September 25, 2008
Vol. 28 No. 1

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    University works toward excellence in sustainability

    By Steve Koppes
    News Office

    Steve Wiesenthal

    This summer, the University launched a Web site that serves as a portal to the wide variety of activities, initiatives and programs that support environmental sustainability.

    More than 1,300 virtual visitors from 41 countries and territories logged on during a 30-day period that ended Tuesday, Aug. 26. It was the “think globally, act locally” credo in action.

    “As the school year starts, we’ll be trying to get students to look at it more,” said Eric Heineman, the University’s Project Manager for Sustainability.

    Water bottles made from recyclable plastic will be given to all incoming first-years during orientation. Each bottle is emblazoned with the new Web site address, sustainability.uchicago.edu, which serves as a portal to a wide variety of activities, initiatives and programs that support environmental sustainability.

    “The challenge of sustainability is that it’s a facet of every part of campus life,” Heineman said. “It’s something that affects dining services, transportation, new construction and energy efficiency.”

    Last year, the University signed the Illinois Sustainable University Compact. In signing the compact, the University pledged to accomplish the following goals by Dec. 31, 2010:

    • Promote more sustainable transportation options
    • Reduce carbon emissions on campus
    • Purchase non-toxic cleaning products whenever practical
    • Reduce pesticide use

    More recently, the University has hired a green architect, Steve Wiesenthal, as Associate Vice President for Facilities Services, and the University’s Sustainability Council has completed a report to the administration on enhancing environmental sustainability on campus. Anticipated soon is the appointment of the University’s first Director for Sustainability.

    Under Wiesenthal’s oversight, the University is pursuing Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification for two new building projects, and for two renovations already in progress.

    LEED certification, sponsored by the U.S. Green Building Council, provides independent verification that a building project meets the highest green building and performance measures. Environmental and financial benefits of LEED certification include lower operating costs, conservation of energy and water, and reduced harmful greenhouse gas emissions.

    The University will seek LEED Silver certification for the New Hospital Pavilion, the Reva and David Logan Center for the Creative and Performing Arts, and the Searle Chemistry Laboratory renovation, and LEED Interior certification for the 6045 South Kenwood Building.

    “Environmental sustainability is something that we’ll be incorporating as a goal in all of our architecture,” said Wiesenthal, who lives in a LEED-certified home and bicycles to work.

    External recognition for the University’s sustainability efforts is emerging. On Sept. 24, the University received one of five Champions of Sustainability in Communities Awards from the Sustainable Endowments Institute. The institute has honored the Civic Knowledge Project in the Humanities Division for creating the Sustainability Partners, an environmental and social action network.

    Last June, the University received an award from Mayor Richard Daley’s Bicycle Advisory Council for participating in the city’s university transportation alternatives program. The award recognized the Cyclist Gym Membership Program offered jointly by Transportation and Parking Services and Physical Education and Athletics. The program allows faculty and staff members who bicycle to work to use the showers at Henry Crown Field House.

    “Cyclists can get a three-month membership for $55, compared to $110 regularly,” said Phil Underwood, a third-year in the College and Transportation Options intern in Transportation and Parking Services.

    The University’s car-sharing program, initially offered in cooperation with Zipcar, was cited in the National Wildlife Federation’s 2008 report on Higher Education in a Warming World. “Approved drivers—even undergraduates—pay a modest fee for these rent-by-the-hour cars which include gas, insurance, maintenance, parking and emergency service,” the report said.

    Chicago is among more than 30 universities nationwide where Zipcar hybrids and other efficient models are available. Each Zipcar removes 20 private vehicles from the road, according to the company. Now two services— I-GO and Zipcar—offer car-sharing service on campus.

    Transportation and Parking Services also encourages university employees who wish to carpool to use a matching service offered by Pace at www.pacerideshare.com. For more information, visit http://facilities.uchicago.edu/transpparking.

    Other programs are in the works as well, including a Commuter Challenge day scheduled for Friday, Oct. 17. The Commuter Challenge is a collaboration between the City of Chicago, the University and other area universities to reduce car use on campuses across the city.

    Students provided the spark that has culminated in the University administration’s support of sustainability on campus. They established the Sustainability Council in 2004 and enlisted the eager participation of staff members in Student Housing, Facilities Services, Environmental Studies and elsewhere across campus, said Bill Michel, Assistant Vice President for Student Life.

    In 2006, the Sustainability Council became a multiyear pilot project, jointly supported by the Office of the Vice President and Dean of Students and the Office of the Vice President for Administration to encourage university-wide cooperation for sustainability initiatives.

    “It’s a great example of students bringing together faculty and staff to affect meaningful change at the institution in a really positive way,” Michel said.