Guest author: The Office of Sustainability at The University of Chicago
The Refinishing Touch is always reaching out to establishments in the sectors we work in – including higher education, hospitality and government. In this guest blog post, staff members at The University of Chicago’s Office of Sustainability describe their perspectives on the sustainability landscape.
The University of Chicago has been an intellectual destination for students and faculty from around the world since 1890. As a leading academic and research institution, the University empowers students to challenge conventional thinking, pursue original ideas, and take on the world’s biggest problems. With populations growing, markets globalizing, industrialization accelerating and the climate warming, sustainability is just the sort of interdisciplinary global challenge The University of Chicago was made to tackle.
To better serve the needs of the University and the interests of the student body, the University of Chicago established a formal Office of Sustainability in 2008. Now, sustainable metrics are incorporated into the systems that feed, power, and house the campus – everything from free bike shares on campus and composting at the dining halls to LEED-certified new construction, laboratories, and retrofits.
The University’s Hyde Park campus consists of 114 buildings. Energy used for heating, cooling, and lighting these buildings makes up the majority of the campus’ carbon footprint. In recognition of this large slice of the carbon ‘pie,’ the University implemented a Sustainable Building Policy. The Policy requires that all new buildings obtain at minimum LEED silver certification, and aims to improve building performance on a variety of metrics like energy and water efficiency and waste reduction. The school also conducts an annual greenhouse gas emissions inventory and is developing a climate and energy plan.
The University of Chicago’s sustainability agenda is moving forward on a number of exciting fronts (ask us about the Campus North project!), but challenges remain. UChicago, like many U.S. universities, is a large, diverse institution. The scale of campus operations makes sustainability exciting – a change implemented across all of UChicago can have significant positive impacts well beyond the campus. However, that size and diversity also means few one-size-fits all solutions. An approach that works for one department may not meet the needs of another – every building on campus has different maintenance and energy requirements, and each cohort of students has different interests and passions. Balancing these needs and priorities makes sustainability a moving target.
College campuses have long been a source for innovation, inspiration, and grassroots action in the United States. Undergraduates are increasingly aware of sustainability and interested in what their colleges are doing to advance research, reduce impacts, and generate and implement solutions. College campuses, and the students they foster, have incredible potential to mitigate climate change and solve sustainability problems. We’re excited and encouraged by the progress already made, and can’t wait to see how far the University of Chicago and its peers can go!
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