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Campus Infrastructure

Many colleges and universities are like small cities—with roads, parking lots, utility systems, homes and offices, eating establishments, stores, police service, fleet cars, park-like areas, a large variety of buildings, and lots of people. And the bigger the campus, the larger and more complex is the network of systems and services that keeps it all going.


  • Transportation
  • Green Buildings
  • Landscaping
  • Nonpoint Pollution
  • Dining Services

Nearly every part of these systems has some degree of environmental impact, and in general it can be assumed that improvements could be made across the board.

From reducing salt applied on roads to incorporating green design principles in multi-million dollar buildings, a college's infrastructure—its physical structure and operations—holds many campus greening opportunities. The ideas and projects below are just a small sample.



  • Alternative fuels. Investigate the feasibility of using alternative fuels such as methane, ethanol, electricity in university vehicles.
  • Incentives for carpooling. Explore options for encouraging ride-sharing to campus, such as reduced-rate parking for carpool vehicles, and preferred parking spaces.
  • Biking to campus. Determine bike ridership at different times of year, assess bike parking and bike route options to make biking more desirable.


University of Colorado—Boulder, CO
The Campus Transportation Committee (primarily composed of student members) promotes the use of bicycles, mass transit and other alternatives to single passenger cars, in an effort to save energy and reduce CU's contribution to air pollution. The Committee is working with the CU administration to develop a visionary, long range transportation plan which provides for a "car-free" campus and a serious commitment to pedestrian and low-fossil fuel modes of transportation.

Source: CU Environmental Center website

Brown University—Providence, RI
Abstract. Over the past 25 years, various measures have been taken by the federal government to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide and atmospheric ozone polluting our air and destroying the health of humans, plants and animals nationwide. The 1990 Clean Air Act and the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) sought to meet this goal by reducing the use of the greatest producer of these pollutants, the automobile. Despite making the required changes to transportation planning methods as outlined in the most recent legislation, the state of Rhode Island is not expected to meet Clean Air standards in the future.

Since the implementation of the new Clean Air Act and ISTEA by the federal government in 1990, a number of student research projects have been conducted to assess the impact of this legislation on transportation practices at Brown. The failure of these federal and state regulations to create any legal obligation for Brown to adopt an official transportation reduction policy does not absolve the University of its responsibility. Despite the lack of effective governmental regulations, the University has an obligation to educate employees of the many costs incurred by excessive and unnecessary automobile use. In order to promote a cleaner, healthier work environment the University must do its share to address air pollution by reducing total vehicle miles traveled by the Brown community.

The purpose of this project was to provide an assessment of transportation patterns at Brown and then determine what actions the University can and should take to reduce the number of single-occupancy vehicles entering College Hill on a daily basis. Toward this end, our project provides an analysis of the results of past studies regarding commuter practices at Brown. The survey results from these studies were compiled in order to reveal a more comprehensive picture of the transportation habits of Brown's commuting population. The following three studies were included in our analysis: a 1993 ES11 project focusing on the commuting habits of University Food Services, Health Services, and Plant Operations employees, as well as a number of faculty; an analysis of the transportation habits of workers in the Brown Office Building; and an in-depth look at Brown's current parking policies, as of Semester I, 1994.

Our research revealed that it is in Brown's best interest to increase parking fees and encourage alternatives to solo commuting in order to cover the cost of maintaining our transportation and parking infrastructure. In order to meet the needs of both employees and the university, however, the lifestyles and concerns of commuters must be addressed as well. We have created proposals which address not only University costs, but also the expenses to commuters, and the convenience of various commuting options. Also included are educational materials designed specifically for profiles of typical commuters in order to inform the Brown community of ways they can reduce their individual transportation impact.

Source: An Assessment of Transportation Issues at Brown University - Environmental Studies 41: Environmental Practice Final Paper -- May 1995 - by Tracy Ostrowski, Jesse St. Laurent, and Jennifer Edwards

University of Oregon—Eugene, OR
Bicycles as a Major Mode of Campus Transportation - The University of Oregon (UO) campus probably has the highest concentration of bicycles in the State of Oregon. While there are no firm counts of cyclists, one's impression of campus includes bicycles both parked and in motion throughout the campus. This high level of bicycle use benefits the entire campus community by providing efficient low-cost transportation which requires neither large areas for parking nor use of polluting fossil fuels. The UO campus is located in the city of Eugene, which has built one of the most sophisticated and highly developed bike route systems in the country. Its carefully planned network of bike paths, lanes, and designated routes encourages safe, convenient riding throughout the city.

