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Making Every Day Earth Day

Sustainability efforts are under way on BU’s campus


Today, millions of people will gather worldwide to celebrate Earth Day, but Boston University is making strides toward a more sustainable campus every day, says Gary Nicksa, BU’s vice president for operations.

“A sustainable campus makes sense, both environmentally and economically,” he says. “In a world where energy consumption and costs are constantly increasing, we must make a very conscious effort to creatively invest in sustainable technologies.”

And that is precisely what BU is doing, he says. More offices and academic buildings are establishing recycling programs. The University incorporates sustainable practices into all its major construction projects. And most recently, BU launched a University-wide ride-share program. “The president has made it very clear that sustainability is a priority,” Nicksa says, “and we are working toward it on a day-to-day basis.”

Last spring, a classroom study conducted by Cutler Cleveland, a College of Arts and Sciences professor of geography and environment, determined that from 1991 to 2006 BU’s energy use jumped more than 50 percent, to about 1.5 trillion British thermal units (Btus) of energy annually. Additionally, greenhouse gas emissions nearly quadrupled, to about 400 metric tons in 2006.

President Robert A. Brown took note and announced the formation of a committee to focus on sustainable operations. Appointing Nicksa and Cleveland as cochairs, Brown “turned what had been a mainly grassroots, personal-interest-driven movement into a viable organization,” Nicksa says.

A Web site for “greening” BU, launched last year by Michael Field (GRS’05), former University assistant provost, provides details of how the University is working to become a more eco-friendly campus. The site also offers tips for individual energy conservation and recycling.

According to the site, the University is examining three major areas: waste management, energy consumption, and construction. While the waste-management strategy incorporates the three Rs — reduce, reuse, recycle — into its program, it also focuses on education. “Intellectually, folks are on board with a recycling program,” Nicksa says. “The challenge is in the implementation, because it requires additional effort on the part of our students, faculty, and staff members.”

Currently, all major residence halls have bottle and paper recycling programs, as do many offices and academic buildings, including the Fitness and Recreation Center, Mugar Memorial Library, the George Sherman Union, the School of Law, One Sherborn Street, the College of General Studies, and the School of Education. A core group of student, faculty, and staff volunteers maintains the small recycling bins, which they empty into larger bins in central locations. Those bins are emptied weekly by recycling vendors.

Over the past few years, BU has improved its energy efficiency by shifting to cleaner-burning natural gas at its two boiler plants and by retrofitting lighting systems with more efficient fixtures and compact fluorescent bulbs. Such efforts have cut BU’s energy use by 11.7 million kilowatts, reduced fuel oil use by nearly 720,000 gallons, and saved the University about $3.6 million in utility bills, according to the Web site.

Last, the University is focusing on sustainable construction practices. “We are constantly renovating, and we incorporate eco-friendly practices into each project, whether it’s a single office or an entire building,” Nicksa says.

For example, Student Village II, a high-rise residence building that will provide housing for about 960 students, has highly reflective roofing materials to reduce heat-island effect, which occurs when dark surfaces absorb heat from the sun, contributing to higher urban temperatures. Windows will have transparent, double-glazed, low-E coated glass to reduce heat and cooling loss. And the building will have occupancy sensors for lighting controls and suite fan coil units and ventilation systems that use filtered, unconditioned outside air for cooling during the late fall, winter, and early spring.

Boston University has “more than 32,000 students and 9,000 faculty and staff members,” Nicksa says, “and every small thing you do, whether it’s shutting down your computer at night or turning off the lights when you leave a room, makes a difference. If each person saves a few kilowatts of energy and 20 cents each month, that translates into the University saving thousands of kilowatts and millions of dollars.”

Click here to find Earth-friendly tips that can be incorporated into your daily life. For a list of Earth Day events, click here.

Vicky Waltz can be reached at vwaltz@bu.edu.

Thumbnail photo by Kalman Zabarsky


2 Comments on Making Every Day Earth Day

  • CAS Business Office on 04.22.2008 at 9:30 am

    CAS Recycling

    The College of Arts and Sciences also started a building-wide bottle and paper recycling program at the end of March. Employed students are responsible for emptying the bins into bigger receptacles in the basement.

  • Anonymous on 04.22.2008 at 2:14 pm

    What is the status of greening efforts on the Medical Campus? I was surprised to see all the references to BU’s greening but only Charles River Campus facilities are mentioned.

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