Villanova leads the way in sustainability initiatives

Elisabeth Roche

Responding to calls to action from the Vatican, the United Nations declaring 2005-2015 the “Decade of Education for Sustainable Development” and our responsibility to future generations, University President Peter Donohue, O.S.A., boldly signed the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment in June of 2007. This officially put Villanova on the map as a leader in efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of our campus and address global warming, neutralize greenhouse gas emissions and accelerate research. Since the signing of this document, Villanova has been “going green” in a plethora of different ways, thanks to the President’s Climate Committee and Villanova Commitment to Sustainability Committee.

These committees have headed initiatives designed to implement better practices throughout campus on reducing our carbon footprint but also through educating students of the issues and urging them to make a difference and become more environmentally responsible.

“I think Father Peter recognized that this is an important cause and that the University has an opportunity to lead so many people in the right direction, and it’s a great opportunity to make an impact to at least the few thousand people who we interact with day to day,” says John Cacciola, director of Engineering and Construction and team chair of the President’s Climate Commitment Core Team.

This global issue of over consumption of unsustained resources is becoming increasingly more pressing as the population continues to grow. It is predicted that the global population will jump from 6.5 billion to 9 billion in the next 40 years, and continuing to consume non-renewable resources at this rate could be disastrous.

“It matches so well with the core mission of Villanova – more awareness and informed citizens,” says Dr. Francis Galgano, chair of the department of geography and the environment and chair of the Year of Sustainability. “Think of all the objectives, they are perfectly complimentary to the Villanova mission, and we really want students to leave here and be good citizens. You can be smart the best lawyer, you can be the best businessperson in the world, but we really want you to be a good and informed citizen.”

“The commitment cornerstones on becoming more ‘climate neutral’ on campus by offsetting our carbon footprint, embodying responsible consumption, promoting ecological literacy and environmentally sound practices among students, faculty and the local community,” Cacciola says. “While a lot of the ideas are there and the technology is there, it’s not so easy to implement because a lot of it is financially driven. And when that need competes against some of the other needs of the University, it’s a difficult thing to quickly and easily implement.”

In order to accomplish this, Villanova has taken on some initiatives to ensure sustainability, including green purchasing, the practice of purchasing products and services less destructive to the environment, and purchasing only Energy Star-approved appliances. Other programs on campus, such as Graphic Services, the mailroom and the print programs, are also making efforts to reduce the amount of paper circulating through our campus.

In addition, more teachers are having students submit papers online as opposed to on paper. Most noticeably, Dining Services has been “going green” in all of its locations, reducing waste and providing more biodegradable disposable materials that have minimal impact on the environment. Monitored by the President’s Climate Commitment Team, all materials on campus are slowly being converted to contain the highest percentage recycled content available, be highly energy-efficient and be shipped with minimal packaging.

“What we’re trying to do is not create new things necessarily but to take advantage of the things that are already in existence and, where things can be leveraged with sustainability, to do that,” Galgano says. “What we are trying to do is integrate it into things that are working at Villanova already so that it stays and doesn’t fade away.”

In celebration of the 80th Anniversary of the Mendel Medal Celebration, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the College of Engineering are working with the President’s Climate Commitment Team to sponsor a Year of Sustainability. It will serve as a kickoff for new sustainability initiatives and will strive to elevate awareness of environmental issues to students, faculty, staff and the local community.

“By the end of this year, we will have had a conference that will bring an international forum for academics to Villanova to present,” Galgano says. “There will be roundtable discussions, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. will be the speaker and out of that will come opportunities for students and faculty to be published. The publication that will comes out of that will put Villanova on the map in terms of sustainability,” Galgano says.

As more “green collar jobs” are being created, Villanova is responding by offering more sustainability and environmental-related majors, courses and programs. The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has recently added the department of geography and the environment.

“Since we’ve started, a bunch of students have switched into new majors within the department, especially environmental studies,” Galgano says. “A lot people have switched and said they would have started out in this if they had known it existed. Students are interested in jobs, and that’s where jobs are.”

The Environmental Leadership Learning Community is also a recent addition available to freshmen.

“The environmental learning community was … a really good building block because a lot of those people went on to join VEG, or even the sustainability committee,” says Angela Bagnasco, ’07-’08 member of Environmental Issues Learning Community, the leader of Villanova Environmental Group and environmental studies major.

The College of Engineering has the Villanova Center for the Environment, along with multiple certificate and degree programs in environmentally related subjects. The Villanova School of Business also has started a Center for Socially Responsible Investment.

Other ways students can get involved in the University sustainability efforts are through the Villanova Environmental Group and the Villanova Ecological Society.

Overall, many of these initiatives are becoming more and more visable throughout campus.

“I think if you looked at the culmination of all the things we do on campus, we actually have a lot of initiatives in place,” Cacciola says, “From the things that we are doing in Dining Services, our recycling efforts, our green building efforts, all the things that are happening academically, both in the college of engineering and the environmental science program, and the year of sustainability, we have a lot happening on campus. I think if you compare that to our peer schools and even some schools much larger than us I think we are out in front of a lot of schools.”