Sustainability is 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 and Faculty Fellows programs represent 21 of 24 academic departments and are designed to stimulate interdisciplinary conversation and collaboration around sustainability. The programs provide networking events, sustainability-related research grants, and curriculum development opportunities. Because of this interdisciplinary focus at the faculty level, 68% of courses, and at least one course from each academic department, address sustainability principles and practices.
Furman also offers an 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 skillset 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. Sustainability Science majors complete a thesis or team-based practicum project and course. Both the thesis and practicum projects emphasize solution-driven research, and most projects are conducted in partnership with local community organizations.
Students from all majors are eligible for any of three residential sustainability programs that support a cohort model of living and learning together. Any student may also apply for one of many paid fellowships offered through the Shi Center for Sustainability. These funded positions place students across campus and in the greater Greenville community to address sustainability-related questions and to gain practical workplace skills.
Shi Center for Sustainability student fellowships and Sustainability Science major theses help educate, address, and prepare the campus and surrounding community to adapt to the many and complex variables associated with climate change. Recent projects have developed comprehensive waste management policy recommendations for the university; developed and launched a long-term student bike rental program; leveraged our food service provider’s Farm to Fork Program as an education tool for dietary carbon footprints; quantified the extent and type of forested ecosystems on campus; and created professional video documentaries illustrating local examples of projects that support social, environmental and economic sustainability. Thesis 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.
Furman recently purchased a three-year license for access to the MSCI Environmental and Social Governance (ESG) database. The Faculty Affiliate program will pursue opportunities to use the database in the curriculum and explore in-depth projects for students around socially and environmentally responsible investing.
Finally, the university revised its Green Purchasing Guidelines to include social factors in addition to environmental considerations. Through collaboration between Furman’s major purchasing departments (Procurement, Facilities, Information Technology, and Custodial), the University can influence vendor products and practices while also reducing its waste stream and overall carbon footprint.
Furman’s flagship sustainability program is the Community Conservation Corps, which engages student and community volunteers to weatherize homes for local low-income homeowners. Homeowners save an average of 25% annually on their heating costs and the program has avoided more than 411 MTCO2e.
Furman has regularly engaged in conversations with utility providers, lawmakers, and other stakeholders to support alternative energy in the state. As a result, the South Carolina Distributed Energy Resource Program Act was signed into law in 2014. This law allowed Furman to partner with Duke Energy to install a 6-acre, 743kW Solar Farm on campus, making it the largest solar array on a college campus in South Carolina and bringing our total solar generation near the state limit of 1MW. The solar array is strategically positioned adjacent to the highway and the primary entrance to campus, making it a visible demonstration of our commitment to sustainability.
The university is continually striving to increasing energy conservation on campus. Each year, the Energy Manager completes one major building retrofit, assessing the entire energy usage of the building and adjusting any automated systems or upgrading technologies as needed to ensure the most efficient use of energy. In one such major upgrade, Furman replaced the aging heat pumps in ten of its student apartment buildings with new, highly efficient, geothermal ground-source heat pumps. The project was paid for by a $2.5 million grant from the Department of Energy and matching funds from the University and produces savings of about 25%.