Villanova commits to a green lifestyle

Megan Welch

Villanova has added a new color to its typical combination of blues: green. The ’08-’09 academic year has been dubbed the Year of Sustainability, a short-term initiative aimed at greater use of sustainable practices in all aspects of University life.

The initiative is part of a long-term sustainability promise signed by University President Rev. Peter Donohue, O.S.A., in September 2007. The Presidents Climate Commitment, as it is officially titled, has been signed by 550 and counting universities and colleges around the nation.

It was created in October 2006 by 12 original presidents who became founding members of the Leadership Circle. These founding members then invited 400 more presidents to join in December 2006. By late March 2007, over 3,500 schools had been informed of the commitment, and the Leadership Circle included 95 presidents.

The commitment works closely with three non-profit organizations: the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, ecoAmerica and Second Nature.

According to, these three “collectively provide the infrastructure for the initiative, including the Web site, outreach, tracking and financial management.”

The promise begins with an acknowledgment of the impact of global warming and its “potential for large-scale, adverse health, social, economic and ecological effects.” The commitment seeks to reduce these consequences on campuses with a timeline-based requirement of major changes, culminating in the final goal: carbon-emissions neutrality.

“We create greenhouse gases by energy we consume,” said John Cacciola, director of Engineering and Construction. “At some point, by reducing energy consumption, using more energy-efficient methods on campus and generating our own energy, we can offset this.”

He mentioned another interesting reduction method as well: the purchase of renewable energy credits. This exchange process acts as an equalizer. Villanova uses a certain amount of energy with the promise that the same amount is preserved elsewhere.

These new practices are completely manageable. However, the complete changeover process will not be easy. In light of this, Donohue has designated a Climate Commitment Core Team and Board comprised of faculty, staff and students to work to achieve the time-oriented goals outlined by the commitment.

“The projects we are working on are all about awareness and getting the information we need to spark such change,” said Christina Radossi, a sophomore student member of the core team.

“The initiatives taken thus far on campus have been progressive,” said fellow core team student member junior Christine Simmons. She cites Dining Services as a leader in its purchase of organic and locally grown produce, as well as its efforts to reduce water usage.

These efforts by various campus departments add to the current success of the Year of Sustainability as an extension of the University Campus Environmental Sustainability Policy. The goal, set forth on the Villanova Web site, is to “function as a sustainable community,” achieved through the introduction of energy-efficient practices, the incorporation of sustainability into the academic curriculum and the generation of campus-wide awareness.

Changes are already visible in many campus buildings. The two newest buildings, Driscoll Hall and the new law school building, are pursuing LEED silver certification. Fedigan Hall will be renovated this summer and is also pursuing LEED certification.

“The nursing building uses carpeting and steel made with high recycled content and FSC-certified wood taken from forests managed following strict sustainability practices,” Cacciola said.

All toilets use a dual flush system, and waterless urinals reduce the amount of water waste. T5 lamps, the most efficient commercial fluorescent lighting, can also be found throughout the buildings.

The price of this project for Villanova is slightly more than construction the old way would have been. Many of the recyclable and green materials have a cost premium.

However, the money and energy saved through sustainable practices are well worth the extra effort upfront. Villanova is working toward incorporating sustainability as an academic aspect as well. The Year of Sustainability corresponds with the 80th anniversary of the Mendel Medal.

“We thought in the spirit of Mendel, who really was a fantastic scientist, that we should focus on the academic aspect of this as well,” said Dr. Galgano, associate professor and chairperson of the department of geography and the environment.

In light of this, Galgano’s department holds classes on Environmental Science, as well as Natural Resources and Conservation. The College of Engineering just added an interdisciplinary master’s of science in sustainable engineering, available in 2009. Engineering students interested in this field may choose one of three possible tracks: alternative energy, sustainable water management and sustainable environment.

An academic interest in sustainable usage even extends to individual student projects. Katherine O’Gara, senior geography and the environment major, is looking at reusable water bottles and comparing metal versus plastic bottles for her senior thesis. Her project involves tracking 51 freshmen from two different learning communities. Half were provided with metal bottles and the other half with plastic. Weekly surveys track use of their bottles versus disposable ones and how often they clean them.

O’Gara said she hopes to highlight the energy conservation created through use of reusable bottles.

“I am hoping to see whether or not providing them with water bottles will reduce their disposable bottle use,” she said. “By doing so, they are reducing their solid waste, greenhouse gases and water use.”

Student, faculty and staff awareness is imperative to the continuation and success of sustainable practices on campus. On, an independent study that measures the success of green practices on college campuses around the country, Villanova was ranked lowest, a C, on student participation. The University received a B overall.

Both Galgano and Cacciola said they believe the survey did not adequately reflect student awareness. Both refer to the recycling program as a success, with overflowing bins demonstrating regular use by students. Campus groups, such as the Villanova Environmental Group, work to advocate these policies in the daily lives of students.

“Students have a direct involvement in the process,” Cacciola said. “There is always a need for students to buy into the concept.”

The Year of Sustainability hopes to promote the school’s growing commitment to a green lifestyle. In another clever advertising tactic, freshmen living on South Campus have access to screens in the lobbies of their residence halls that show the building’s energy usage at any given second. By demonstrating first-hand the incredible amount of energy consumed on a daily – even hourly – basis, the screens are intended to make students more aware of their energy usage.

With continued support and participation, the University aims to satisfy its promise of neutrality in the near future.