The UO Bicycle Plan set out by the Bicycle Improvements User Committee in August 1991 established a framework of policies, circulation routes, parking facilities, educational information, and enforcement guidelines to encourage use of bicycles and to make the campus as safe as possible for the whole university community, including pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists. The Office of Public Safety at UO strongly encourages bicycling as a way of responsible transportation -- and as a way of life. One of the most important lessons learned at UO is the value of our surrounding environment.

Tandem Taxi Service. The Tandem Taxi Service began operating at UO during the Spring 1997. It is the first service of its kind on any college campus. The Service uses tandem (2 seat) and triplet (3 seat) bicycles to provide free evening transportation for the university community. Besides transportation, the service also provides a safety function through direct contact with the university's Office of Public Safety. The Tandem Taxi Service was originated by UO's Bicycle Coordinator, David Niles, at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, GA. During Spring 1999, the Tandem Taxi introduced a new program of giving children from UO's child care program experience in riding a bicycle.


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  • New construction. Identify new-building projects far enough in advance that you can have some input into the design and bidding process. Develop environmental, economic and public relations arguments to try to convince campus decision-makers to make the proposed building as green as possible.
  • Renovations and retrofits. Encourage green building improvements in renovations that occur in existing buildings. Low emissivity windows, energy-efficient lights, appliances and motors, modern climate controls, low VOC carpets and finishes, motion detectors, daylighting, water conservation and renewable energy can all be incorporated to remodeling plans.



Northland College—Ashland, WI
State-of-the Art Green Residence Hall - In 1998, Northland College opened the world's most advanced environmental residence hall. The structure provides a unique living and learning opportunity emphasizing resource efficiency and renewable energy. The building's $4.1 million cost represents an investment in Northland's commitment to apply in practice what it teaches about developing a sustainable future. The new residence hall was designed with hundreds of environmental considerations in mind. Originally, the goal was to achieve energy and water efficiency at a rate 40 percent greater than a typical building designed to code. The Energy Center of Wisconsin study estimates that the structure will surpass this goal by another 10 percent, achieving a 50 percent greater efficiency level. The two-story design features three wings and houses 114 students. Living arrangements feature three styles: regular double rooms, suites, and apartments. It also includes nine lounge or study areas and four different energy and waste management systems.

Environmental Features. Among the special environmental features is a 120-foot 20 kilowatt wind tower to be located at the northeast corner of the building. Three photovoltaic arrays will provide efficient active solar energy collection and help study the efficiency -- one array is stationary, a second one tracks the sun's path horizontally, and the third tracks both horizontally and vertically to maximize solar gain. Fourteen solar panels placed on the roof of the south wing will preheat hot water for use by residents. Composting waterless toilets in two of the apartments will provide a demonstration of their function and efficiency. The apartments have passive solar design and share two greenhouses.

Planning Involvement. Northland College students joined architects and others on Northland's Campus Facilities Master Plan Committee to select the most environment-friendly materials for the new facility. Cedar shakes on exterior walls were not transported from western states, but grown in the nearby northern forests of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Other structural wood components were similarly grown and milled in the nearby region to reduce the impact of transportation on the environment.

Classroom Application. Beginning with the ELLC's first residents in the Fall 1998 term, Tom Wojciechowski, Director of Student Development at Northland, taught a course called "Sustainable Living in a College Community." Residents studied various aspects of personal living habits and choices from the perspective of environmental impacts. Additional studies in sustainable living focused on energy, water, food, consumption, and waste.

Source: Northland's Environmental Living and Learning Center

Middlebury College—Middlebury, VT
Sustainably-Harvested Wood Used in Campus Construction - Middlebury College used SmartWood in a new building. Students were involved in planning groups (called charettes) and helped argue for the use of sustainably harvested wood.

University of Michigan—Ann Arbor, MI
Green Remodeling of an Existing Building - The S.T. Dana building houses the University of Michigan's School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE). A new roof and new program spaces have been added to the 4-story building in its former inner courtyard. Beginning in May 2000, the majority of the old building parts will be completely renovated, including heating, ventilation and plumbing. Building occupancy after the renovation will be about 1000 students, faculty and staff. The "green renovation" is meant to be a kick-off project for a more systematic incorporation of environmental considerations into the design, construction and management of University of Michigan facilities.

Project Summary. The so-called Greening-of-Dana project has been initiated in order to reduce the life-cycle environmental burdens of the S.T. Dana building. Thus, our efforts take all phases of the renovation into account: demolition of existing parts, construction/remodeling, and building operation. In addition to energy and water efficiency measures, many issues were integral parts of the initiative. One is an educational program about environmental impacts of buildings.

In an impromptu project by two students and two faculty members, approximately 5,100 paving bricks from the inner courtyard were salvaged for reuse around the school.

Among other activities, Greening-of-Dana coordinator and assistants supported building designers with research on "green" building materials and recycling opportunities.

