Sustainable By Design: Lessons for FMs, From The Halls Of Academia

By Anne Cosgrove

Published in the June 2005 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

School may be out, but there are still things to be learned from facility management departments on campus-and the students they serve. Across the nation, students at colleges and universities are involved in sustainable practices on their campuses. Often, facility managers are involved in these efforts in one capacity or another-as initiator or participant.

One annual event gaining momentum nationwide is RecycleMania, a competition between college students to recycle, per resident, the most paper, cans, bottles, and cardboard used in residence halls, campus apartments, and dining halls. This past spring, the 10-week event resulted in the gathering of 10.4 million pounds of materials. This was a significant increase from the 2.4 million pounds collected in 2004, attributed primarily to the fact that participation jumped from 17 schools in 2004 to 47 for this year’s competition. The 2005 winner was Miami University, recycling 66.19 pounds per student during the 10 weeks.

RecycleMania was conceived in 2001 as a contest between Ohio University and Miami University when Ed Newman, recycling and refuse manager at Ohio, contacted the recycling department at Miami about the idea of competing. (The two schools have traditionally been sports rivals, and RecycleMania was an extension of this rivalry.) “We had determined that approximately 70% of waste on campus comes from the residence halls and dining halls,” explains Newman. “Clearly, we needed to do more.”

RecycleMania has since been joined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency which launched a Web site for the 2005 event in addition to gathering and tallying the statistics. The National Recycling Council also recognized RecycleMania in September 2004 with an award for Outstanding Recycling Innovation.

Another participant in RecycleMania has decided to enter an innovative environmental challenge. Colorado State University (CSU), Fort Collins recently became involved in the Tide Coldwater Challenge, a promotion created by the laundry detergent manufacturer. A new product, Tide Coldwater, is formulated to clean laundry in cold water as well as other detergents do in warm or hot water. Through the challenge, Tide encourages consumers to use its product in cold water on all types of laundry to see if the results are the same as with warm or hot water.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, approximately 80% of the energy used to wash a load of laundry is dedicated to heating water. So, when Cam Elvheim, project planner for the Department of Housing and Dining Services at CSU, Fort Collins, heard about the challenge, she signed on her facilities. “When we learned about Tide Coldwater and the ColdWater Challenge, it just seemed like a great fit for CSU,” says Elvheim. “The ColdWater Challenge inspired Colorado State to advocate washing in cold water to save energy, money, and lessen the school’s environmental impact.” As an incentive, Tide donated 5,000 single use packets of the detergent for CSU residents.

Now, while the typical college student can be expected to take anything that’s free, the ensuing participation reflected something larger: the ongoing sustainability efforts at CSU. In February, the facilities management department there was recognized by the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce with the 2004 Overall Environmental Business Award. The award is presented to businesses whose efforts “promote the enhancement of the natural environment of Fort Collins.”

Believe it or not, laundry is also a hot topic at Harvard University. As part of its conservation efforts, the Harvard Green Campus Initiative (HGCI), a group comprised of faculty, staff, and students, has educated campus residents on saving time and money when doing laundry. For its part, the university, as part of a scheduled replacement, ordered 300 front loading washing machines to replace less efficient models. According to HGCI, this has saved the university at least $50,000 per year in water and energy costs.

Efforts of this kind are not limited to a call for student action, however. HGCI also reaches out to faculty and staff members with a message to promote sustainability. For the past three years, HGCI’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences Computer Energy Reduction Program has headed up an effort to remind staff and students to turn off computers or activate sleep software when machines are not in use. Having achieved more than $100,000 of annual savings, program members have moved to spur more people to action. Spreading the word involves displaying award-winning student artwork in academic and administrative departments to remind occupants to turn off computers.

One way the administration at Harvard has supported student efforts was to establish The Green Campus Loan Fund in 2001. Under this program, $3 million in university funds were slated for campus projects expected to save natural resources as well as money over time.

Campus building and project managers can apply for these no interest loans which are evaluated by an advisory committee. As projects yield financial savings, the participating department gives the savings back to the fund. Loans are required to be repaid within five years. In December 2004, monies for the fund were increased by $3 million up to $6 million. This will help to support ongoing initiatives, since much of the original funding is tied up in active projects, according to Thomas E. Vautin, associate vice president for facilities and environmental services at Harvard and co-chair of HGCI.

Along with the support of their universities, these facilities management departments and students are making a difference. This demonstrates a broader concept that can be applied by facility managers all over-involving others in sustainable practices. There is a smorgasbord of choices to foster sustainability. Fellow staff members, building occupants, and upper management can be an important ingredient to that success.

To learn more about the programs featured in this column, visit RecycleMania at, CSU facilities management department at, and HGCI