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2021 Sustainability Plan Environment

Building and maintaining AU's campus in a sustainable way creates a living laboratory for sharing sustainability progress.

Environment Sustainability in Action

American University is committed to building and operating spaces that are conducive to living, working, and learning and are environmentally friendly and healthy spaces. Green buildings reduce their environmental impact through energy and water efficiency, low-impact and healthy building materials, and sustainable operations and maintenance procedures. This section is broken up into two subcategories, Infrastructure and Operations.

6. New Construction

"We learned that buildings matter, not just because they provide shelter and sanctuary, not just because they provide for safe assembly for work, for play, for learning, for healing. They mater because they are the outward manifestation of our need to settle into community, to organize for progress, to ground our humanness in place and time." – Rick Fedrizzi

Goal 6.1: Prioritize energy efficiency in new construction to prepare for net-zero.

Goal 6.2: Understand current resiliency of campus systems to prepare for the expected increase in heat waves and significant rain events.

  • Investigate LEED Zero and LEED Platinum for use on campus.
  • Explore Fitwel and WELL building certification programs and establish building and grounds standards related to wellness.
  • Achieve 35% below American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) standards for energy efficiency in new construction.
  • Investigate ability to absorb significant rain events through the lens of campus planning and explore the use of a campus wide stormwater plan, as well as standards for new construction.
  • Explore electrification of building systems in new construction to minimize fossil fuel use.
  • Update the design and construction guidelines to align with the sustainability plans and goals.
  • Investigate and plan for potential resiliency issues related to municipal potable water supply, at-risk tree limbs, impact of prolonged snowfall, extreme water impact on campus, fossil fuel reliance.
  • Investigate and plan for flooding capacity, navigating campus in extreme weather, power outages and generator capacity.
  • Investigate options for future construction to reduce risk from rising utility costs.

As we move into the future, we have a responsibility to ensure that when we add square footage to our campus, we do so with the smallest possible impact on the environment. In DC, we anticipate that climate change will bring an increased number of heat waves and significant rain events. We must ensure that new buildings are resilient against these impacts.

7. Renewable Energy

"The future is green energy, sustainability, renewable energy." – Arnold Schwarzenegger

Goal 7.1: Expand on-campus solar production and other renewables through utilization of renewable energy in renovations.

Goal 7.2: Meet 5% of all new construction energy needs with on-project solar.

  • Meet with solar providers in DC to learn options and conduct a review of all campus buildings to identify opportunities for new solar projects.
  • Research power purchase agreements (PPA) and explore investments.
  • Research viable options for other renewable energy sources.
  • Investigate potential pathways for eliminating the use of RECs and offsets for energy use.
  • Establish construction standards for renewable energy.

In combination with increased efficiency, increasing our use of renewable energy is a top priority in reducing fossil fuel consumption on campus. AU currently hosts about 2,500 solar panels on campus and worked with GW and GWU Hospital to build nearly 250,000 solar panels in North Carolina. Our off-campus panels provide us with about 50% of our electricity while on-campus panels generate about 0.5% of our electricity. Increasing on-campus solar will allow us to support DC's goal to increase solar generation.


8. Efficiency

"As the saying goes, the Stone Age did not end because we ran out of stones; we transitioned to better solutions. The same opportunity lies before us with energy efficiency and clean energy." – Steven Chu

Goal 8.1: Decrease existing building energy consumption to align with DC’s Building Energy Performance Standards (BEPS) for universities.

  • Continue to implement energy saving measures across campus, building off the 30% per square foot energy efficiency improvement already achieved.
  • Increase outreach around plug load management and other behavior change initiatives.

Decreasing our reliance on fossil fuels remains a top priority. Since 2005, campus energy use has decreased by 30% per square foot. Continuing this trend will have a major impact on emissions from campus and in DC.

9. Existing Buildings

 “The greenest building is the one that is already built.” Carl Elefante

Goal 9.1: Review and update building management practices to align with best practices for sustainability.

Goal 9.2: Expand sustainability data sharing across campus.

Goal 9.3: Grow the number of LEED Green Associates and LEED APs within campus staff.

  • Conduct a campus-wide review of all buildings using LEED Operations and Maintenance (O+M) tools to evaluate performance related to efficiency, water, waste, indoor air quality, transportation, refrigerant use, etc.
  • Update building maintenance plans from the previous sustainability plan to reflect new O+M standards.
  • Investigate ARC and other tools for data sharing.
  • Create an online dashboard to share sustainability data.
  • Partner with offices on campus who work on buildings to promote LEED resources and expand the number of LEED professionals on campus.

Existing buildings make up the majority of our square footage and ensuring that they are operating in the most efficient manner was a cornerstone of the previous sustainability plan. Ensuring that the maintenance plans and related procedures are advancing to match new versions of LEED will ensure that our campus is operating as efficiently as possible.

10. Grounds

"It's the little things citizens do. That's what will make the difference. My little thing is planting trees." – Wangari Maathai

Goal 10.1: Expand and diversify the campus tree canopy.

Goal 10.2: Increase stormwater management capacity.

Goal 10.3: Grow the use of edible plants and pollinator-friendly species. Expand participation in the edible campus initiative.

Goal 10.4: Establish campus-wide design and management standards for landscape construction and design that incorporate native and adaptive species.

Goal 10.5: Expand educational opportunities and connections for student learning and networking through the landscape.

