By Courtney Kratz, Contributor
Many Furman students can say they have experienced an environmental science course taught by an impassioned professor. But sustainability at Furman is more than a few general education and lab requirements. As a national leader in its commitment to sustainability, Furman has a lot going on behind the scenes.
Along with a quarter century of commitment to sustainability, Furman has an entire academic entity devoted to the pursuit of ecological practices: the David E. Shi Center for Sustainability. While many students are not necessarily aware of all the center does, it plays a paramount role in getting Furman involved in national initiatives.
Just last year, Furman received a STARS Gold Rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) in recognition of its sustainability achievements. Ranked nationally in the 2015 Sustainable Campus index, Furman shares the top ranking with 18 other universities, only three of which are located in the Southeast.
Furman’s achievement of a Gold STARS rating shows how committed Furman is to sustainability, but this commitment goes even further. Outlining the university’s sustainability goals, “Sustainable Furman” is a comprehensive, 40+ page document that outlines “a long-range, comprehensive approach to making the university even more sustainable in its practices, policies, and learning environments,” as stated in the plan’s executive summary.
The sustainability master plan acts as a public statement and strategic vision, highlighting specific goals that address key components of Furman’s objectives, such as the goal to become energy independent through improved efficiency and renewable energy. Of the 140 goals outlined, 73 are completed, 46 are in process and 21 are not being actively pursued at present.
The goal of energy efficiency is part of Furman’s Climate Action Plan, which sets the objective to become carbon neutral by the university’s bicentennial in 2026. An audacious goal, reaching carbon neutrality would mean that greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are not contributed to by any campus related activities. As the university’s achilles heel in this regard, Furman’s reliance on purchased electricity is a notable contributor to these measurements. Efforts to address this issue are an ongoing part of sustainability efforts on campus. In pursuing the goal of carbon neutrality, Furman has made significant improvements to campus sustainability. In the past fifteen years, Furman has seen a 25 to 30 percent energy efficiency improvement. A few years ago, the heating pumps in North Village were replaced with more efficient geothermal ground-source heat pumps, which use the earth’s temperature to adjust ventilation. Campus Facilities Services has also replaced all outdoor lighting with LED, which use only 60 percent of the energy regular lights would require.
In addition to past accomplishments, there are even more initiatives going on currently. With Aramark’s vending contract up for bid this year, there are four competing vendors eligible for long-term contracts. As part of sustainability efforts, making sure vendors agree to use as many local and organic food choices as possible is a key component of the decision making process.
The Dining Hall is also composting all post-consumer waste with an anaerobic Vessel Composter at the Furman Farm, an organic garden located next to the Shi Center. The composter itself was purchased in early 2014, and in the last fiscal year picked up 26.7 tons of food waste. As a remarkably efficient way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, limiting food waste at Furman has become an important part of campus sustainability.
Accompanying all the large-scale initiatives are miscellaneous efforts and exciting new discussions about future plans. Sustainability efforts range from campus-wide changes to small adjustments like reducing printing with quotas or reducing transportation emissions by promoting bikes. Discussions for future plans at Furman also include exciting new prospects for use of solar arrays as a potential way to offset dependence on purchased electricity.
With all this invigorating activity going on, Furman is a national leader in endeavors to promote sustainability, and it is important for students to be aware of what this means. Other universities and even the city of Greenville have looked to Furman while developing sustainability plans of their own. As students, we are lucky have a campus as remarkably forward thinking when it comes to sustainability, but such efforts are incumbent upon devoted Furman faculty and student involvement.
Furman’s sustainability major is the first of its kind at an undergraduate liberal arts institution in the country for undergrads as well as one of the fastest growing majors. Dr. John Quinn’s Environmental Action Group and the Community Conservation Corps are also active ways of promoting sustainability. Getting involved at the Shi Center with fellowships or research projects is also a great opportunity for majors and non-majors alike.
Staying involved and being up to date with what goes on with sustainability on campus is an important part of getting student voices heard. Do you think the Dining Hall should not use disposable plates and silverware? Students can do more than post on Yik Yak about it. If students want to talk about issues like encouraging recycling in residence halls, composting in the Paladen or promoting more sustainable use of the sprinklers, it is important that they get their voices heard.
If students have ideas or issues they would like to see addressed, they can talk to members of the Student Government Association or staff and fellows at the Shi Center. They can also speak with members of the Sustainability Planning Council, an advocacy group separate from the Shi Center. These kind of avenues are important modes of communication because while Furman has accomplished much in moving towards sustainability, there is still quite a bit of room for improvement. In order to set an example for other communities and continue activism for the natural world, it is imperative that students to take ownership for themselves and for their university.