Comments Off

26 August 2010

University progresses in its green initiatives

The University of Miami’s Green U campaign, now in its fifth year, has had its successes and failures in an effort to curtail the university’s impact on the environment. Acting as the hand behind many efficiency initiatives, the program has cut down considerably on solid waste and made real progress in reducing carbon emissions. With some programs being discontinued and resources becoming exhausted, however, the trajectory of Green U and similar green projects is left in the hands of committed individuals and institutions.

IN THE DINING HALL

Though often criticized as a “green veneer,” Green U’s actions have reaped real results, such as last year’s move to eliminate trays from the dining halls. This action, headed by Student Government, removed a total of 66 tons of solid waste from the dining halls and helped conserve water.

“We have implemented unlimited single-stream recycling at the cafeterias in Hecht-Stanford, which will be used now in Mahoney-Pearson and the University Center,” said Mel Tenen, assistant vice president of auxiliary services. “This has already reduced 75 percent of solid waste.”

Other projects in the dining halls, such as serving local and sustainably-produced foods, earned UM an A grade in dining hall efficiency according to greenreportcard.com, a Web site committed to evaluating the environmental impact of American universities.

GETTING AROUND MIAMI

Green U has also made considerable changes by way of campus transportation. The popularity of Zipcars has rendered car ownership less necessary for campus residents, reduced the total amount of cars on South Florida roadways and opened up new parking lots for commuters.

“We started with three cars and now we have 11,” Director of Parking and Transportation Richard Sobaram said. “We monitor the usage and increase the number of cars based on that.”

The Zipcar initiative has even expanded to UM’s medical campus where there are now two available cars for reservation.

“This project has literally taken 500 cars off the road,” Sobaram said. “It demonstrates to students on campus, especially freshmen, that there are other modes of transportation available, and this in itself is a green initiative.”

Though these figures are impressive, transportation is possibly UM’s toughest obstacle in achieving energy efficiency. The Office of Parking and Transportation does well to promote public transportation, regulate bike racks and offer a 50 percent rebate on parking passes for students and faculty who drive hybrid cars. Recent changes, such as the discontinuance of biodiesel shuttles, may or may not be a good thing.

“We used to run 17 buses on campus and now we are down to six,” Sobaram said. “We’ve done far more to reduce our carbon footprint by cutting 11 buses than by using biodiesel shuttles.”

The once-popular UBike program, headed by the campus bookstore, has also seen depleted resources, as bikes are no longer available in the store.

“We’re redirecting students to purchase bikes in nearby stores to continue to promote green transportation on campus,” Bookstore Director Wendy Smith said.

GREEN INSIDE AND OUT

Green U has made considerable advances in other areas, such as green building. The new Clinical Research Building is entirely energy-efficient and made from sustainable materials, and buildings in the Miller School of Medicine’s campus have been remodeled with high-efficiency lighting.

Just this summer, the university installed 167 new high-efficiency washers and dryers in the nine laundry rooms in the residence halls. This EnergyStar certified equipment claims to save up to 60 percent every year on energy, water and sewer costs.

“Four thousand students will use these high-efficiency machines, which will cut costs and carbon,” said Tenen, who oversaw this initiative.

The university, in conjunction with Mac-Gray Campus Solutions, looks forward to reducing energy consumption with these new machines, which will emit a little less than 666,700 pounds of carbon dioxide annually. By way of carbon offsetting, the university can achieve its short-term goal of reaching carbon neutrality.

PLANS FOR THE FUTURE

Though Green U’s influence on campus is not as strong as it could be, bodies like Student Government can help realize these green initiatives. The incumbent officers have placed particular importance on expanding the recycling program on campus.

“Our biggest green project this semester is to bring recycling into classrooms,” said Matthew Robayna, Student Government’s executive at large. “There are currently no recycling bins in classrooms. We will be running a pilot program in the Memorial building and Learning Center to make it easier for students to recycle.”

Other initiatives headed by Student Government include an awareness campaign on recycling and the possibility of a bike-sharing program like those recently implemented in European cities.

“We’ve been trying to meet with the primary leader on the bike-sharing program, but it is very much still an idea,” Robayna said.

The efforts made by student leaders, the Office of Environmental Health and Safety and the cooperation of the student body is vital to the effectiveness of Green U initiatives. On the topic of energy efficiency at UM, there is always room for improvement.

Nicolette Roque may be contacted at nroque@themiamihurricane.com.