UM gets average marks from sustainability group

Saturday, November 17, 2007 | 9:08 p.m. CST; updated 4:03 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

COLUMBIA — For some college students, A’s just come naturally. But the UM System found it’s not always so easy when it comes to going green.

The College Sustainability Report Card, an annual report by the Massachusetts-based nonprofit Sustainable Endowments Institute, grades the 200 highest-endowed North American universities on environmental practices. The UM System earned a C overall, up from a C- last year. The system scored a B in the Food and Recycling and Transportation categories, but a C in Administration, Climate Change and Energy and Green Buildings.

Sustainability, as defined by the institute, is the promotion of long-term environmentally friendly policies, practices and resource management.

The MU campus, the group said, has some deficiencies to overcome before it can be considered environmentally sustainable. One drawback is that MU does not have an all-encompassing sustainability plan in place. A campus Sustainability Plan Task Force began meeting in July and meets on a monthly basis and once a quarter with members of sustainability projects from other UM System campuses.

The task force is gathering information about what is happening on campus to promote sustainability and how the projects can be coordinated. Dan Hooley, a classical studies professor and chairman of the Environmental Affairs Committee, was instrumental in forming the task force.

“The administration has made a good faith beginning towards the formation of such a policy,” Hooley said. “But the plan has to be implemented by the administration expeditiously as these matters are urgent and have to move forward more quickly.”

The Environmental Affairs Committee advises Provost Brian Foster on environmental issues on campus by gathering and presenting data about the impact of campus activities on the environment. Now in its fourth year, the committee prepares annual reports that encompass everything from hazardous materials to green purchasing to environmental education.

“We (the committee) take the initiative to talk with the administration about particular needs, as we did last year in initiating a process that will bring a coordinated sustainability plan to campus — something we’ve long needed,” Hooley said.

Peter Ashbrook, director of Environmental Health and Safety at MU and the liaison between the task force and Environmental Affairs Committee, said the campus has set up a structured approach that will do more than just collect data.

The sustainability task force, composed of members from different departments on campus, is headed by Paul Ladehoff, a coordinator for program and project support at the MU School of Law.

“We’re not out to reinvent,” Ladehoff said. “We will see how to coordinate and move forward. It takes individual efforts to make a comprehensive plan.”

The report did point out that the MU Power Plant is replacing a percentage of its fuel with chipped tires and waste wood chips. The institute reported that MU does not pursue Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification through the United States Green Building Council.

The certification assigns points to each building based on a rating system in specific areas of construction.

MU building officials defended some of the campus’ policies.

“We do not use LEED certification standards, partially due to the cost of implementation,” said Phil Shocklee, associate director of communications for Campus Facilities at MU. “But our Sustainable Design Policy does address many of the areas required for LEED certification.”

Campus Facilities promotes a Sustainable Design Policy that promotes indoor environmental quality, energy performance, the use of recycled building products, anti-erosion and sedimentation control and water efficiency.

Ashbrook said that while buildings are constructed to meet these standards, the cost for getting the certification is not part of the university’s budget. “The feeling here is that funds going towards certification can be better used towards the project itself,” he said.

Ashbrook said that MU is doing more toward sustainability than is reflected in the institute’s report. Hooley, for example, points out that MU’s “state of the art” energy management practices have reduced energy consumption and the emission of greenhouse gases substantially over the past 20 years.

Shocklee pointed out that, while the campus has grown by almost 60 percent since 1990, energy use has been reduced by 19 percent during the same span, thanks to significant energy conservation efforts.

“For proof of our efforts,” he said, “you only need to look at our energy bills over the past 17 years.”

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