Sustainability Report 2014

By Elizabeth Anderson ’14

Executive Summary

The questions asked in this report came from the AASHE STARS 2.0 program.  Information for the answers about RPI came from many very helpful members of the RPI administration as well as from relevant RPI websites. The full report can be found here; individual categories can be found through the links below. A paper summarizing the findings and comparing RPI with other colleges can be found here. There is also a presentation.

The STARS program covers four categories: Academics, Engagement, Operations, and Planning & Administration.  RPI earned points in each category, for a total of 24.29 points out of 143 that were measured using the STARS analysis.

In the Academics category, RPI did well in the curriculum credits.  RPI has majors in Sustainability Studies, Environmental Science, and Environmental Engineering.  RPI also offers a variety of classes with sustainability content or solely about sustainability.  Some of these courses, particularly those in the Department of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, are not offered very often.  RPI’s Student Senate has worked on creating a syllabi inventory of all course syllabi in the past, which, when complete, will make judging whether a course includes sustainability content much easier when this project is complete.  RPI is also very strong in terms of having undergraduate and graduate programs, though not many students utilize them.

RPI also does not assess sustainability literacy or have sustainable learning outcomes throughout a wide variety of programs.  As a top engineering school, making sure students graduate with sustainability knowledge should be a top priority in order to improve the future.  Expanding required sustainability knowledge to more programs is one project that would be useful.

RPI has a variety of research related to sustainability.  Keeping a database of all the research projects going on would be very useful, as would a database of student research.  Many RPI students participate in research, and having that knowledge publicly available could result in benefits for RPI extending far beyond sustainability.

RPI did well on some of the Campus Engagement credits, though poorly on some of the others.  RPI’s environmental clubs are vibrant and doing much better, but they could always use more support and numbers.  Connections between them and faculty/staff are small and could use strengthening.  Programs for faculty and staff, as well as the local community, are poor and not well publicized even if they do exist.

Under Operations, an integral first step is to conduct a Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions inventory.  It appears that RPI last did one in 2009.  A GHG emissions inventory will help show RPI’s strengths and weaknesses and better help those working to improve it.

Electricity and steam use has been going up during the last three years.  Some buildings, particularly Cogswell, the VCC and the ’87 Gym, have seen much larger increases than others.  Further research should be done into why this is occurring, as well as how to stabilize and reduce energy use.

Also under Operations was food.  During my conversation with Sodexo, I learned that they do not keep track of local and other sustainability markers at a by-college level.  They are very interested in doing so and seeing what can be done to improve the sustainability of the food.

Many of the credits for Planning were not looked into due to the lack of the feasibility of doing so.  Future reports should look at these credits, though.  Two of the credits that I did look into were comprehensive planning and sustainability planning, neither of which RPI has but would be very useful.  An office of sustainability could make sure that sustainability projects continue and are not left behind as students graduate or change interests.  A comprehensive plan would lend credibility and support to the students, staff, and faculty who wish to see a more sustainable RPI.  Both of these would also expedite increases in sustainability in other areas.

Acknowledgements

This report would not have been possible without the help of many people, who tirelessly answered my questions regarding RPI’s practices and policies related to sustainability.  I am very grateful for all their help.

Steve Breyman, Professor, Science and Technology Studies Department
Maureen Brown, Resident District Manager, Sodexo
Jerry Faiola, Director, Environmental & Site Services
Oliver Holmes, Professor, Architecture
Jason Jones, Operations Manager, Parking and Transportation
Ernest Katzwinkel, Director, Physical Plant
Sharon Kunkel, Registrar
Barbara Nelson, Project Manager, Campus Planning & Facilities Design
Steve Quinn, Manager of Engineering, Physical Plant

Additionally, several members of SSTF were instrumental to getting this report done, mostly for gathering data.

These specific RPI environmental club members were very helpful in one way or another with gathering data (any mistakes are my own!):

Courtney Fiala ’17
Jesse Noviello ’15
Fiona Philips-White ’17
Alex Simon ’15

I would also like to give a special thanks to Anasha Cummings, 2009-2010 president of EcoLogic and 2010-2011 chair of SSTF, for encouraging me to do this sustainability report and for giving me the first ideas about how I was going to go about it as well as telling me about the AASHE program. Former members/founders of SSTF and authors of the earlier report who were incredibly helpful with how to go about doing this report were Bev Bendix, Robyn Marquis, and Sarah Parks. I am extremely grateful to the four of them.

Report prepared by Elizabeth Anderson ’14.  Please credit her and SSTF in any citations or mentions of this work.