Source: National Wildlife Federation (see also Greening of Dana website)


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  • Pesticides. Analyze current use of chemical controls for weed, insects, plant diseases, and nuisance animals. Explore the pros and cons of environmentally safer alternatives, including Integrated Pest Management (IPM).
  • Tree inventory. Conduct an inventory of campus trees, including age estimates and physical condition. Plot locations on a computerized map and update yearly. Label trees and develop a "tree walk" with printed tour information.
  • No-mow. Identify turf areas in remote places or on steep slopes where a no-mow policy could be implemented. Measure runoff, biodiversity, aesthetic appeal and other factors before and after implementation. Calculate savings of fuel, air pollution, machine depreciation, staff time, and other costs.
  • Pavement removal. Find paved areas that are little used and mount a campaign to un-cover them. Calculate the benefits to groundwater recharge, nonpoint pollution reduction, and summer heating.


University of Georgia—Athens, GA
Latin American Ethnobotanical/Medicinal Plants Garden - In summer 1998, a garden of Latin American medicinal plants was constructed adjacent to the building that houses the Anthropology Department and Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, in an 80- by 100-foot area. The planning process began in 1995 as faculty and students decided that a place on campus was needed to conduct research on growing medicinal plants. The garden was viewed as a place that would introduce ethnobotany to the university community and serve as an area for outdoor classes, lectures and meetings. As planning proceeded, representatives of the Physical Plant Division were also involved.

A foundation grant made the garden possible, and it was created using found and recycled materials in line with a "sustainability ethic" that was part of the planners' intentions. The design plan included areas for sitting, teaching and picnicking. Graduate student volunteers were essential in helping get the project off the ground, and they help curate and interpret the garden for visitors. Long term maintenance, however, may require funding that can reimburse Physical Plant staff for their time.

Source: Greening the Campus III, Conference Proceedings, 1999, paper by James Affolter, Cheryl Mihalko and John R. Stepp, p. 150.

University of Vermont—Burlington, VT
Source: A student report: "A Turf And Weed Management Plan For UVM's Archie Post Athletic Fields"

Analysis and Recommendations for Restoring Turfgrass on Athletic Fields
by Nick Adams, David Cilia, Jason Crepeau, Josh Galiley, Mike Russell, Jason Shattie, Jill Watts.
Project Report for PSS 145: Turfgrass Management, Plant and Soil Science Department, December 1998

(From the Introduction) "Currently, the conditions at UVM's Archie Post Fields are unacceptable for athletic play. Past mismanagement and neglect have resulted in unsafe and unfit turf conditions. Mismanagement practices have resulted in conditions such as compaction, poor soil structure, insufficient drainage, and an unacceptably high percentage of weeds. Compaction not only inhibits the quality of the turf, but it also creates a higher risk of injury. The overabundance of weeds in an athletic turf environment creates a less dense turf structure and increases the amount of slipping by an athlete. This leads to a greater risk of injury. Our goal is to correct the current conditions, produce quality athletic turf, and develop a realistic maintenance plan. We produced an efficient plan while taking into consideration financial and ecological impacts."

The students proposed a minimum of herbicides be used to kill existing weeds and that future problems be controlled by better techniques that require few chemicals. Corn gluten, a natural product, was recommended as a pre-emergent weed control. See full report for more.


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  • Winter salt. Determine quantities of salt and other de-icing compounds used in winter on campus roads, parking lots and sidewalks. See if amount can be reduced, or less-polluting substitutes tested. Close off little-traveled sidewalks and block unneeded parts of large outdoor stairways.
  • Construction runoff. Examine policies and actual procedures taken to mitigate the impact of outdoor excavation and new building construction. Research state-of-the-art methods to control soil erosion and nutrient runoff and try to have improved methods adopted on campus.
  • Agricultural runoff. If your university conducts agricultural research -- and especially if farm animals are kept on campus -- see if efforts are being made to keep fertilizers and animal wastes from flowing into streams or storm sewers during heavy rains. Look for ways to reduce or eliminate sources of this pollution.
  • Stormwater analysis. Take samples of stormwater flowing down streets, off parking lots, in ditches and storm sewer pipes (the flow from the first few minutes of a storm tend to be dirtiest). Have them tested for contaminants and identify the biggest contributors of nonpoint pollution on campus.
  • Paints and solvents. Air pollutants can be reduced by using paints, solvents, cleaning chemicals and other products that are low in VOCs (volatile organic compounds). Look for opportunities in physical plant operations to use fewer polluting products and also ones that have more benign chemical components.



