Colleges woo students with green efforts
By Nick Perry
Need to get to Seattle University? There's a green transit pass for that. Need to meet somebody when you're there? Try the new eco-friendly gathering space.
Eating in the cafeteria? The disposable forks are biodegradable, made from corn. Leftovers? There's composting, both off-site and on. Trouble getting home? Try car-pooling, van-sharing or something called maxi pool.
Seattle U. is typical of many universities across the country that are trying to win the hearts and minds — and tuition checks — of students by becoming greener than their peers.
Perhaps nowhere is the trend more apparent than in the Pacific Northwest, with its reputation for environmental awareness.
The move toward greener campuses is driven as much by the concerns of a new generation of students as it is by university leaders. And it reaches beyond the cafes and dorms into the lecture halls. At the University of Washington, for instance, one of the few departments expanding during a time of budget cuts is the fledgling College of the Environment.
Local universities have been quick to crow about their green successes. Just consider some recent news releases: "Western Washington University Students Sweep Awards at Environmental Competition," one reads. "Princeton Review Chooses The Evergreen State College for Its 'Green Rating Honor Roll,' " reads another. "Seattle University is the greenest green campus in Washington state," trumpets a third.
Beyond the hype, the universities are laying down serious plans for reducing carbon emissions. The University of Washington, in particular, has been lauded by a number of national organizations for its sustainability efforts and the extensive detail contained in its 73-page Climate Action Plan.
In the plan, the school sets ambitious targets: a 15 percent reduction in greenhouse-gas emission over the next decade, and the elimination of all net emissions by 2050.
The university says it expects technological improvements to account for some 60 percent of its energy-reduction goals. Suggested improvements range from the mundane, such as reducing steam leakage from the pipes in its heating plant, to the fanciful, such as pumping cold water from the depths of Lake Washington to cool campus buildings.
The school hopes behavioral changes, prompted by education and financial incentives, will account for another 20 percent of its goals. Carbon offsets — planting trees, for example — would take care of the remainder.
While some initiatives like the Climate Action Plan are coming from administrators, others come from students like Krysta Yousoufian. The University of Washington computer-science junior is one of 20 students who sometimes stand next to trash bins in the dining halls to remind staff and students that almost all their leftovers are compostable and should be placed in the green-waste bins.
"We don't mean to be chastising students at all, and we try to be as friendly as we can," says Yousoufian, the associate director of Students Expressing Environmental Dedication. "We understand it's confusing, and we are here to help, not to make people feel stupid."
"The UW is a pretty sustainable campus," she says. "I think students come in and have the culture of green thrown at them."