‘Chill Out’ Awards Recognize Schools that Lead on Sustainability

Five colleges and universities and one high school win in fifth annual award show

04-13-2011 // Max Greenberg

For the fifth straight year, National Wildlife Federation recognized schools from across the country for their conservation leadership in the web-broadcast Chill Out: Climate Action on Campus awards today.

Baylor quad

Five colleges and universities and one high school were acknowledged in the leading national competition to honor schools implementing creative approaches to on-campus sustainability for efforts ranging from solar home-building to community-focused energy auditing.

According to Jeremy Symons, Senior Vice President of Conservation and Education for National Wildlife Federation, the Chill Out winners show there’s hope for the future.

“National Wildlife Federation applauds the efforts of these young innovators who are so energized to protect their future and the future of our planet’s natural resources,” Symons said. “The educators and students have proved it is possible to significantly reduce the pollution that is fueling global warming, and they are creating a clean energy workforce that is prepared to help decrease our country’s dependence on oil.”

The nation’s colleges and universities account for about 2 percent of America's carbon footprint, and their unique role as job training and leadership laboratories make them a vital piece of the move toward a more sustainable country.

America’s institutions of higher learning are vital in fostering leadership and innovation in new technologies and management systems for lowering greenhouse gas emissions on campuses and in their surrounding communities across the nation,” added Kevin Coyle, Vice President for Education and Training. “As our society’s youth will face the harsh realities of climate change over their lifetimes, they must have a voice in tackling the challenges of their future.”

High School Actions Category: Manhattan Comprehensive Night and Day High School (New York, NY)

This nontraditional public high school for students ages 17-21 is implementing a multi-phase effort to improve energy efficiency in the school and the local community, beginning with educating students on energy auditing. Though students come from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds—English is a second language for many—they learn to contribute to a new shared community in New York City: select participants are trained as clean energy consultants serving small businesses in the area, an effort covered previously by the New York Times’ Local East Village blog.

According to Jonathan Pereira, Director of Special Projects for Comprehensive Inc., the program is very popular among students. To Fatou Diaw, a current participant, that bodes well for the next generation of conservation efforts.

Students are “still young. And you know that a young voice is powerful,” Diaw said. Young people are “the only people in the world who can make their parents listen.”

Green Sporting Events & Programs Category: Baylor University (Waco, TX)

This Waco-based private Baptist university may be best-known for its football and basketball teams, so it is fitting that its ‘green’ plaudits come through sports. Established 166 years ago and a member of the Big 12 Conference since 1996, Baylor is working to educate its sports fans on the benefits of recycling as part of a broader effort by students to improve the environmental impact of their sports program. Through student and community volunteer participation, one-on-one communication and strategic advertising, the program has tripled the amount of plastic and aluminum recycled at home games and diverted 6.5 tons of trash from the waste stream.

Christine Lau, a junior, said sporting events seemed like a natural starting point for improving Baylor’s sustainability.

“We recognize that sporting events are really big community events, and that we could really reduce the amount of waste by setting up recycling effort(s), and that would just educate the community and just be great for Baylor and the surrounding community as well,” Lau said. “The biggest tip we can give other schools is to get every single person involved and on board with your efforts.”

Green Jobs and Education Category: Central Carolina Community College (Pittsboro, NC)

Central Carolina Community College, a recent participant in NWF’s Central North Carolina Greenforce Summit, has been recognized in the past for offering students “a focus on sustainable fuel production” among other green jobs coursework. CCCC won the Chill Out this year in honor of its Green Building and Renewable Energy Program, which is dedicated to training instructors for the new green workforce. Students and faculty host a green business trade show and tours of farms and green homes, showcasing the region’s growing green economy. The school was also recognized for its sustainable agriculture efforts.

Hillary Heckler, of the CCCC’s sustainable farming program, advises other colleges looking to start a farm to “start small and do a survey of (their) campus grounds.”

“You can have a large garden or a small farm […] and most campuses will have access to that kind of land,” she said.

Heckler added that the Chill Out prize money will be used to establish an account through the school’s foundation to send students to conferences and other educational programming.

Innovative Research and Design Technology Category: Missouri University of Science and Technology (Rolla, MO)

Missouri S&T was one of the first technological schools founded west of the Mississippi, and it is still staking out new ground. The school’s innovative student-run ‘Solar House Team’ creates attractive and energy-efficient solar powered homes in the Rolla, MO Solar Village each year, eventually bringing the projects to the international Solar Decathlon, an annual competition held in Washington, DC. Using ‘net-metering,’ the team-built solar homes, which house Missouri S&T students full-time, sell electricity back to the utility company.

Senior Anna Osborne said the Solar Decathlon is “an amazing experience” and praised the camaraderie surrounding the event.

“It was empowering to see university students of several nationalities come together for one purpose: to prove that solar technology and sustainable construction is a viable option for homeowners of every walk of life,” Osborne said. “Throughout the competition and rivalry with other schools, we bring new and exciting ideas to the table that will have a real impact on the world.”

Students in Action Category: Montreat College (Montreat, NC)

This private religious college in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains boasts a unique leadership team, SEEDS, that engages the student body, administration and local community in a variety of environmental stewardship projects. Recent examples include the Residence Energy Challenge, which saved about 3832 kilowatt hours and 1.31 tons of carbon from being released into the atmosphere, and the Garden of Eatin,’ an initiative to provide both gardening training and fresh produce to the campus and surrounding community.

Though small—the school boasts some 480 students—Montreat’s organic garden, service projects, educational seminars, environmental film series, recycling and conservation initiatives make it a model of sustainable action.

According to current student Andrea Thompson, the Residence Energy Challenge is especially popular.

“Last year the dorm who (sic) won flipped off as many lightswitches as possible, they took shorter showers, they played less video games," Thompson said. She added that Montreat’s Chill Out prize money would be used to pay for educational opportunities, guest speaker honoraria, and an annual award ceremony and celebration held on Earth Day.

Campus Actions Category: Eastern Mennonite University (Harrisonburg, VA)

EMU bills itself as a faith-based university whose undergraduate, graduate and seminary programs emphasize a well-rounded approach to universal service—including sustainability. The student-, faculty- and staff-run Creation Care Council provides a forum for coordinating campus-wide sustainability efforts. The panel’s initiatives integrate a theology of caring for the Earth with activities aimed at improving energy efficiency, education, community gardening, recycling and composting, transportation, infrastructure and grounds and buildings.

Among unique campus activities at EMU are a campus garden fed by dining hall compost, a collection-by-bike recycling program and a 328-panel rooftop solar array, the largest deployment of its kind in the state of Virginia.

“To date, since we launched the panel in mid-November of 2010, we’ve generated nearly 35,000 kilowatts of power,” said Andrea Wenger, Director of Marketing & Communications at EMU, of the array, which occupies the roof of EMU’s campus library. She added that the project was driven by the business department and MBA program in addition to the school’s environmental groups, proving a great example of broad collaboration in the name of sustainability.

This year’s webcast, which included the receipt of a cash prize from NWF for each school to continue its sustainability work, was co-hosted by voice and live-action actors Tara Platt and Yuri Lowenthal (voice of Superman on CW’s Legion of Superheroes). It will be available for viewing on-demand here.

For more on Campus Ecology efforts to improve sustainability efforts at educational institutions across the country, visit campusecology.org. You can also find activities, volunteer opportunities and advice from the Campus Ecology team at Facebook.com/campusecology.