How Green is GW?

Strategic management and public policy professor Mark Starik runs 100 percent of his home’s electricity on wind energy, drives a hybrid vehicle and regularly purchases solar energy products. He does so because, in the age of a war on terror, he is just as concerned about the battle the earth is waging.

“Climate change rivals terrorism as a world social issue,” Starik said. “Nearly every organization, including GW, could be greener.”

Starik is the director of the GW Environmental and Social Sustainability Initiative, which promotes the development of environmentally focused curriculum, courses and sustainable facilities. He said there are plenty of things large institutions such as GW could be doing to transition to more energy efficient sustainability plans.

“GW could be conducting environmental and energy audits, developing environmental and energy management plans, and working with all GW stakeholders to implement these,” he said.

With the creation last semester of the “Campus Green Fund” as the class of 2007’s senior gift and the development of the “Go Green GW” campaign, GW may start “greening” at the pace of some other college campuses.

Campuses “going green”

The trend of creating green, or environmentally friendly, campuses is happening at several universities across the United States through the transition to energy efficient facilities. Universities like Northwestern, Columbia and Harvard have already taken great strides in creating more sustainable buildings and habits.

Most recently, Yale University President Richard Levin said he hopes to make his school the greenest college in the nation. At the annual World Economic Forum meeting last month in Switzerland, Levin called on large organizations to do their part to make a more sustainable world.

“We cannot wait for our governments to act,” Levin told the summit’s delegates. “Large organizations with the power to act independently should take matters into their own hands and begin to reduce greenhouse gas emissions now.”

Local schools are also taking measures to “go green.” American University created a plan to run their campus on 50 percent renewable energy by 2012. The decision passed with 70 percent student approval in exchange for students paying $10 more per year, said Riley Neugebauer, Environmental Coordinator of American University Sustainability.

Although GW may not be on par with some of the most environmentally friendly campuses, Starik said there has been more progress than meets the eye. The University has conducted a lot of sustainability research, evidenced by its consistently high rankings in the Aspen Institute’s Beyond Grey Pinstripes program, which ranks business schools on their integration of social and environmental issues in curricula and research.

“GW was a leader at one time, but now many other schools apparently have a much better set of policies and programs,” Starik said. “But those are the visible things. What GW has done is sort of what I call ‘stealth greening’ … an internal you-don’t-see-it-but-we’re-doing-it greening.”

GW’s earthly efforts

The University has made efforts to advance the energy efficiency of the school, such as the conversion of some oil-fired boilers to gas-fired boilers to reduce air emissions and the replacement of washing and drying machines to more efficient models two years ago. Most notably, New Hall, which was built in 1997, was made with renewable flooring and an integrated recycling system, said Director of Facilities Planning Michelle Honey.

Starik said that a building with the environmental standards of New Hall has not been constructed since. While GW is in the process of developing further construction and renewal plans, these are still in the initial phases and have not yet been finalized.

“This disappointingly puts our school way behind other D.C. schools,” said sophomore Leighanne Boone, leader of the Keep GW Green student organization. The group works to raise awareness on campus about environmental issues and changes that could be made to develop a more environmentally friendly campus.

In addition to promoting the use of lower energy, fluorescent light bulbs and organizing weeklong Earth Day celebrations, the organization has written a petition for a conversion to alternative energy, which nearly 200 students signed.

Starik, along with other staff members, was an active participant in the GW Green Movement of the early ’90s when the University collaborated with the Environmental Protection Agency in the establishment of the Green University Office. The office created about 40 projects and 25 grants to progress green initiatives, including comprehensive environmental assessments of GW.

After six months, the partnership with the EPA and the Green University office dissolved when the EPA representative had personal differences with other people involved in the initiatives, and none of the proposals succeeded, Starik said. He added that GW has not established an office like it since. There is still potential, however, to develop a successful environmental program with faculty coordination, he said.

“All the right stuff is there, it just needs to be pulled together,” Starik said. “We need new, young leaders.”

The new “greening” of GW

The class of 2007 has created the “Campus Green Fund” as their senior class gift for the University. The fund, which the class voted on in September, aims to effectively manage a part of GW’s endowment through yearly memos explaining its projected use.

Senior Class Council, Green GW and other environmental groups are sponsoring a “Greenfest” in Columbian Square Friday to kick off the “Go Green GW” campaign.

Lars Johnson, assistant director of Student Alumni Programs, said a few proposed goals for the green fund include the use of more energy-efficient light bulbs as well as the installation of motion detectors to reduce the use of electric lighting. The student center of Catholic University uses these detectors to sense movement in the building’s hallways and rooms, and shut off lights when no one is inside.

“Right now we’re at the peak,” Starik said. “What’s happened in the past few months is that students have taken a very strong interest in greening the campus. The greening of GW is becoming a very hot student topic and that’s great.”

Starik added, “It’s such a big need. If it were to be fulfilled, I see big things ahead.”

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