Can campus sustainability improve?

The University of Miami made strides to “go green” within the past few years: launching Green U in 2005, introducing green initiatives such as UPrint and the Zipcar car sharing program, and creating a new “sustainability coordinator” position last fall.

However, according a report that compares the efforts of universities across the nation, these endeavors are a notch above mediocre., a Web site profiling the sustainability of North American universities, issued a “College Sustainability Report Card” at the beginning of this year. The University of Miami scored a C+.

A study of the breakdown shows better news. In the student participation subcategory, UM scored a B, almost a full-letter-grade higher than the average college institution. According to the Web site, the levels of sustainability promotion in areas such as student organizations, campus competitions, and orientation programs all contribute to the student involvement score.

A large majority of the universities surveyed have at least one student organization on campus dedicated to promoting sustainability and environmental awareness.

Sustainable U, Greenpeace UM and Earth Alert cover sustainability on UM’s campus. According to Earth Alert’s Co-Vice President Rajiv McCoy, a senior, the student club boasts hundreds of prospects on its list serve but only about 30 committed and involved members.

“The number has definitely been growing in recent years as issues like climate change have put environmentalism back in the news,” he said.

With the potential for increased student interest, the focus is now channeled into actual participation. The report further indicates that approximately two in five schools have established a sustainable residence.

The University of Miami had a sustainable residence called “Living the Green Life.” It was a special interest floor in Mahoney Residential College, but it only survived one year. This floor had about nine members during the 2008-2009 school year, according to Artie Jamison, the residence coordinator of Mahoney.

This group was committed to living sustainably and reducing their carbon footprint. They promoted recycling, cooked vegan dinners, introduced environmentally related speakers and attempted to install electronic meters designed to monitor energy use.

Jamison noted that the group was well-received and successful but on a small scale.

“They did not have enough students interested in maintaining it,” she said.

When the group applied for renewal for the 2009-2010 school year, its application was denied. According to Emily Vaughan, a program coordinator in the Office of Academic Enhancement, “Living the Green Life” failed to secure the initial required quota of 16 interested members.

John Van Leer, associate professor of meteorology and physical oceanography at UM, and former faculty adviser to the “Living the Green Life” special interest housing group, hopes that the passion for sustainability originally fostered by the students will soon be rekindled.

“Unfortunately, as passive consumers of information, most students do not tend to mobilize into action,” he said.