Urban Sustainability

Suffolk University lies in the heart of downtown Boston. With its urban campus, students pass the nation’s first public park, the Boston Common, on their way to classes. They take the “T,” the nation’s oldest subway system, to get around town. They walk through the State House’s Ashburton Park to get from the business school to lower campus. They ride their bikes to their apartments in various areas of the city, such as Brighton. So, even as an urban campus, opportunities to connect with nature and sustainable transportation are all around.

Suffolk University is a recognized leader in the campus sustainability movement, being named a City of Boston Green Business Award recipient in 2008, Massachusetts Wastewise Partner of the Year for 2009 from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, and 2009 recipient of the Gold Award for Employee Education from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Wastewise program. Suffolk’s commitment to sustainability is now all-encompassing. It includes operations, new construction, campus involvement, and renovation retrofits.

Waste reduction is one key to Suffolk’s efforts to reduce its environmental impact. Despite a growing campus, the University has been able to reduce its annual trash output from more than 850 tons in fiscal year 2006 to under 475 in fiscal year 2010, representing close to a 50 percent reduction. A combination of initiatives have made this possible, including a donation program in residence halls during spring move-out to reclaim books, clothes, shoes, home goods, school supplies, and unopened food and toiletries; a commitment to incorporate recycling (in lieu of trash); a plastic bag reduction incentive program in the University bookstores; a scrap paper initiative to encourage departments to reuse paper internally or supply the paper to tutoring centers on campus; double-sided printing and scanning capabilities for offices and labs; and a discount program for travel mug users in campus cafés.

The University strives to provide a recycling bin next to every trashcan. The recycling rate has grown from five percent in 2005 to close to 50 percent in 2010. A survey of new students in fall 2010 revealed that ease of recycling is what made the biggest impression on the greatest percentage of new student respondents. More than 50 percent of new undergraduate students reported that recycling on campus is “very easy.”

In addition to recycling traditional materials such as glass, metal, plastic, paper, and cardboard, the University accepts for recycling rechargeable batteries, cell phones, electronics, and “techno trash” — items such as CDs and cassettes.

In 2007, the University launched a pilot program for organics recycling in the largest café kitchen, which is operated by Sodexo. Since that time, the program has expanded to all kitchens — as well as four cafés — so diners can participate. Most recently, the University has purchased receptacles that can be used to enable organics recycling at catered events.

Pilot installations to conserve natural resources have been well received. These include energy efficient lighting and occupancy sensors in classrooms, filtered water units in the main administrative building to replace bottled water delivery, and waterless urinals. Bottle filling stations will be used as replacements for conventional water fountains, and will be paired with an educational campaign to encourage students and staff to reduce their consumption of bottled water, opting instead for reusable travel mugs. If the pilot installations are successful, the services will be expanded.

The University is kept clean with green cleaning products, as part of the ABM/OneSource GreenSweep program. The program includes isolated chemical storage and mixing areas, use of concentrates from dispensing equipment, and occupant training. Green Seal certified-products are commonplace at Suffolk, contributing to healthier indoor air quality.

New Construction
Green building practices, including LEED certification for new projects, are an important part of Suffolk’s activities. The 10 West Residence Hall, located in Downtown Crossing, involved an historic renovation and rehabilitation of two early 20th-century buildings. The 10 West Residence Hall project received LEED Gold certification in the summer of 2008 (Suffolk’s 10 West Residence Hall was featured on the cover of the May 2010 issue of College Planning & Management). The site does not include any parking spaces and takes advantage of the proximity to public transportation. The removal of asbestos, lead, and other toxic substances has created a clean and healthy indoor environment. HVAC design has DDC (direct digital controls), providing centralized monitoring and controls for each piece of equipment. This helps Suffolk University save energy in multiple ways; for example, by controlling thermostat set-point ranges and by running equipment only as needed.

Suffolk’s new Modern Theater, which has been integrated into the adjacent 10 West Residence Hall, includes a new student residential facility and a theater. The project features a complete and sensitive restoration of the historic façade of the former building. The Modern Theater, a designated Boston Landmark, sat vacant for 20 years and was owned by the City of Boston. The project enhances the vitality in the surrounding neighborhood while preserving an historic landmark, creating new cultural spaces, and addressing City housing goals for colleges and universities in Boston. Student rooms feature low-flow toilets and showerheads, as well as occupancy sensors that set back temperature and turn off lights. The building has a white roof to reflect heat and reduce heating and cooling needs.

For existing buildings, major renovations incorporate green building practices, such as energy efficient lighting, occupancy sensors, use of furniture with recycled content, and low-VOC finishes.

Campus Involvement
The Suffolk University Sustainability Committee, formed in 2007, has grown to 100 members, including faculty, staff, students, and alumni. Since 2010 the Committee has produced an annual Campus Sustainability Plan to focus on initiatives for the coming year.

More than a dozen students are employed as part-time sustainability staff. In 2009 the Office of Facilities Planning & Management launched an Eco-Rep program in partnership with the Office of Residence Life. Through this program, students who live on campus serve as environmental peer educators, planning and hosting informational tables and events. In 2010 we established an Eco-Ambassador program open to upperclassmen. This program focuses on conservation opportunities for academic buildings. As part of two Work Study positions at the New England School of Art & Design, students work to foster waste reduction, recycling, and other sustainability initiatives among faculty, students, and staff. Most recently, a graduate assistant has started working on developing an engagement plan for commuter students, who make up the majority of Suffolk’s students.

The Office of Facilities Planning & Management now serves as a resource for several area schools and organizations. For instance, when Suffolk recently converted its recycling program to single stream, the University donated its used recycling bins to neighboring elementary schools seeking to launch their own recycling programs.

Retrofits and Renovations
In recent years Suffolk University has invested approximately $2M in traditional energy conservation measures, including the installation of an energy management system for one of our academic buildings, energy efficient lights, variable speed drives, occupancy sensors, low-flow plumbing fixtures, and Vending Misers on vending machines. In addition, deferred maintenance needs have been combined with energy efficiency improvements such as replacing electric boilers with higher efficiency natural gas boilers. Suffolk now tracks its utility consumption and costs on a monthly basis.

Continuous Improvement
In the midst of a bustling urban environment, Suffolk University is an example of what a growing school can do to manage its environmental impact while helping its population and the broader community to learn about conservation opportunities. Each year the University seeks new ways to integrate sustainable practices into its operations, new construction, campus involvement, and renovation retrofits. Whether it’s through educating our community about green cleaning practices, energy conservation, or sustainable commuting, we strive to help students and employees form habits that will empower them to make positive change where they live, work, and do business now and into the future.

Erica H. Mattison is campus sustainability coordinator for Suffolk University. She can be reached at [email protected]