It has been a little while since I’ve provided an update on American Public University System’s (APUS) sustainability efforts. There seems no better time to do so than Earth Day. Despite my lack of updates on this blog, the APUS Sustainability Committee has been working diligently and partnering with other groups on campus to promote sustainability and make APUS a greener place to work and learn.
One of the most visible sustainability efforts that we have undertaken relates to buildings. As part of our commitment to the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), we have pledged to build all new construction to at least US Green Building Council (USGBC) LEED Silver standards. Our new 45,000-square-foot Academic Center, built on a brownfields site, is currently in the LEED certification process and we hope to achieve a Gold designation. There are many green features in that building which we completed and occupied in late 2010. The HVAC system is highly efficient and operates through multiple zones, for example. In addition, the building is outfitted with energy efficient windows which are covered with sunshades to assist in further regulating indoor temperatures. Occupancy sensor lighting fixtures and ENERGY STAR appliances can be seen throughout the building. All materials used in construction and all furniture originated within 500 miles of the building site, decreasing the carbon emissions associated with materials transportation. Perhaps, the crowning achievement of the Academic Center is 99 solar panels situated on the roof which supply approximately 7 percent of the building’s total energy needs.
On the other end of the building “spectrum,” however, are APUS’ comprehensive adaptive reuse practices. Rather than utilize existing green space to construct new buildings, we decided to invest in the historic downtown Charles Town community by purchasing and renovating existing structures for our office spaces. At least 5 of our buildings have great historical significance and we took measures to restore as much of the historic value as possible to those buildings while updating them to create greater energy efficiency (most have energy efficient windows and HVAC systems, low flow toilets, motion sensor lighting, etc.).
Etter Hall (our main administration building), for example, was built in the early 1800s as the home and office of physician Charles Taylor Richardson. The building became the area’s first hospital in the early 1900s, a capacity it served for several decades. By 1950, however, the community had outgrown that hospital and the building became a nursing home. APUS purchased the building in 2003. Though we updated many aspects of the building (including the elements previously listed), the elevator car is the original (and, was one of the first in this area, quite a novelty) with upgraded electrical controls and doors. The wooden floors in Etter Hall are also original to the building.
Aside from our buildings, APUS has undertaken several other initiatives to minimize the school’s environmental impact. Our computers, printers, and servers are ENERGY STAR rated as are many of our buildings’ appliances. Our printers are set to default to print on both sides of the page for multiple page documents. We have recently expanded our recycling program to make it more comprehensive. Using The Big Green Box Program, we are now recycling batteries and other electronics. Though you may take up to a year to fill The Big Green Box before sending it back to be recycled, APUS filled its first box in only 5 weeks, sending nearly 40 pounds of batteries to be recycled. Earlier this year, APUS introduced a carpooling program to its staff in order to address carbon emissions associated with employee commuting. The program has seen early success and I suspect that it will continue to be successful, especially given the rising cost of gasoline. Coupled with our carpooling program is a telecommuting policy that allows many staff employees to work from home at least one day a week; others telecommute every day. Thanks to several paper reduction initiatives we have seen a 25 percent reduction in paper usage even in the face of tremendous employee growth.
Thanks to APUS’ online format, our carbon footprint is comparatively lower than many other schools’, particularly since our faculty and students may teach and study from their home, office, or another convenient place. However, while we do not have to contend with the emission challenges associated with student commuting, the maintenance and operation of dormitories, dining halls, sports facilities, etc., we will continue to work toward reducing our environmental impact even further. Though Earth Day is a noble effort to call global attention to the state of our environment, at APUS the commitment to sustainability is alive and well throughout the year.
Next week I will share an article about APUS’ latest green building project, a 1,660 panel solar array that doubles as a covered parking structure. The array, the largest in the state of West Virginia, will provide approximately 50% of the power necessary for a green building that is currently under construction adjacent to the school’s green Academic Center.