Catholic colleges, universities to go green

WASHINGTON -- Catholic colleges and universities are joining their public counterparts in pursuing green initiatives for their campuses using a variety of resources, offices and organizations.

Students and school officials are tapping into Internet-based initiatives such as the Campus Greening Initiative at www.netimpact.org and Campus Climate Challenge, www.climatechallenge.org, and they're also entering competitions such as RecycleMania, which promotes friendly competition among campuses to promote recycling efforts.

About 24 Catholic colleges and universities have also joined the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, a group that provides its members with research materials and techniques for encouraging greener campuses.

Sustainability, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, means "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

One of the association's members, the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, opened an Office of Sustainability in May to oversee sustainability aspects of the university such as the school's power plant, dining services, transportation, structures and information technology.

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Jim Masurek, the university's director of sustainability, told Catholic News Service he is working on an energy and environmental issues committee that includes administrators, faculty members and students who are leaders of the student environmental organization GreeND.

The year-old student group organized Game Day Recycling on campus where volunteers provide recycling bags to campus tailgaters before football games. Now the event will fall under the university, and although the students will still have an active role in it the program will not be run solely by volunteers.

The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education is also running a pilot program that rates and tracks how colleges and universities are making progress toward sustainability. Four Catholic institutions are part of the pilot.

One of them is Santa Clara University, a Jesuit-run school in California, that has been involved in many sustainability projects, most notably the U.S. Department of Energy's solar decathlon, during which the school was awarded third prize last year.

In the competition, student teams compete to build a house run entirely by solar power. The houses are then displayed on the National Mall in Washington.

Santa Clara students also have participated in environmentally-geared residential learning communities and the university has integrated ecological education into the curriculum.

Other participating pilot schools include the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, Minn., and St. John's University in nearby Collegeville, Minn.

The two schools, which share a curriculum while remaining individual entities, have been "doing sustainability for 20 years plus," said Derek Larson, environmental studies program director for both schools. The Benedictines, who founded the schools, have a "history of living frugally because of a call to self-sufficiency," he said.

Larson told CNS the sustainability rating system, to be released in 2009, is important because there is currently no other universal method for determining which campuses are greenest.

This program would "make it harder for schools to buy a green reputation," by "buying green buildings" that they don't really need, he said.

"It's going to level the playing field," he added.

Larson also is convinced that Catholic colleges and universities will get high marks in green rankings because of their social justice emphasis.


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