  • Investigate the best opportunities to utilize AU’s efforts to gain water retention credits.
  • Reduce campus hardscape.
  • Maintain green roofs to capture rainwater and provide educational opportunities.
  • Redesign the quad to narrow walkways and reduce impervious surfaces.
  • Formalize goals and standards for campus projects that lend themselves to rethinking landscape design.
  • Partner with off-campus organizations that share common goals and expand campus initiatives to bring students into projects.
  • Work with academic departments to provide hands-on learning opportunities, research opportunities, and other education opportunities for water management.
  • Create interactive map showing water management techniques used on campus.
  • Continue to evaluate replacement options for all roofs.
  • Research water retention methods for use on campus and expand permeable surfaces areas.
  • Gather a working group to review water usage, design for impact, or operational efficiency for all of AU’s properties and to research grant opportunities.

American University’s Arboretum showcases AU’s strong commitment to creating and maintaining outdoor campus spaces that are not only functional and beautiful, but also provide opportunities for education, fundraising, community engagement and incorporation and promotion of sustainable practices. Expanding on this strong foundation will enable AU to continue to be a leader in sustainability.

11. Zero Waste

"There is no such thing as ‘away.’ When we throw anything away, it must go somewhere." – Annie Leonard

Goal 11.1: Achieve Zero Waste (90% diversion) by 2030.

 Goal 11.2: Eliminate single use plastics on campus.

 Goal 11.3: Capture 100% of pre-consumer organic waste for composting from every dining location on campus.

 Goal 11.4: Increase single stream recycling rate by 50%.

 Goal 11.5: Decrease overall campus waste by 20% by 2030.

  • Implement a surplus system on campus to reuse, redistribute, and donate campus furniture and other items.
  • Complete an internal study to determine scope of avoidable waste items.
  • Work with contracts to develop waste minimization strategies in purchasing.
  • Develop a plastic reduction plan to eliminate single use plastics on campus and ensure all food service packaging is easily recyclable or compostable.
  • Partner with faculty and staff groups to organize office supply exchanges.
  • Partner with dining to develop a system to capture post-consumer waste.
  • Develop training routine for housekeeping staff and recycling staff to ensure proper waste management.
  • Ensure 100% of construction projects are using LEED sorting facilities for construction and demolition debris and capture data for all construction projects.

AU’s zero waste program has long addressed waste from multiple angles. As we move forward, our primary goal is reducing the amount of waste we generate, especially single-use disposables. This priority aligns with ongoing goals around improving compost, increasing recycling, and addressing behavior and purchasing.

12. Transportation

"They paved paradise and put up a parking lot." – Joni Mitchell

Goal 12.1: Reduce single-occupancy vehicle traffic to campus.

Goal 12.2: Implement carbon-reducing technology and increase sustainability standards for the AU fleet.

Goal 12.3: Improve tracking methods to capture university travel information for GHG inventory.

  • Continue to evaluate sustainability and MPGs for new campus fleet vehicle selection.
  • Explore utilizing electric buses for campus shuttle service and investigate grant opportunities for the electrification of shuttle buses.
  • Expand options to reduce vehicle traffic to campus, including creating incentives for public transportation, incentivizing use of EVs, encouraging ride shares, expanding telework, continuing UPass, and exploring housing options.
  • Increase “first-mile” and “last-mile” transportation options to encourage the use of public transportation.
  • Encourage carbon-free transportation options.
  • Work with campus partners to better track university travel and identify alternatives.

Transportation accounts for 39% of AU’s annual greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions come from commuting, study abroad air travel, university sponsored travel, and fuel used by the university fleet of vehicles. By reducing the number of cars that come to campus each day, we reduce emissions and decrease the need to dedicate resources to parking. Through careful tracking of university travel we can identify opportunities for alternative modes of travel or reduce the number of trips.

13. Purchasing

"Can we really consume our way out of consumerism?" – Michelle Haworth

Goal 13.1: Develop support for offices to purchase from Local, Small, and Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (LSDBE) businesses and help offices make educated and informed decisions about inclusivity and sustainability in purchasing.

Goal 13.2: Reduce paper usage and paper waste on campus.

Goal 13.3: Support sustainable durable goods vendors.

  • Continue to remove unnecessary desktop printers by year 3 of the print management project.
  • Expand digitization of business practices and other campus processes to reduce paper usage, such as implementing electronic signature systems.
  • Create resources to support offices in their purchasing decisions.
  • Develop or utilize resources to support purchasing furniture and other durable goods
  • Analyze plastic purchasing across campus and work with offices to eliminate single use plastics.

The first step to many sustainability initiatives is considering what products and services to purchase. Continuing to reduce our use of non-sustainable materials and focusing on reducing single use items will support goals around waste, wellness, GHG emissions, and environmental justice.

14. Dining

"You, as a food buyer, have the distinct privilege of proactively participating in shaping the world your children will inherit." – Joel Salatin

Goal 14.1: Ensure plant-based food options at all dining locations, including a complete-protein vegan dining program.

Goal 14.2: Increase the amount of third party certified sustainably and/or ethically produced food.

Goal 14.3: Minimize food waste, expand food recovery, and reduce waste from packaging including eliminating single-use plastics.

  • Work with AU’s food provider Chartwells on establishing sustainable practices and incorporating AU’s needs in both on-campus dining and catering. 
  • Roll-out sustainable “to-go container” program in TDR.
  • Evolve and improve staff trainings and tools to reduce food waste and create educational tools for students.
  • Explore methodology for front-of-house composting.
  • Explore redistributing food from dining to local food banks, potentially through the Food Recovery Network.
  • Increase the amount of farmed goods provided from Airlie.
  • Eliminate single-use disposable plastics.

American University strives to provide its students, staff, and faculty with a variety of healthy and delicious dining options. By sourcing local, ethically produced food and minimizing food waste, we can lower the environmental and climate impacts of our dining and catering programs.