At the beginning of March, German Vera, an advisor to the Commission of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Peru for the upcoming international climate change negotiations, discussed how Peru is preparing. Later in March, Sustainable Development Law & Policy and Law Students for Reproductive Justice sponsored an event in which two people from the Center for Biological Diversity discussed the link between human population growth and species extinction and how to address the problem. Additionally, the WCL Environmental Law Program hosted a networking event for alumni and students. These are just some of the activities related to environmental law at WCL. Click here to learn more about environmental law at WCL, and follow the program on twitter at @auwclEnvLaw.

Don’t Miss the 2014 Environmental Law Summer Session: May 27 – June 20

American University Washington College of Law announced its 2014 Summer Session on Environmental Law, providing law students, practitioners, and other environmental professionals and scholars with an opportunity for intensive environmental law training over a three-week period. Started in 2005, the Summer Session offers a broad range of seminars taught by leading practitioners from government, business, and non-governmental organizations. Click here for more information and registration.

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SPA’s Center for Environmental Policy Builds Capacity for National Environmental Leadership

Former Senator Bob Graham

Former Senator Bob Graham

2014 Reilly Award Winners Announced

The second annual William K. Reilly Awards for Environmental Leadership will be presented at an event on April 24 on the American University campus in Washington, D.C. The event will honor award winners Daniel C. Esty, former Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and Nsedu Obot Witherspoon, Executive Director of the Children's Environmental Health Network, for their contributions to innovations in environmental policy. At the event, Senator Bob Graham will deliver a keynote address, Bill Reilly will provide remarks, and graduate students from the School of Public Affairs will be awarded scholarships.

Click here to learn more about this year’s Reilly Award winners.

The partnership for the water technology project was formed at this summit held at AU in May 2012.

The partnership for the water technology project was formed at this summit held at AU in May 2012.

CEP Coordinating Water Technology Partnership

The School of Public Affairs’ Center for Environmental Policy is coordinating the Water Technology Initiative of the Partnership on Technology Innovation and the Environment. The partnership was formed by a group of federal agencies, universities, and nonprofit organizations as one of the outcomes of the technology market summit that was held on campus in May 2012.

Click here to read more.

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The Smells of Sustainability

Sense of Smell

Exciting and realistic scents will soon permeate classrooms at AU

After recently being ranked third in the nation for sustainability by, AU's Office of Sustainability began exploring new and innovative ways sustainability could be introduced into everyday campus life to help boost the university's ranking to first place. After reviewing nearly twenty pieces of cutting-edge technology, AU has purchased 75 "olfactoscopes", which will be installed in classrooms campus-wide before the end of the semester. Olfactoscopes use low-energy ionized pulses to create the illusion of smell, tapping into a sensory organ that is often missing in classroom instruction. Click here to read the rest of this exciting story.

Editor’s Note: Happy April Fools! Despite the fun nature of the story, completely true information is included for both students and faculty regarding sustainability courses and services offered by the Office of Sustainability, so it is worth a read even if your sense of humor is taking a break to enjoy the springtime weather.

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Green the Dream at Home

Residential Solar is a Bright Idea

Solar Panel Installation

Solar panels are installed on Director of Sustainability Chris O’Brien’s home

Who says there's no such thing as a free lunch? Join the Office of Sustainability for a free Lunch and Learn on Friday, April 11 from noon - 1 p.m. Learn how AU staff are saving energy and money and going solar at home and how you can too. Registration limited to 20 participants.

Click here to RSVP.

This event is provided by Standard Energy Solutions (SES), the residential services division of Standard Solar, who installed AU's solar systems. Discounts on services, including solar panel installation, are available to AU community members through SES' Partner Employee Program. This is not an AU-provided nor sponsored service.

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