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Top Ten Sustainability Initiatives of Duke University

Located in the city of Durham, North Carolina is Duke University, a very well known campus in northeast United States. As a leading university, Duke University also looks to take the lead when it comes to environmental stewardship by creating a number of sustainable initiatives throughout the campus. By raising environmental awareness among students, faculty, administration, and staff, as well as making the university itself much more sustainable and therefore more environmentally friendly, Duke University looks to remain at the head of the list of sustainable universities. Here is a small smattering of some of the sustainability initiatives going on Duke’s campus today.

1 ) Duke University Office of Sustainability. The Duke University Office of Sustainability remains “committed to examining the actual and potential environmental impacts associated with [the office’s]activities and services in order to improve environmental performance.” The environmental policy created by the office commits to leadership in three distinct areas – environmental research and education; environmental stewardship within the campus-wide community, and environmentally responsible operations. The end of the policy states, “Duke University is committed to playing a constructive and collaborative role as a responsible environmental citizen in the life of the surrounding community. We will maintain a positive and proactive role in communicating with the surrounding community, especially the Durham community, regarding our environmental activities and performance.”

2 ) Administration. Duke University’s campus has an environmental policy and master plan that aims for the promotion of environmental, social, and economic responsibility. The entire sustainability committee consists of nine administrators, ten staff members, 27 faculty members, and 15 students. The committee recently completed the university’s climate action plan and creates criteria to select items, like buildings around the university which will be retrofit.

3 ) Climate Change and Energy. Duke University has been able to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by seven percent by 2007. The objective of the university is to achieve a carbon dioxide reduction of 45 percent by the year 2024. To do this, the university invests in a number of locally-based carbon dioxide offset projects, including a methane-capture project located on a farm in North Carolina. All the buildings around campus were retrofitted with steam line insulation, efficient lighting, as well as chilled water meters. Also utilized are a number of other energy efficient measures, including steam trap systems and temperature setbacks.

4 ) Food and Recycling. The university spends a minimum of 25 percent of its entire annual food budget on local food products, including fruits and vegetables. Duke University also purchases organic produce as well as meat that is free in hormones and antibiotics. All cafeterias on campus have a to-go program that offers reusable containers. All surplus food is then donated to local food banks. All pre-consumer scraps and post-consumer scraps are composted. The university also enforces a limited printing program and in the campus store there is a section where all unused office supplies are sold to students.

5 ) Green Building. The campus at Duke University features more than 15 LEED certified buildings. The university building policy required that all buildings meet LEED certification requirements and encourages all projects to meet the specific LEED standards of Silver Certification. Since 2005, the university has been able to reduce total water consumption 21 percent by utilizing cisterns that recycle all rainwater.

6 ) Student Involvement. Students throughout Duke University are able to live in a residence hall that is energy efficient. Many freshmen students to Duke University learn all about sustainability initiatives throughout campus through presentations given by resident assistants. There is also an online sustainability pledge as well as a waste-free picnic. The school holds an annual Eco-Olympics where prizes, such as cash, are awarded to dormitories that increase all their recycling efforts as well as reduce energy consumption.

7 ) Transportation. Duke University offers a ride matching service online to help faculty members as well as students coordinate carpooling efforts. High occupancy vehicles are also provided with discounted and preferred parking options as well. There is free transportation provided to students and faculty around the campus, as well as to downtown Durham. The university also provides a free bike sharing program for all students with more than one-hundred bikes available for students to rent on a regular basis.

8 ) Green Grant Fund. The Green Grant Fund at Duke University was created by Executive Vice President Tallman Trask. The vice president committed $50,000 to provide funding to faculty, staff, and student led initiatives that will help “green” Duke University. The fund in the past has been used to create conferences, conduct new research, and provide training and education. The grant is given to activities and projects that will decrease the overall impact of environmental impact on the campus. The grants can also be utilized for education purposes if it is proven that the education will provide a reduction in the environmental impact at the university. It is a rolling grant program so the applications are considered when they are submitted to the program

9 ) Light bulb Exchange. As new students enter the dormitories, they tend to bring in their own personal lamps. As the class arrives, the Facilities Management Department at Duke University provides compact fluorescent light bulbs that use a quarter of the energy as most light bulbs and last ten time longer than any incandescent light bulbs. This program was started in the 2002-2003 academic school year by the Environmental Alliance, an undergraduate student group that is committed to the promotion of the implementation of various sustainable practices throughout the university.

10 ) Duke University Greening Initiative. The Duke University Greening Initiative is an organization made up of graduate students that focuses on project to increase Duke’s institutionalization of sustainability. The initiative will “integrate environmental stewardship into every faced of life at Duke University. The educational exchange and technical innovation encouraged by the initiative’s activities will empower Duke University to lead in environmental sustainability.” Some of the projects include the Bike Advocacy Committee, the Green Dining Committee, the Recycling Committee, and the Energy Committee. The initiative also holds a speaker series where professionals from the environmental sustainability industry come to speak.

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 is also author of The 2012 Cleantech Directory. He can be reached at

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2 comments on “Top Ten Sustainability Initiatives of Duke University


Since when is North Carolina part of the regional northeast?

Steve Viederman

Sean, that is an admirable list, but one thing is absent. There is no evidence that any of their endowment is invested is ways that reflect their strong commitment to sustainability. This is sad if all too common among universities.

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