Earlier this year, Vanderbilt announced a long-term strategy that not only will transform our campus, but also takes a holistic approach to sustainability that impacts each and every one of us. By pledging to power our campus entirely through renewable energy, to be carbon neutral by 2050 and to generate more renewable energy than we consume, we have committed to tackling issues that I personally believe cannot be ignored.
Taking on such an endeavor requires true collaboration, something I feel our divisional work and values are founded upon. Our divisional team has led efforts, with faculty, staff and students, to explore large-scale renewable energy options, the BlueSky Energy Vision Study, issues of transportation and mobility, a zero waste study and the removal of single-use plastics on campus, all of which are elements that impact our emissions as a university. How we think about our natural resources—land, water, air—and the changes we make on our campus to improve green spaces, enhance storm water elements and embrace the park-like setting we love and enjoy are important not only to the FutureVU framework, but also signal that we believe sustainability is important.
As one of the largest employers in the region, we have a responsibility to address issues of sustainability. We can set an example for others in our region—and beyond—by utilizing our expertise, innovation, research and the holistic approach that permeates how we work at Vanderbilt.
While I have enjoyed seeing the work to date involving our expert faculty and engaged students on these matters, I want to emphasize that I am struck by the efforts many in our division have made on this front. Our staff are integral to making the campus more sustainable. By engaging in these dialogues, we are reflecting the values not only of our division, but of our institution, as well as our commitment to innovation and the human experience. Your contributions have not gone unnoticed, and I want to commend those who have worked tirelessly. I also want to emphasize that our work is not done, and it will take each and every one of us—committing to making a difference, no matter how big or small—to reach our goals collectively.
I have chosen sustainability, broadly, as a topic for this month’s newsletter, as it is a topic that I feel is important for us to continue to discuss and improve upon. I hope you will enjoy reading about our efforts to date and consider ways in which you, and your teams, can get involved to improve the campus environment.
Vice Chancellor for Administration
The Princeton Review announced its list of the top 50 green colleges in October, and once again, Vanderbilt was on it. This continued recognition for our efforts showcases the importance we put on making sustainability a top priority.
Earlier this year, we announced our goal to power campus entirely through renewable energy and committed to carbon neutrality by 2050. The way we will reach this ambitious yet achievable goal is investing in on-site clean energy and off-site large-scale renewable energy, decreasing our carbon footprint from vehicles, increasing green spaces across campus, reducing consumption and waste, and investing in sustainable infrastructure.
Just a few weeks ago we released a FutureVU progress report that offers a glimpse of achievements we made last fiscal year. Many elements of this progress report touch on aspects of sustainability, whether that be site and landscape improvements, stormwater management, emissions, waste and recycling and more.
Below you will find highlights of our efforts so far to become a more sustainable campus. While we have hit many impressive milestones, there is still much work to be done. It will take all of us actively participating to make a difference. Let’s all think about ways we can incorporate sustainable practices into our work each day.
On-site clean energy
Vanderbilt produces a portion of electricity, all of the steam, and a portion of the chilled water consumed on campus at the combined Heat and Power Plant. Infrastructure in the West End and Peabody neighborhoods are being upgraded with more sustainable hot and chilled water lines. We also have invested in solar-powered electronic charging stations and picnic tables. A solar-powered hot water system and a 20kW solar photovoltaic electric system have been installed at the Currey Tennis Center. Electricity from those solar panels are fed into the electricity grid. Further energy conservation and efficiency measures are being evaluated for use in the near and long-term future as discussed in the BlueSky Energy Vision Study.
Off-site large-scale renewable energy
The future of large-scale renewable energy at Vanderbilt is also outlined in the BlueSky Energy Vision Study. Based on the study’s recommendations, we are in the process of exploring solar or wind project options to reduce campus greenhouse gas emissions.
Decrease carbon footprint by vehicles
As we work to reach our sustainability goals, we must also make an impact on our commuting behaviors. During the 2017-18 fiscal year, 23 percent of Vanderbilt’s greenhouse gas emissions came from commuting. Efforts are underway to address this, and more initiatives will launch to support our goals. Some transportation and mobility efforts that have occurred on campus so far this year include streamlined VandyRide nighttime student shuttle service, pilot ridehail pick-up and drop-off areas, the first installment of a multimodal Walk and Roll Loop pathway, a new electronic golf cart service for campus community members with accessibility or mobility needs and studies about campus air quality and mobility data.
Increase green spaces across campus
Vanderbilt neighborhoods are already transforming from concrete and paved areas to more park-like settings. The most noticeable example of this is the West End Neighborhood, where the former Kensington Avenue area has been transformed into pedestrian pathways and green spaces. The FutureVU Land Use Plan includes long-term transformative projects that will establish connections not only within campus, but also to the broader Nashville community. Other ways we are increasing our green spaces are with storm water management practices, smart irrigation systems and green vegetated roofs. Community outreach and education are vitally important to these efforts. Our staff have overseen Vanderbilt’s involvement in the annual Park(ing) Day events for the last three years. The events feature parking spaces and concrete or paved areas being transformed into pocket parks to demonstrate how these spaces can be used in different ways.
Reduce consumption and waste
The reduction of consumption and waste is the most visible way we are achieving our goals outlined in the Zero Waste Study. Campus Dining is making an impact with food waste collection for composting at all major dining facilities. They also have eliminated single-use plastic water and soda bottles from all markets and dining facilities. While new recommendations will be implemented in the coming years, we continue to utilize existing approaches to waste, diversion, recycling, food waste collection and reuse. We are doing this by eliminating plastic straws, lids and bags on campus; transitioning to compostable to-go cups, plates and cutlery in dining facilities; increasing hydration stations around dining centers; providing free reusable water bottles to all undergraduate students; enacting new dining processes to lessen food waste; and offering more sustainable printing and procurement options.
Invest in sustainable infrastructure
We are committed to building facilities with sustainable and green features to ensure they are environmentally responsible and efficient buildings that will last. The campus is home to 21 LEED-certified buildings, and The Commons Center, Warren and Moore Colleges, the Engineering and Science Building and E. Bronson Ingram College all have achieved LEED Gold status. The Vanderbilt School of Nursing is Nashville’s first complete, ground-up structure designed to achieve WELL designation. There are six green roofs on campus, which reduce energy use in buildings, reduce the urban heat island effect, improve storm water management and increase roof longevity. We are also saving approximately 50 million gallons of water annually from bathroom retrofits and groundwater reuse projects.
Every member of the Vanderbilt community contributes to the overall success of the university’s research and education mission. Reaching our sustainability goals is only possible if there is a concerted effort among us. The Sustainability and Environmental Management Office staff have shared some ways for you and your team to actively participate in sustainability efforts:
- Turn off (office) lights when not in use
- Turn down thermostats in the winter during weekends and holidays
- Replace bottled water with reusable bottles
- Use compostable dishes and utensils for events, and think about ways to reduce waste from food and packaging
- Reduce waste from meetings by distributing information digitally instead of printing on paper
- Reduce printing waste by using double-sided printing
- Choose more sustainable products when purchasing for offices