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The Greening of BU

Survey: University among most sustainable schools


The Princeton Review has named BU in its Guide to 286 Green Colleges. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

What a difference two years and $1 million can make.

When President Robert A. Brown announced the establishment of the Boston University Sustainability Committee in 2008, he vowed to reduce energy consumption and decrease waste across the campus by pledging $1 million for projects that would deliver the highest environmental impact with the least cost.

The effort paid off — so well, in fact, that the Princeton Review recently named BU in its Guide to 286 Green Colleges.

“This is a tremendous accomplishment,” says Dennis Carlberg, director of sustainability. “We’ve worked very hard to create a more sustainable BU; being recognized by the Princeton Review proves that we’re succeeding.”

Published in partnership with the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council, the guide focuses on colleges and universities that demonstrate “an above-average commitment to sustainability activities and initiatives.”

According to Carlberg, reviewers chose schools based on campus quality of life, how well they prepare students for employment in a green economy, and how environmentally friendly the school’s behavior and facilities are.

The Princeton Review began the guide after a survey of nearly 16,000 high school students and their parents revealed that 66 percent consider environmental sustainability to be important when looking at institutions of higher education.

“More than ever, college students are committed to the environment and to the impact they have on it,” Carlberg says.

Schools that received green scores of 80 or higher in the 2009 Princeton Review’s annual guidebook appear in the Guide to 286 Green Colleges. BU’s score was 88, based partially on investments to improve buildings’ energy efficiency through retrofitted features such as heat preservation systems, light-occupancy sensors, and water-efficiency upgrades, the large number of environmental clubs, and recycling efforts.

The guide also cited the University’s decision to eliminate trays in the dining halls, purchase organic and local produce, and compost preconsumer waste through the Dining Services Sustainability Program.

“We were recognized in areas of transportation,” Carlberg says, “because we’re integrated with the MBTA, we have the BU Shuttle (BUS), a ride-sharing program, and parking for bikes, and the city’s first bike lane was built here.”

The University has come a long way since Brown promised a greener BU in 2008, a promise that came on the heels of a less-than-stellar report card from the Sustainable Endowments Institute, an environmental agency that evaluates and grades sustainability levels at more than 300 U.S. and Canadian universities.

“The University’s green report card has improved incredibly,” Carlberg says. “We went from a D in 2007 to a solid B in 2010.”

In 2009, the University hired Carlberg as its first director of sustainability and implemented campus-wide printing quotas. Earlier this year, it launched an updated version of the Web site Sustainability@BU. The site, which directs visitors to many opportunities to work toward a more sustainable future, was recently selected as an honoree in the green category of the 14th annual Webby Awards.

“It didn’t happen overnight,” Carlberg says, “but little by little, we’re coming closer to our goal: a green BU.”

Vicky Waltz can be reached at vwaltz@bu.edu, or follow her on Twitter at @vickywaltz.


4 Comments on The Greening of BU

  • A on 05.06.2010 at 9:07 am

    I think it’s great that the administration has taken such large steps toward sustainability; however, it’s not enough to just install environmentally friendly lights or water systems. Sustainability has to be a state of mind too.

    At Splash, I don’t know how many nice recycling bags and reusable coffee cups were given out, but it was a lot. So a lot of people have the cups, but how many of them actually use them on a daily basis as they were intended? I honestly haven’t seen a lot of them when I’m in line for Starbucks.

    Likewise, just this past semester, Sustainability@BU placed “challenges” in the dorms on big posterboards. I believe one of them was about cutting down shower times to reduce water consumption. A respectable challenge, albeit not difficult. If it’s not that difficult for students to turn off the shower, why is it so difficult for cleaning staff to turn off the faucets? The cleaning staff for the communal bathroom on my floor will fill containers from the faucet to later rinse off the shower stalls of suds. Later really is later though. The staff member will leave the faucets running for minutes at a time, overfilling the containers and wasting gallons of clean water (x however many days shower stalls are cleaned x residential building x academic days). There must be a more efficient and sustainable way for the cleaning staff to clean the shower stalls.

    While working in an on-campus mailroom, many professors will collect their mail, stand there to filter through, and dump whatever they do not want in the garbage – regardless of recyclability. This kind of behavior is undesirable when it comes to BU’s sustainability.

    The point of these three examples are to show how BU students, staff, and faculty aren’t in that sustainability state of mind. So I applaud BU renovations for taking the first steps toward being more environmentally friendly, but I can’t say that the people here are so committed. I would encourage administration to place more emphasis on changing how the people at BU think about sustainability.

  • Liz Mazar, School of Theatre on 05.06.2010 at 10:03 am


    Congrats to Dennis, Susan, Dining Services, the faculty/staff Eco-Liaisons, the student Eco-Reps, and the entire BU Community that worked to make this distinction possible for BU. I look forward to future BU Today reports on the good works of these committees, and I encourage all faculty, staff, and students to check out the Sustainabilty@BU website. There, you’ll find loads of ideas that you can easily incorporate into your daily routine. For more ideas, join the BU http://www.Carbonrally.com Challenge. And, this week and next, we should all make use of the Goodwill donation bins throughout campus. Again, congrats to the team and thank you BU for making this a high priority for the University’s future.

  • Isabel on 05.06.2010 at 12:10 pm

    lights always on

    Congratulations BU for the award, but a lot more could be done, especially about lights on when not in use.

    All the lights on Mugar and the GSU are on after hours, during summer, during Christmas vacation. Can they be turned off when not in use or could an automatic system could be installed to turn on/ off the lights when necessary? I have been thinking about writing a letter, but I didn’t know to whom. I hope the administrators read my comment or somebody could direct me to the right person.

    Also, there should be a campaign to ask students and teachers to turn off the light switches when leaving the classrooms and offices.

    Kudos for the achievements!

  • Anonymous on 05.07.2010 at 10:43 am

    Print Quota

    The print quota should be evaluated based on the total sales of printer and copier paper and toner and ink cartridges in the area — Barnes and Noble, other stores, through BU Purchasing, etc. I see cost shifting onto departments, and personal printers, not necessarily a reduction of pulped trees, or at least not so large as claimed.

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