Sustainability Initiative Incorporates Students and Faculty into Evaluation Process

The Five College Blue Sky Sustainability Initiative, a year-long process that began with nearly 500 brainstormed ideas and will end with up to a handful of projects for campuses to pursue, is turning to students and faculty members to help narrow the field.

Last winter members of the Five College campus community were asked for suggestions, ideas, or fully developed proposals incorporating sustainability into the campuses, the Five College consortium and the community. They could submit them to the consortium online or attend meetings of students, faculty members and staff members who were meeting at each of the campuses. Dubbed the Blue Sky Brainstorm to encourage ideas no matter how “blue sky,” the initiative netted nearly 500 suggestions.

"The fact that we received some 500 ideas--from students, faculty members and staff members at all five campuses--tells us that developing sustainable practices is important to our campus communities, and therefore worthy of joint action by the five institutions through the consortium,” said Neal Abraham, executive director of Five Colleges, Incorporated.

Beth Hooker, as the sustainability program director first for Five Colleges and currently for Hampshire College, coordinated efforts to organize and prioritize the wealth of ideas. Over the summer a group composed primarily of faculty and staff members from the five campuses split into teams to review the six subject areas: Academic Programs, Energy and Green Buildings, Food and Land Use/Land Conservation, Transportation, Waste Reduction and Water/Other.

Each group evaluated and filtered the ideas into those they felt were most promising for continued investigation. The criteria they used were environmental footprint reduction, financial savings relative to cost of implementation, learning opportunities for students, opportunities for alumni and community engagement, and prospects for external funding.

The process resulted in 18 projects [see below for list] that have been divided among the five campuses for further assessment. Each campus is using students as a key component of this process, in independent study work, classes and internship opportunities. From this assessment will emerge up to six proposals by the end of the semester. They will be presented, each with a rough budget, to the Five College board of directors, made up of the campus presidents, the university chancellor, the president of the university system and the executive director of the consortium.

"Our main goal with the Blue Sky Initiative is to use the best thinking of our faculty members, staff members and students to identify the best opportunities to reduce the impact of our campuses on the environment, through opportunities that engage our students and develop sustainable practices that could also save our campuses money,” said Abraham.

The Blue Sky Brainstorm is part of a broader effort by the consortium to incorporate sustainability into the campus and classroom. Recent initiatives include a Five College lecture series, a website listing sustainability courses and programs on member campuses and a new Five College certificate in sustainability studies.

Five College Blue Sky Brainstorm Sustainability Initiative

Projects for further investigation in Fall 2012

I.  Energy and Green Buildings

  1. Sustainable Residence Hall Standards
  2. Sustainability Revolving Loan Fund
  3. Cooperative generation or purchasing of alternative energy
  4. Cooperation of Energy Managers
  5. Energy Policy Standards

II.  Food and Land Use/Land Conservation

  1. The Edible Campuses Project
  2. The Real Food for the Five Project
  3. The Sustainable Landscapes Project

III.  Transportation

  1. Improve and expand the PVTA Five College Bus System
  2. Reduce automobile use

 IV.  Waste Reduction:

  1.  A Zero-Waste Initiative to make all large, annual one-college and Five College events zero-waste, including but not limited to commencements, convocations, orientations, sporting events
  2. A Five College Up/Freecycling Center (ReStore) available to all students, faculty members, and staff members to donate and take materials for offices and dorms 
  3. An anaerobic digestion facility that would process food waste and capture methane biogas for production of electricity and steam for the Five Colleges

V.  Water/Other:

  1. Reduce landscape irrigation
  2. Reduce impervious surfaces that drain directly to storm sewers
  3. Promote understanding and consumption of municipal water (over bottled beverages)
  4. A grant program and revolving fund for student sustainability projects

VI.  Academic Programs:

  1.  Strengthen the Five College Sustainability Certificate Program and support for it