Sierra ranked University of Richmond as the 100th-greenest American university this year, according to its 2013 Cool Schools list, which ranked 162 colleges total.
This is the seventh year the magazine has published its fall Cool Schools issue, which recognizes institutions that are making substantial efforts to become sustainable and environmentally aware. Megan Zanella-Litke, the university’s sustainability manager, said it was not Richmond’s first time appearing on the list.
Sierra ranks schools based on information from The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS), an extensive assessment that values the greenness of every aspect of campus life. Richmond earned a silver STARS rating in 2013.
“This year, I think dining services has really made a lot of progress,” said Zanella-Litke, who works closely with dining services employees to help improve efficiency and sustainability. “They read the STARS questions and reconsidered how they did things.”
Zanella-Litke believes this will encourage other departments at Richmond to do the same, she said.
Jerry Clemmer, director of residential dining, said that employees have taken specific measures to ensure that Heilman Dining Center was sustainable in as many areas as it could be.
“Whenever there are opportunities to buy local, we do,” Clemmer said. Purchasing local ingredients supports local business and reduces the university’s carbon footprint since travel time is significantly decreased, he said.
Buying local ingredients also improves students’ health, Clemmer said. “When an apple’s been on a truck for a week, you lose about 40 percent of the nutrients,” he said.
Clemmer said that most students might not know that the dining hall saves food waste to be composted. Waste is sent through a pulper, which grinds food into a pulp, and then it is taken to a compost facility. From there, it is sent to a women’s prison to be used for gardening, he said.
Food that cannot be composted is also sent through the pulper to reduce its volume, which therefore reduces the volume of waste output from the dining hall. “This way, I can send one trash can to the dumpster instead of five,” Clemmer said.
A new way that the dining hall has reduced its carbon footprint this year is by installing LED lights in the middle dining room, Clemmer said. These lights use less energy than the incandescent lights that have been used in the past. Clemmer was making plans to change all lights in the dining hall to LED, he said.
Although Richmond had a higher ranking on the Cool Schools list in 2012 than it did this year, this does not necessarily mean the school’s sustainability decreased in 2013, said Avital Andrews, lifestyle editor for Sierra magazine. The system for assessing schools, called a data collector, is “constantly being updated,” she said. “It’s sort of a living, breathing document.”
The data collector includes hundreds of questions that are scored for each school. The greatest possible score is 1,000, Andrews said. The highest-ranking school in 2013, University of Connecticut, had a score of 850. Richmond’s score this year was 510.
“We try to score based on the Sierra Club’s priorities, especially those from our conservation department,” Andrews said. She said that questions related to energy consumption were worth the most points.
The list is intended to guide high school students’ college decisions, Andrews said. “More and more, high school students are wanting to go to a college that has a good environmental standing,” she said.
Andrews also said that the list was helpful for alumni to see how their school was doing, and for current students to compare their schools with others.
Zanella-Litke said that to improve Richmond’s score in coming years, the university community needs to decrease its emissions, specifically in the steam plant and by decreasing campus-wide energy consumption.
“We stopped burning coal and instantly saw a drop in emissions,” Zanella-Litke said. But she hopes to find other significant ways for the university to achieve its current goal of reducing its emissions by 30 percent between 2008 and 2020.
“The university has a big responsibility to provide buildings that work efficiently,” Zanella-Litke said, “but there also has to be a lot of personal responsibility from residents.” She said that students should turn off lights when no one is in a room and maintain lower temperatures in residence halls and classrooms during the winter.
To see how Richmond compares to other American universities, you can view the whole Cool Schools list at sierraclub.org/sierra.
Contact Collegian Reporter Catherine Sinclair at firstname.lastname@example.org