The University of Rhode Island began as an agricultural school and, in the 120 years since its inception, the school has maintained that heritage through its efforts to create an eco-friendly campus with a commitment to sustainability.
The University’s efforts were recognized last week with the release of The Princeton Review’s Guide to 322 Green Colleges: 2012 Edition. URI also was included in the 2010 and 2011 editions.
“It’s a recognition of what the University has been doing for a long time,” said Marsha Garcia, the University’s campus sustainability officer. “It’s a principle that has guided the University for more than 100 years.”
The 232-page guide is the only free, comprehensive, annually updated guide to green colleges.
The third edition of the book profiles institutions of higher education in the United States and Canada that demonstrate notable commitments to sustainability in their academic offerings, campus infrastructure, activities and career preparation.
“The Princeton Review says 70 percent of college-bound students look at a school’s commitment to the environment when choosing where to apply,” Garcia said. “For us to attract the best and brightest students, URI needs to demonstrate how central sustainability is to its campus culture and how important innovative practices and sustainability systems are to this University.”
The Princeton Review, well known for its education and test-prep services, first created this resource for college-bound students in 2010 in collaboration with the U.S. Green Building Council, which is best-known for developing the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating system.
Several buildings on the URI campus have received LEED certifications.
The Center for Biotechnology and Life Sciences is gold certified, the second-highest certification.
The building’s features include a roof that is partially covered in vegetation to filter pollutants and reduce heating and cooling needs; a rain garden and storm water treatment feature with a sophisticated drainage and detention system; daylight harvesting technologies that brighten rooms and warm the floors; and an energy efficient heating and cooling system.
The energy efficiency measures installed in the building save about $135,000 per year in utility costs.
All of the wood used in construction came from forests managed in a sustainable way. About a third of the materials used in the building had been previously recycled and 79 percent of construction waste was recycled.
The 47,000 square-foot Hope Commons is LEED silver certified. Residence halls Eddy, Garrahy and Wiley are also LEED certified and the University believes several other buildings under construction will also earn the distinction.
While those major projects are part of the University’s qualifications for inclusion in the Green Colleges guide, URI has many other initiatives, including academic coursework, that promote sustainability.
The University is a leader in biological sciences and research, particularly in the Graduate School of Oceanography and the College of the Environment and Life Sciences. Many courses of study offer students the opportunity to research the environment and Earth’s ecosystems. The University also offers a minor in sustainability.
URI’s research vessel, The Endeavor, is partially fueled with refined biodiesel, the only research ship in the U.S. fleet to use alternative fuel.
Many foods served in campus dining halls are grown on University farmland or gardens, giving students fresh, organic fare to eat. A charity yard sale being held next month will recycle clothing students would otherwise throw away, and accept food donations for the Jonnycake Center.
The URI Climate Action Plan aims to reduce campus emissions to 45 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 through power conservation and greater energy efficiency.
The Campus Sustainability Strategic Plan is an effort to organize and execute the University’s efforts in a collaborative manner. This plan guides the integration of sustainability into the culture of the University, allowing its campuses to serve as incubators of innovative practices and sustainable systems.
The University’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory tracks the school’s emissions and seeks to quantify them to aid the Climate Action Plan’s implementation.
“We have a big responsibility to set a good precedent and be role models to the community,” Garcia said. “It’s our responsibility to make sure students are prepared when they leave the University to have command of the principles for sustainability so they can incorporate them into their lives. This is the perfect living laboratory for them to learn these ideas.”
The Princeton Review chose the 322 schools included in the guide based on a survey it conducted in 2011 of hundreds of colleges across the U.S. and in Canada to tally its annual "Green Rating" scores (scaled from 60 to 99) of colleges for its school profiles in its college guidebooks and website. URI scored a 92, tied with Brown University as the highest in the state.
The survey asks administrators more than 50 questions about their institution's sustainability-related policies, practices and programs. The company tallied Green Ratings for 768 institutions in summer 2011. The 322 schools in this guide received scores of 83 or above in that assessment (the guide does not rank them 1-322 based on scores).
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