Knapp outlines new sustainability plans

GW is fine-tuning its sustainability goals as part of a continuing effort to make the urban school more eco-friendly, University President Steven Knapp announced Friday.

The new targets, dubbed the “ecosystem plan,” include recycling half of total waste produced by 2017, reducing light pollution in construction projects and purchasing more food from local sources. These goals will become the tenets of a formal plan, set to be released this summer.

Overall, the new guidelines, which Knapp hopes will serve as a template for other colleges in the District, also zone in on animal habitats and paper waste.

“We want to become the chief model of urban sustainability in a city that itself aspires to be a green city,” Knapp said at the University’s annual Earth Day Fair. “It’s not a question about just being kind to the environment, it’s a question about human survival on this planet, at least with the kind of life that all of you want to enjoy and want your fellow human beings to enjoy.”

The Office of Sustainability plans to review GW’s waste program and revamp specific components in the new plan, including a greater focus on composting, Sophie Waskow, GW’s sustainability project facilitator, said prior to Knapp’s announcement.

“Zero-waste is something you can’t do overnight, so the sort of more immediate goal is the 50 percent recycling rate. It was very important for us to set those longer term vision goals, as well as things that we can really implement and work on right now,” Waskow said.

The University will also plant more native trees on G Street between 20th and 21st streets to encourage biodiversity and release hundreds of ladybugs and praying mantises, which feed on insects like mosquitoes.

The ecosystem plan is the third step in implementing the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, which Knapp signed at GW’s first official Earth Day celebration in 2008. The institution was the first college in the District to sign.

Knapp also signed a commitment in February with eight other presidents from area colleges to promote sustainability in tandem with Mayor Vincent Gray.

The University’s 2010 Climate Action Plan, which aims to achieve carbon neutrality, and its 2011 GWater Plan, which focuses on water conservation on campus, were the first two steps in GW’s sustainability strategy.

“The whole purpose is to figure out how we create a healthy ecosystem with this built environment that we have here on campus and in the way that we reach other ecosystems,” Meghan Chapple-Brown, director of GW’s Office of Sustainability, said.

The University will also try to better connect the GW community to local ecosystems by hosting outings and service-learning projects in areas like Rock Creek Park and the Potomac River.

Students, faculty and staff are “not signing up for a less sustainable lifestyle because they are in a city, but in fact, they’re signing up for a more sustainable lifestyle because of the resources that we have in a city to use things more efficiently,” Chapple-Brown said. Green initiatives also come with financial perks, helping to cut back water and electricity consumption, Knapp said.

“We’re actually expecting to have net savings in energy that will translate into part of the [Innovation Task Force] funds we can invest in our academic programs, which I think is very exciting,” Knapp said in an interview Friday.

The task force, launched in 2009, identifies areas where the University can increase cost efficiency and funnels the savings into academics.

Waskow declined to give the costs associated with implementing the ecosystem plan, citing ongoing expenses as policies are rolled out.

Sustainability has been a priority for Knapp since his arrival at the University in 2007, when he founded the Office of Sustainability.

GW was among hundreds of other colleges nationwide lauded for their sustainability in a report released last week by the Princeton Review and the U.S. Green Building Council. The nod pointed especially to GW’s academic offerings, including its launch of a sustainability minor for next fall.

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