How HBCUs have learned to go green

Authors: Green For All

Crossposted from The Grio

It's not always easy being green – especially if you're a college or university that serves primarily minority students, many from low-income families. Going green requires up-front investment that many of these institutions believe they can't afford. Without large – or in some cases any – endowments, and dependent on tuitions that can't be increased much without pricing their students out of a college education, many institutions wonder if going green is feasible for colleges that serve students of color.

UNCF (United Negro College Fund) and its Building Green at Minority Serving Institutions program shows that minority colleges and universities can go green – and we have the personal stories and survey results to prove it. The Building Green initiative, a Kresge Foundation-funded program of the UNCF Institute for Capacity Building, has surveyed colleges and universities that serve large percentages of minority students, and bringing them together in "learning institutes" around the country to celebrate successes and take stock of what needs to be done so that all minority-serving college campuses can become environmentally sustainable. The initiative is a partnership of UNCF, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, and Second Nature Campus Green Builder.

Markese Bryant, a 2010 graduate of UNCF member institution Morehouse College, typifies the commitment to sustainability and a can-do spirit that inspire optimism about helping minority campuses go green. After attending all three 2010 UNCF Building Green Learning Institutes, Bryant was hired by Green for All, an Oakland, California-based organization that works to advance a clean energy economy as a solution to both environmental and economic challenges, to coordinate the HBCU Green Ambassadors internship program, which trains and supports students organizing sustainability initiatives on HBCU campuses. As "Do Dat Bryant," Bryant has also produced a rap video, "The Dream Reborn (My President is Green)" which links the mission of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (a graduate, like Bryant, of Morehouse College) to the presidency of Barack Obama.

The commitment to going green on minority campuses is confirmed by a survey recently completed by UNCF's Building Green program. UNCF's report, the "Minority-Serving Institutions Green Report," identified several highlights in its survey of campus sustainability practices:

  • Sixty percent of participating colleges and universities have green buildings up and running on campus or under construction.
  • Ninety-six percent run at least a small campus recycling plan, with 71 percent recycling paper, 63 percent recycling aluminum, and 58 percent recycling cardboard.
  • Nearly two-thirds of institutions with dining halls purchase local food for their dining halls, helping to reduce the carbon emissions associated with transporting food.
  • Fifty-two percent offer free transportation around campus, off campus or both.

The UNCF report is based on survey of institutions that attended Building Green Learning Institutes in Atlanta, Minneapolis and San Antonio.

But if the report shows unmistakable signs of progress, it also documents areas in which progress has been slow to take place. Only 7 percent of participating schools with dining halls compost food scraps. Twelve percent reported that they have a detailed sustainability plan and 10 percent have written or approved an official environmental policy. Twenty one percent have included sustainability in their master or strategic plans. Only 19 percent of participating schools generate renewable energy on their campuses. And only 6 percent of participating schools have buildings certified to meet LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards, although an additional 29 percent have buildings that have been constructed to LEED specifications.

In most cases where sustainability efforts have lagged, it has been because of lack of resources. Almost all participating schools said that funding would make the biggest difference in fulfilling their environmental interests. Institutions often view green building as an expense or an unaffordable luxury. And it's true: Typically, green building construction costs are 1-2.5 percent higher than those for non-green buildings.

But a crucial part of the Building Green message is that colleges and universities need to look at campus sustainability not as a cost or expense but as an investment. Investing in a green initiative pays medium-term returns that often amount to ten times the increased expenditure during the life-cycle of a building or renovation in saving on energy, water use and waste disposal. It makes the college or university more attractive to both prospective students and faculty. And every green-building or recycling project provides a learning experience for every student who hears about it or passes by.

Like "Do Dat" Bryant's rap video, it's a powerful Earth Day message: Traditionally tight-budgeted minority colleges and universities have done a lot with a little. But we need to do more, and the increased investment will pay off with a planet and individual campuses that are not only environmentally sustainable, but more financially sustainable as well.

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