Furman University is aiming to be more sustainable in its practices, policies, and learning environments. The university implemented sustainable strategies in multiple fronts, including curriculum, facilities management, and community relations. More than half of Furman courses across disciplines address sustainability principle and practices. The university also offers a Bachelor of Science degree in sustainable science for students who seek in-depth learning experience on the subject. The staff fellows program cultivates investment in campus sustainability by non-faculty employees. The Community Conservation Corps engages both students and community members in energy-saving practices. These strategies enrich the Furman educational experience and help the campus operate in a more efficient and responsible manner.
Sustainability has been infused across Furman University’s curriculum. All students are required to take at least one course that covers human interaction with the natural environment. The David E. Shi Center for Sustainability’s Affiliate faculty (nearly 1/4th of the faculty; representing 21 of 24 academic departments) has included course components across their disciplines—with the result that 68% of Furman courses, and at least one course from each academic department, address sustainability principles and practices.
For students seeking a deep academic experience on the subject, the university offers a stand-alone undergraduate Bachelor of Science degree in sustainability science (SUS). With its own core curriculum, the SUS major is designed to provide students with a marketable skill set and a holistic, problem-based, solution-driven way of thinking that considers the complexity and dynamic feedbacks between social, human, and environmental systems. The major is the fastest growing in the university’s history.
Students from all majors are eligible for either of two residential sustainability programs, and for paid fellowships offered through the Shi Center for Sustainability. These funded positions place students across campus and in the greater Greenville community to address a sustainability-related research question and gain practical skills.
Students majoring in sustainability science complete a senior thesis or team-based practicum project and course. Both the thesis and practicum projects emphasize solution-based research, and most projects are conducted in partnership with local organizations (nonprofit, public, or private), addressing a pre-determined research question.
Recent Shi Center for Sustainability student fellowships and Sustainability Science theses have helped to educate, address and prepare the campus and surrounding community to adapt to the many and complex variables associate with climate change. Recent projects have incorporated climate change education into the outreach offered by a nearby National Historic Site; developed waste management policy recommendations for city government and for the university; developed and launched a long-term student bike rental program; levied a small “tax” on campus bottled beverages to fund water-bottle refilling stations; assessed campus sustainability and communicated with stakeholders about relevant opportunities and challenges; quantified the extent and type of forested ecosystems on campus; and created of professional video documentaries illustrating local examples of projects that support social, environmental and economic sustainability. Research projects have also explored food and farming systems, behavioral sustainability, waste streams, public greenways, geothermal heating and cooling system impacts, and ecological footprint analysis, among many other topics. These students disseminate their work and findings through multiple formats, including regional and national conferences, campus-wide poster and presentation sessions, journal articles, and online media.
The university recently launched a staff fellows program designed to cultivate and support increased investment in campus sustainability by non-faculty employees. An administrative committee will review proposals and fund projects demonstrating the greatest capacity to make significant, innovative, and sustained improvements to the university’s sustainability performance. Staff fellows will be asked to share results of their projects with the campus community.
The university’s flagship program in this area is the Community Conservation Corps, which engages student and community volunteers to weatherize homes and educate local low-income homeowners on energy conservation. Homeowners save an average of 25% annually on their heating costs, and the program has avoided more than 71 metric tons CO2e.
Furman has regularly engaged in conversations with utility providers, lawmakers, and other interested parties regarding support for alternative energy in the state. In Summer 2014, the South Carolina Distributed energy Resource program Act was signed into law, and final details on terms are pending from the state’s utility regulator, the Public Service Commission. Furman students, faculty, and administration are closely reviewing these developments and are in conversations with utility providers to identify opportunity for the university to substantially advance its commitment to solar power generation.
Finally, the university continues its commitment to increasing energy conservation on campus. Each year the Energy Manager completes one major building retrofit. A student revolving loan fund continues to gain repayments from past energy-saving projects and recent outreach has been made to ensure continued awareness of the student body in this opportunity to support qualifying campus projects.