Top Ten Sustainability Initiatives at American University

American University is located right in the nation’s capital – Washington DC. Because of Washington DC’s recognition as a leader in the clean technology and sustainability movement in the United States, American University has long believed that it needs to do its part to bolster Washington DC’s status as not only the capital of the United States, but also the capital of sustainability. American University has long been at the forefront of university leaders in the sustainability list. It has received top rankings on the College Sustainability Report Card as well as a host of awards and recognitions for all it has done. Listed below are just a few of the sustainability initiatives at American Univeristy.

1 ) American University Office of Sustainability. American University houses their Office of Sustainability right on campus. As one of the greenest universities in the United States, it is only fitting that American University has an Office of Sustainability that aids in building a university campus whereby the students and faculty work together to clean up the campus and make it much more sustainable. The work done by the Office of Sustainability “celebrates the abundance of nature by building a campus community of leaders, who work to clean our air and water, cool our atmosphere, and produce fertile land and habitat.” Some of the areas the office focuses on include buildings, dining, energy, purchasing, recycling, water, and transportation.

2 ) Administration. The administration at American University has adopted a number of policies regarding different aspects of sustainability, including green cleaning, green building, zero-waste, and sustainable purchasing policies. The administration also makes certain that the university only purchases electronics and appliances that are Energy Star Certified. As well, the university only purchases EPEAT Gold Certified computers, and recycled paper towels and toilet paper. The administration also created a Clean Energy Revolving Fund to finance new sustainability projects.

3 ) Climate Change and Energy. American University looks to become the first carbon neutral campus in the United States by the year 2020. To get to this, the university has implemented a number of energy conserving technologies, including back pressure turbines, cogeneration, as well as placing energy management systems in a number of the buildings. Most of the energy utilized by the campus is generated via a rooftop solar array as well as a solar hot water system. In 2010, American University became the first university in the United States to purchase 100 percent energy credits in wind energy.

4 ) Food and Recycling. The Dining Services at American University spends over 25 percent of its annual food budget on local products. A majority of the produce used by the dining staff comes from the garden located right on campus. The dining halls only serve cage-free eggs, sustainably harvested seafood, as well as antibiotic-free and hormone-free milk. All dining halls are trayless and all food scraps are composted. Recently there was a 12 week food waste reduction campaign to cut food waste by ten percent. More than 65 percent of all waste on campus is recycled.

5 ) Green Building. All new constructions on the American University campus, as well as all major renovations, need to at least meet the LEED Silver Certification guidelines as set up by the United States Green Building Council. To date, 40 buildings are LEED registered in the LEED Volume Pilot program. The university has also installed weather-informed irrigation systems and low-flow faucets. There are a number of green roofs, vegetated swales, and porous pavement around campus that manage storm water.

6 ) Student Involvement. Students if they would like, can opt to live in the Sustainable Earth Hallways at American University. Just launched by the university is the Green Eagles eco-rep program. There is also the Eco-Sense student group that leads an eco-certification program for all university offices. Student groups have also launched campaigns against bottled water and started a farmer’s market on campus.

7 ) Transportation. American University has a ride-sharing website that provides discounts on rates as well as preferential parking spots for people who carpool to work. The university also provides students and employees with discounts on public transportation. As well, the university partners with a car-sharing program, and there is a student-run bicycle-lending program which is completely free.

8 ) Green Cleaning. American University realizes that conventional cleaning products may contribute to a number of health problems, including cancer and asthma, and are also very unsafe for the environment. By utilizing safer cleaning chemicals, the university can improve their indoor air quality and the environment at the same time. For this reason, American University has set up a green cleaning program whereby the maintenance staff only uses Green Seal Certified cleaning products that are nationally recognized for the benefits provided to individuals as well as the environment. The maintenance staff is also efficiently trained on how to handle chemicals properly and how to minimize areas where dirt can build up, thereby eliminating the constant need for chemical cleaners.

9 ) Green Office Program. The Office of Sustainability at American University recently launched the Green Office Program to assist the faculty and staff at the university “green up” their departments as well as their office spaces. The Green Office Program provides insight on how offices can mitigate the environmental impact in their department, such as using recycled paper products, double sided printing of documents, reducing margins to save paper, using scrap papers, or requesting vegetable-based or soy-based inks for print jobs as they reduce the amount of VOCs emitted during the printing process.

10 ) Earth Week. Every year, American University participates in Earth Week. Each day, a different topic regarding sustainability is focused on. There is a “passport of events” where students can find out what is going on. Topics focused on every year include energy and conservation, transportation, food and water, and different services. There are a variety of workshops, such as collecting trash to be recycled around campus and helping with the green roofs around campus. There is also tree planting events, visits to the solar panels, and a number of guest speakers on topics regarding sustainability.

Article by Shawn Lesser, Co-founder & Managing Partner of Atlanta-based Watershed Capital Group – an investment bank assisting sustainable fund and companies raise capital, perform acquisitions, and in other strategic financial decisions. He is also a Co-founder of the GCCA Global Cleantech Cluster Association ”The Global Voice of Cleantech”. He writes for various cleantech publications and is known as the David Letterman of Cleantech for his “Top 10″ series. He can be reached at

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