Green Investment, Green Return

Green Investment, Green Return: How Practical Conservation Projects Save Millions on America's Campuses

Colleges and universities across America are sending a powerful message that what's good for the environment is also good for the bottom-line.

Green Investment, Green Return: How Practical Conservation Projects Save Millions on America's Campuses reveals that big savings are being achieved through environmental initiatives on campuses nationwide, even as college administrators are facing tough economic constraints.

Executive Summary

A healthy environment or a sound economy? This choice, business and academic leaders are proving, is a false one. The fact is, most college and university conservation efforts actually improve financial and environmental performance.

This report highlights the pioneering work of academic institutions across the country that have achieved the twin goals of saving money and saving the earth. They have demonstrated, in theory and in practice, the compatibility of a healthy environment with a sound economy: two essential components of a sustainable future for people and nature.

The following 23 case studies highlight cost-saving conservation stories at 15 public and private colleges and universities, ranging in size from a few thousand to 40,000 students. Project categories include transportation, energy and water conservation, materials re-use and re-distribution, composting, recycling, and management of hazardous chemicals.

Savings per project range from a little more than $1,000 to around $9 million per year. The combined annual savings realized across this sampling of projects is an impressive $16,755,500. The cumulative savings over the years, of course, is even greater. For instance, the costs avoided through a variety of energy conservation projects implemented consistently over the years at the State University of New York at Buffalo exceed $60 million.

The potential for cost-effective environmental improvement on college campuses is staggering. If the resource and financial savings these 15 campuses have realized were multiplied across the nation's 3,700 institutions of higher learning, the impact on the environment and on school budgets would be enormous. If each campus, for example, secured merely one-tenth of the annual water savings achieved by Columbia University's recent retrofit program, the nation's colleges would collectively reduce U.S. water consumption by over 22 billion gallons a year. And if every campus reduced carbon dioxide emissions by only one-tenth of what Cornell University has achieved through its transportation demand management programs, colleges and universities would prevent emissions of over 2.4 billion pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

When the average savings of $728,500 for the 23 projects highlighted here is multiplied across the remaining 3,685 colleges and universities, the savings top $2.6 billion. Or, on a more modest level, if every campus in America realized the energy-related savings of the 2,000-student Elizabethtown College, the combined savings for all campuses would exceed $900 million.

As the campuses featured here have realized, saving the environment can clearly save money and, whether viewed in terms of quantifiable benefits, such as dollars, gallons and tons, or considered in less quantifiable ones, such as setting a good example for students, the stakes of campus greening efforts are high.

Green Investment, Green Return stands as a challenge to higher education decision-makers and stakeholders not yet in serious pursuit of opportunities to improve their environmental and economic profile: To those readers the message is simply "get involved." Campus ecology can protect unique natural resources, conserve dwindling supplies of fresh, clean water, slash toxic emissions and train new generations of environmentally savvy citizens. What's more, such projects can yield a strong return on financial investment. If 15 colleges and universities can save and make nearly $17 million over the course of 12 months, any institution can find its own approach to saving money by saving the environment.

Cost Savings

Annual Revenues and Savings for 23 Campus Conservation Projects
Practical conservation projects can save millions of dollars on America's campuses. The chart below outlines some actual savings figures for schools around the country.

Conservation Projects Annual Revenues and Savings
Getting Students and Staff Out of the Car at Cornell University, NY $3,123,000
Creating a Bus-Riding Campus at the University of Colorado-Boulder, CO $1,000,000
Energy Conservation
Creative Strategies for Saving Energy at SUNY-Buffalo, NY $9,068,000
Lighting and Equipment Retrofits at Elizabethtown College, PA $247,000
A Four-Campus Energy Reduction Strategy at Brevard Community College, FL $2,067,000
Laboratory Renovations and More at Brown University, RI $15,500
Burning Better Lights in Dorm Rooms at Dartmouth College, NH $75,000
Solar Panels Generating Savings at Georgetown University,Washington, DC $45,000
Water Conservation
New Toilets and Water Fixtures at Columbia University, NY $235,000
Cleaning Up with Water-Saving Showerheads at BrownUniversity, RI $45,800
Dining Services
Washable Cups in the Freshman Union at Harvard University, MA $186,500
Saving on Refillable "Red Mugs"at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, WI $11,400
Sale of Surplus Property at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, WI $241,800
Maintaining Vehicles with Re-Refined Motor Oil at the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, IL $3,500
Second Time Around for Chemicals at the University of Washington, WA $14,400
Management of Hazardous Chemicals Cutting Out the Weed-Killers at Seattle University, WA $1,300
Chemistry Classes with Fewer Chemicals at the University of Minnesota, MN $37,000
Creating Fertilizer with Kitchen Food Waste at Dartmouth College,NH $10,000
Composting Landscape Waste and Scrap Wood at the University of Colorado-Boulder, CO $1,300
Award-Winning Materials-Recovery Program at the University of Colorado-Boulder, CO $107,000
Dining Services Recycling at Harvard University, MA $79,000
Getting Top Dollar from Paper Recycling at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, WI $120,000
Analyzing Wastes to Cut Costs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, WI $21,000
TOTAL $16,755,500

Get Involved

Where We Work

More than one-third of U.S. fish and wildlife species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades. The National Wildlife Federation is on the ground in seven regions across the country, collaborating with 53 state and territory affiliates to reverse the crisis and ensure wildlife thrive.

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