University of Wisconsin-Madison
Minimize the Surface Area Requiring Snow Removal or Salt Applications - Reducing the area that must be cleared of snow is the simplest strategy for reducing salt application and cutting the pollution due to salty meltwaters. Where practical we have identified redundant sidewalks and staircases, which can be closed during the winter season. Beginning in the 1995-96 season select sidewalks have been posted with "No plow, No salt" signs. Rope or chain barriers have been installed at several locations to bar entry to sections of wide or parallel staircases.

During the 1997-98 winter season several new barrier designs were used to improve the aesthetics of stair closures. Metal rings were welded to railings to provide secure and tidy attachment points for the heavy gauge high-visibility yellow polypropylene rope. Special removable posts, threaded into subsurface anchors, were installed at several locations to replace bulky portable posts with concrete bases. Replacing these concrete posts eliminated a possible tripping hazard. "Closed for winter" signs were suspended from the rope barrier on the upside approach to the staircase. This installation has been used at Steenbock Library, Vilas Hall, Agriculture Hall, Education Science, and Teacher's Education.

At Chamberlin Hall, a high-profile staircase facing University Avenue was outfitted with several removable metal railing closures. These railings were specially designed and fabricated for this site, in response to building occupant objections to the appearance of the original yellow plastic chain barriers. Special signs affixed to the closure railing informed pedestrians that the closure was for the purpose of salt reduction.

Conclusions: The railing and rope attachment systems worked well. Three signs were stolen or destroyed by vandals. Although no data were collected, we would expect that by reducing the total surface area that custodial staff must clear, better mechanical removal of snow from remaining areas can be achieved--further lessening the need for salt. And given UW-Madison's location on the edge of a lake, these salt-reduction efforts also reduced salty runoff to the lake.


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  • Reusable mugs. Launch a re-fillable beverage "lug-a-mug" program, preferably one where mug-users get a discount for refills. Collect data on sales on beverages, foam/paper cups, waste disposal. Design a mug and an educational campaign, and try to get off-campus cafes also to give a refill discount.
  • Washable dining-ware. Do campus cafeterias use disposable or washable plates, cups, flatware, mugs, and trays? Compare total costs for purchase, collection, disposal, wash-water, labor and other factors for both disposables and washables. Convert to durable, washable items where possible and develop educational materials to inform patrons.


Harvard University—Cambridge, MA
Prior to 1992, Harvard's freshman union dining hall used washable flatware, plates, bowls and trays. But unlike other undergraduate cafeterias on campus, which all used "durable" mugs and cups, the freshman union was using paper cups for hot and cold beverages. To serve Harvard's 1,650 freshmen, the union was purchasing and landfilling more than 5 million paper cups each year. The use of so many paper cups was becoming increasingly expensive and a pilot project to replace them with durable ones was initiated.

After experimenting with smaller glass tumblers the union switched to 12-ounce plastic tumblers which were less expensive and lasted longer than glass. A cost analysis showed that the program resulted in significant savings: only one-fifteenth as many paper cups were still needed (for take-out meals), and there were significant savings from the avoided pickup and disposal of throw-away cups. Increased water costs have been offset by rising prices for paper cups and landfill fees. The estimated savings for switching to durable cups is $186,000 per year.

Source: Excerpt from Green Investment, Green Return: How Practical Conservation Projects Save Millions on America's Campuses, 1998, p. 38.

Brown University—Providence, RI
Abstract: As students in an Environmental Stewardship class, we did an intensive investigation of Brown University Food Services (UFS). We had three initial goals of our investigation: 1) to determine and understand how UFS operates, 2) find areas where UFS was green, and where it had room to become greener, and 3) to establish a professional working relationship between the Environmental Studies Department -- especially the ES 41 Brown-Is-Green Practicum -- and University Food Services.

We began by doing background research of UFS, including menu planning, purchasing, production, serving and general energy flow of resources. We then studied food services at other universities and the green practices that have worked for them. After doing this research, we found that Brown's UFS is comparatively environmentally responsible. Nevertheless, we developed some suggestions we feel are plausible and would improve the success of UFS.

We researched and developed five suggestions.

  1. Purchasing post-consumer 100 percent recycled napkins
  2. Mixing grease waste with pig-bucketed organic waste
  3. Replacing eight-ounce glasses with twelve-ounce glasses
  4. Improving the vegan bar for customer satisfaction
  5. Purchasing organic vegetables.

Although this was only a one-semester project, we wish to communicate a commitment to UFS that the Environmental Studies Department and particularly the ES 41 Brown-Is-Green Practicum is more than willing to continue to research and support further environmentally related projects. (For full report, see Web site)

Source: Student report from Environmental Studies 41, Spring 1995 - Greening University Food Services by Ela Abrams, Jeff Doff. Jennifer McDonnell

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