The Red and Black Adds Some Green

UC earning notice for its sustainability efforts

Say “University of Cincinnati” in a crowd of locals, and someone is bound to reply with colors: red and black. The university is known by its trademark hues as much as for anything else in this town.

But for all the people who think that way, there’s a growing push on campus to have people start associating UC with another color: green.

UC is one of five Ohio universities — and the only public institution — to earn mention in The Princeton Review’s recent publication, The Princeton Review’s Guide to 286 Green Colleges. The mention is more than just mere academic marketing fluff, as the schools highlighted in the guide didn't pay the journal for inclusion. In fact, UC knew nothing about the inclusion until it was published, says Shawn Tubb, the university's sustainability coordinator (pictured).

“We were a little surprised,” he says. “We didn’t realize this was something we were in the running for.”

According to the report, which is available as a free download online, the 286 schools were selected based in part on surveys of school administrators.

“Some of them are just in the beginning states of defining sustainability priorities while others are reaping the rewards of a long-term commitment to green,” the report states. “A holistic approach to sustainable living on campus binds these schools together, covering everything from procurement and building guidelines to green academic programs and preparation for sustainable careers, and a willingness to be accountable for their green commitments.”

So how is Cincinnati’s namesake university, and one of the city’s largest employers, creating an image of itself as a go-to location for sustainability and “green” living?

“I think a lot of it has to do with our long-term planning,” Tubb says.

The best example of that lies in the university’s building plan. It has committed to earning Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building certification for all future construction. Six of the university’s buildings have earned various rankings under the certification, which credits new construction and revitalization projects for the use of sustainable, low-impact features and construction practices.

Also, the university has completed a carbon inventory, a measurement of the uptown campus’s environmental impact in terms of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions produced per full-time student. The inventory, completed in 2008, reports that, for that year, UC produced 14.1 metric tons of CO2 per full-time student on its main campus. Since UC plans to conduct carbon inventories again this September and every two years thereafter, it provides a benchmark to measure the effectiveness of future sustainability and carbon-reduction programs.

UC’s sustainability efforts go beyond meetings and measurements, according to Tubb.

“We have a lot of programs on sustainability,” he says. “They’re tangible things that people who aren’t involved in the sustainability movement can participate in.”

Activities in the past academic year included free showings of documentary films, a major recycling drive during football season that saw more than 11,000 pounds of recyclable trash collected at games and several seminars and clinics on sustainable living topics.

One of the most visible of the activities is a bike-sharing program launched on Earth Day 2010. The program has 30 bikes available for students to rent and use around the city, and Tubb expects to steadily expand the program to add more bikes and multiple rental locations in the coming year.

“It’s been really successful so far,” he says, adding that UC Sustainability’s two-person staff is hoping for volunteers to help as the program grows. “It’s hard keeping up with demand. The bikes are checked out as soon as they they’re fixed up.”

These activities and carbon-reduction plans are more than just fluff, Tubb adds. The Journal of Higher Education has raised UC’s sustainability grade from C- to B-plus over the past four years, and Tubb says there are signs that other universities are starting to look at UC as a sustainability role model.

“One week after (The Princeton Review report was published) we went to a statewide sustainability conference. Anecdotally, I think some schools started taking us more seriously.”

Other state universities have inquired into the finer points of UC’s sustainability projects, a move that Tubb takes as a compliment rather than intrusion by schools competing for environmentally conscious students.

“It serves as a springboard for discussion and information sharing,” he says, adding that the end goal — a cleaner environment — transcends academic politicking. “We’re all in this together.”

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