Student Sustainability at NU

Student Sustainability at Northwestern University

The recycling efforts each year at Northwestern University save over 10 thousand trees, enough energy to power 193 homes, and greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to removing 604 cars from the road, according to NU Recycling tonnage records.

Through various green initiatives, students and faculty at Northwestern University are working to raise awareness about the importance of conservation and to make a difference in the future of the campus and the world.

While conservation is not constantly on the minds of all Northwestern students, the students living in the Group Residence for Environmental Engagement at Northwestern, or GREEN House, work to set an example of green living for the rest of the campus.

“I feel like other people in other dorms, or just other people in general, leave their lights on and don’t really think about it at all,” said Tiffany Sevilla, environmental engineering major and freshman resident of the GREEN House. “Here, when I leave my light on, my roommate texts me and tells me that I left the light on. We’re very conscious of just simple conservation things like that.”

Sevilla said that she joined the GREEN House because she wanted to live with other students who are environmentally conscientious and where she could be held accountable for her actions when it comes to conservation.

Student groups like SEED, Students for Ecological and Environmental Development, also work to hold Northwestern students accountable for their decisions regarding energy consumption.

The Green Cup, an annual competition among dorms and Greek houses, is a month-long awareness campaign for SEED that challenges students to lower their electricity and water consumption and incorporate conservation into their lifestyles.

“We have been seeing more enthusiasm and students getting involved,” commented Mike Giannetto, co-president of SEED and former Green Cup co-chair. “Every year when we take readings, the consumption does get lower and lower.”

During the 2011 Green Cup in February, dorms saved a total of over 1.2 million gallons of water and over 64 thousand kilowatts of energy, the equivalent of 240 trees.

Giannetto said that SEED frequently discusses the success of the Green Cup in influencing students to change their habits when it comes to energy consumption. They are encouraged by the fact that the consumption of water in dorms decreased by nearly 20 percent and consumption of electricity decreased by about 5 percent from the previous year.

In addition to the month-long Green Cup, Northwestern student groups and faculty work year-round to incorporate simple conservation into dorm and campus life.

“As far as sustainability goes, Northwestern has been doing a whole lot,” said Julie Cahalline, manager of recycling and refuse at Northwestern Facilities Management.

Northwestern recycles over 1,800 tons annually, which Cahalline says represents about 30 percent of campus waste. This percentage, Cahalline reports, has increased slowly but steadily over the past few years.

Andrea Morgan, co-president of Northwestern student group Engineers for a Sustainable World, commented that Northwestern’s biggest problem in terms of sustainability is that the university doesn’t market their efforts very well.

“There are a lot of exciting things going on, but it’s not something that the general population knows about,” Morgan stated.

Student groups and facilities management have been working together over the past couple of years in an attempt increase awareness through sponsoring guest speakers, providing recycling bins in areas all over campus, and informing students about recycling at football and basketball games annually.

Morgan commented that Northwestern’s recent hire of a director of sustainability is a “big step” and has many of those involved in environmental programs excited about bringing more prominence to the issue of conservation on campus.

Robert Whittier, director of sustainability at Northwestern, is optimistic about the future of the university in terms of sustainability.

Whittier stated that there are “areas that Northwestern is doing well and not necessarily getting credit for and areas where there is definitely some opportunity.”

Plans for the future include developing a long-term strategic plan for the university that will expand on the already successful activity that is going on currently and creating a cohesive approach to sustainability among student groups and faculty members.

Whittier believes the key to the success of the university’s future when it comes to sustainability incorporates the combination of strong research, curriculum, and infrastructure and operations.

“Northwestern has all the pieces in place to be one of the top sustainability universities in the country,” stated Whittier.