CMU is Greening the Campus
Focus, October, 2008

Alyssa ReuterTaking an evening stroll through campus with Austin Redwood can include its share of unplanned detours. The 21-year-old junior from Baltimore is liable to veer off any time he sees an empty classroom with the lights left on. "I'll be walking around campus and the lights will be on, in labs, art studios, the business school." Redwood's reaction? "I'm fuming" - and, quite likely, he's headed inside to turn off the lights.

It may seem a symbolic gesture to many, but the act speaks to the mission he and others in the Carnegie Mellon community have set for themselves to make the campus more aware of conserving energy, reducing waste and making other sustainable practices a part of everyday campus life.

CMU has a green heritage - it was one of the early universities to form an environmental task force, in 1996, to come up with a plan for making the campus more eco friendly. One result was the appointment of Barb Kviz in facilities management to the newly-created position of environmental coordinator and the formation of a Green Practices Committee. Both Kviz and Redwood give CMU Pres. Jared Cohon and the rest of the administration high marks for supporting green initiatives. "He definitely knows what's up," said Redwood. "It's just an issue of getting all the bits and pieces working together. What I would like to see is an institution-wide effort to plug in those individual puzzle pieces. They are ready to be pluged in. It's just a matter of getting people to do it."

In a recent survey of universities' sustainability initiatives, CMU dropped out of the top 15, despite raising its grade from B- to a B. So, while CMU is doing well, others are catching up. The university's record of recycling about 20 percent of its waste is about half the rate Kviz would like to see.

"I sometimes think the university is more environmental than the students," she said. " But it is our mission to educate the students, to train them and go out into the world and practice green into their lives."

Redwood said he believes CMU "has been doing a decent job with its recycling program, and with replacing all university lights with cost-efficient CFL bulbs. The university has a Green Practices room, on which many different materials can be recycled, from standard cardboard and plastic, to hard-to-recycle stuff, like shoes and compact discs. Also, most of the University's transportation vehicles - shuttles and certain FMS vehicles - run on electricity."

But he also sees room for improvement. "I personally think the school has done enough research to start making their energy resources more efficient, from installing timers in certain spots on campus that shouldn't be lit 24-7, but for some reason are, to continuing to purchase more electrical energy from renewable sources over time."

Kviz said in its latest report card, three areas for improvement stood out - air travel by faculty and staff, building energy use (despite Redwood's efforts in turning off lights) and recycling and energy use for goods and services.

Vanessa Schweizer, a graduate student researching long-term climate policy in the Department of Engineering and Public Policy, helped organize two events last year - a "National Teach-In" in February and a deliberative poll on climate change in April. Both will be repeated in 2009. "You have a high concentration of people in the administration and faculty who are committed to doing this," she said, but "a very small subset" of students. "I think the primary reason for this is that it is easy for students to be caught up in the academic expectations of what's happening on campus. They don't always have this balanced view of their college experience," she added. "I see this as a challenge. This is a different kind of nut to crack. We have to figure out the best way to approach the Carnegie Mellon student."