After years of wearing gray and bleeding blue, Georgetown is implementing new efforts to think green.
Last Thursday, University President John J. DeGioiaannounced that a $20 million anonymous donation to the Georgetown’s capital campaign will be used to formally launch the Georgetown Environmental Initiative. The initiative, which will facilitate interdisciplinary environmental research by faculty at all three of Georgetown’s campuses and create an administrative center to expand environmental research, comes at a time when several environmentally oriented groups on campus — led by both students and administrators — are also focusing on making Georgetown more sustainable.
The ongoing conversation about the environment at Georgetown is rooted in DeGioia’s 2008 pledge to reduce university greenhouse gas emissions to 50 percent of their 2005 levels by 2020. Since the pledge, Georgetown has already seen improvement; Greenhouse gas emissions dropped by about 17.5 percent during the 2010-2011 school year alone.
Unlike many peer institutions, including Johns Hopkins University and The George Washington University, Georgetown has not issued a formal plan that lays out concrete strategies and goals for sustainability initiatives.
Instead, the university is following recommendations outlined in last year’s Visions for a Sustainable Georgetown study, which looked into the ways the university could become more sustainable in the immediate and long-term future.
The study, prepared for a Hoya Roundtable on sustainability in spring 2012, was conceived at the Visions for a Sustainable Georgetown workshop last fall, in which 50 Georgetown students and administrators met in small focus groups to discuss possible solutions to Georgetown’s sustainability issues.
Many of the solutions recommended by the study have already been implemented.
The recommendation to reduce the amount of Grab ’n’ Go packaging resulted in the new “baggie” system and the provision of reusable water bottles by the dining hall for all students on a meal plan. Additionally, water bottle fill stations have been added to high-traffic areas of campus, such as Sellinger Lounge and the third floor of Lauinger Library.
The majority of New Student Orientation announcements have also gone paperless, and Georgetown University Transportation Shuttles now run on biodiesel fuel.
Student groups have been pivotal to the success of many of these initiatives.
Georgetown University Student Association employed its own subcommittee on sustainability, in addition to working closely with other student groups, including EcoAction, Students of Georgetown Inc., GU Farmer’s Market, Outdoor Education and Georgetown Energy, to move its environmental agenda forward.
Georgetown Energy, a student-run non-profit group independent of the university, worked with GUSA last year on Student Activities Fee Endowment reform, part of which provided $250,000 for the installation of solar panels on 43 off-campus townhouses.
The panels, the installment of which was delayed due to legal complications, will debut in early December on the roofs of seven off-campus townhouses.
“There were contract details with the university and [supplier] SolarCity that had to be resolved,” Dan Mathis (SFS ’13), executive board member of Georgetown Energy, said. “We were negotiating minute details regarding rights to the panels and to the rooftops. … SolarCity is publicly traded, so any changes have to be approved by all of their traders, and we were trying to be compliant with what the university wants. It was a back-and-forth.”
Meanwhile, construction of panels on 36 additional townhouses has been delayed indefinitely by the university, partly because of the structure of the houses.
“The way the solar panels fitting works, there is a new clamp that fits on the seams of the roof. This only works with certain types of roofs. The houses we are outfitting had those types of roofs. If you don’t have that type, you must drill into the roof for a mount. The other houses either had older roofs where drilling would cause major damage, the roofs couldn’t bear the load or the data wasn’t known on the roof material,” Mathis said.
Instead, the $200,000 set aside for the remaining 36 townhouses will be channeled into the newly created Green Revolving Loan Fund, operated by the Social Innovation and Public Service Fund, to give grants to students with environmentally conscious ideas.
Mathis considers the installation of solar panels on buildings across campus a long-term goal.
“Because Georgetown is such a huge consumer of power, we get a reduced rate from our energy supplier, Pepco. Unfortunately, this reduced rate is still lower than the rate provided by solar energy, so that’s definitely something we’re working on,” Mathis said.
GUSA recently collaborated with EcoAction, an environmental awareness group on campus, to conduct an audit of the university’s recycling processes.
“As we suspected, there is significant lack of labeling for recycling receptacles across campus. However, many of the issues are pretty simple to be fixed and changes are likely to be made,” said Erin Auel (COL ’14), GUSA’s secretary of sustainability.
EcoAction also worked with the Georgetown Conservation Corps to hold their annual recycling drive last weekend.
Meanwhile, Students of Georgetown, Inc.’s Green Team — a committee that aims to improve the university’s sustainability through environmental, social and economic avenues — released its first sustainability report last year. Chief among the report’s recommendations were that The Corp incorporate environmental awareness in employee training, award contracts to vendors based on their environmental record and review its recycling mechanisms.
Since then, both Uncommon Grounds and More Uncommon Grounds have implemented soda siphons for carbonated water, saving about 400 pounds of plastic annually. The Corp is also working to make its payroll system paperless and has begun incorporating sustainability into its training workshops.
According to Green Team Director Katie Courtin (SFS ’13), The Corp is also working on more inventive sustainability initiatives, such as donating coffee grounds to an alum to be composted and used as fertilizer.
“We did trial runs of this last semester and hope to continue the program and implement it fully this year,” she said.
Across the board, environmental groups stressed the need for engaging the Georgetown campus in the importance of sustainability.
“Students are the ones that can drive the administration,” Park said. “If we succeed in cultivating more environmental awareness and activism, I believe that this fervor and persistence will have a greater impact in activating the [administration] and pushing them to make change faster.”
Courtin sees the little changes — like granting a 25-cent discount to customers for bringing in their own mug at Corp coffee locations — as central to creating a more sustainable campus.
“Given that The Corp is so central to campus life, efforts like these become very visible, and I would like to believe they therefore encourage Georgetown students that it’s cool to be environmentally friendly,” Courtin said.
Biology professor Matthew Hamilton, who will be heading up the Georgetown Environmental Initiative, lauded student involvement in sustainability efforts but stressed that faculty have an important role as well.
“I think that students have been leading the charge [for sustainability] through some of the environmental student groups on campus,” Hamilton said. “We as the faculty are looking for ways to engage in some of those same themes and ideas. We … want to develop a curriculum that lets students study in different fields that are relevant to the environment.”
Hamilton added that the initiative has a strategic plan in place to support student scholarships, curriculum development and new majors and minors related to environmental sustainability.
Auel expressed optimism that the $20 million influx will bring a culture of substantive change for environmental issues on campus.
“We hope to work with the administration to identify priority projects that will allow us to move forward on bringing Georgetown up to speed with peer institutions,” she said.
Hamilton added that an environmentally conscious curriculum is of particular importance to Georgetown, as an institution with Jesuit values.
“When we think about environment and sustainability, [they] go hand in hand with Jesuit ideals,” he said. “[They] have us stop and put into context our own lifestyles and choices, how we consume energy and interact with out environment. It’s part of an ethic.”