Columbia reveals information on sustainability plan

By Amanda Murphy

Columbia used more than 14 million sheets of paper in the last academic year. According to Joe Leamanczyk, project manager of Campus Environment, that equals more than 1,000 sheets of paper per person at the college, including faculty, staff and students.

The college’s new sustainability plan evaluates numbers, like that of the paper usage, and is able to show where the college can develop better eco-friendly efforts.

Leamanczyk said Columbia has done a great job of reducing its carbon footprint, but there are many ways the college can continue to improve.

“Columbia has creative people who have an [opportunity] to come up with innovative solutions to raising awareness about sustainability,” said John Mascarenhas, partner at Sustainametrics, a consulting firm that helps Columbia with sustainability assessments. “[This] can indirectly lead to solving problems.”

The sustainability plan currently resembles more of a road map and evaluates areas of the college, such as waste and recycling, transportation, information technology and the classroom. Through the assessments, the plan makes suggestions as to how Columbia can apply more green-friendly alternatives.

In the case of paper usage, Leamanczyk said the first step is using the digital copy centers more than desktop printers. It costs 25 cents to print a piece of paper on a desktop printer and 6 cents at a copy center. The change to digital printing will be more energy efficient, and also save the college an estimated $500,000.

The sustainability plan has been accepted into the college’s strategic plan, meaning the eco-friendly efforts will be tracked. Leamanczyk said this will allow it to integrate into more areas of Columbia as a recognized strategy.

“We’re really excited about this,” Leamanczyk said. “It shows the college feels this is an important part of the institution as a whole.”

By working with Sustainametrics, Columbia has been able to create various ways to keep sustainability in mind. One suggestion for the college was to establish “green teams.” The teams allow it to get a thorough look at all areas and create achievable, quality goals, Leamanczyk said. The college has eight different teams that focus on sustainability in a wide variety of areas from education to food and dining.

Transportation is another area a green team focuses on, with cleaner alternatives of traveling to and from campus. A new eco-friendly addition to the college will include a bike storage unit, which is expected to be built on the empty lot at 754 S. Wabash Ave.

Leamanczyk said while plans for some type of campus center are in the works, the college will utilize a portion of the space for secure bike storage to increase the number of students, faculty and staff who ride bikes to campus. He said he hopes when the campus center is opened, a portion of it will be used for bike storage.

Improvements that will help Columbia become more energy efficient, such as building modifications and increased enrollment, will also help the college financially. Mascarenhas said most of the ways Columbia can save money is through energy efficiency, but paper usage and waste reduction can also contribute.

“Colleges being greener helps with the value of their reputation, enrollment, recruitment and retention,” Mascarenhas said. “[They] have also found they can save a significant amount of money through operational efficiency.”

The sustainability plan will also evaluate the college’s Art and Design Department. For this particular department to minimize waste, it should look into reusing recycling materials and reusing waste from previous projects, Mascarenhas said.

According to Brenda Berman, director of marketing in Institutional Advancement, inspiring students and faculty to change their ways is key to making the green mission work.

“You have to ask the question, ‘How is it going to affect me directly?’” Berman said.

Columbia based a lot of its green improvements on the standards of the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System. The system was created by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education and is similar to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design building system because it’s based on points. The college has not applied for STARS certification yet, but as improvements are made according to the criteria, Leamanczyk said the college will be in good standing.

Mascarenhas said improving sustainability in colleges and universities—which create approximately 2 percent of the world’s carbon footprint—is important because they are creating the future professionals, visionaries and educators. Colleges are a place of high leverage because students are the people who can take what they learn about sustainability and carry it with them through their lives and careers, he said.

“At Columbia, there’s an opportunity to change mindsets and connect all of the creativity to the meaningfulness of sustainability,” Mascarenhas said. “Combining that with the urban campus in one of the largest, greenest cities in the U.S. gives Columbia a unique [advantage].”