The George Washington University

The George Washington University is committed to sustainability and to serve as a positive example through sustainable operations and education. Not only are sustainability courses are offered across disciplines, but other co-curricular education opportunities such as living labs, sustainability internships, and Eco-Rep programs are also available for students. To ensure their critical activities are both ecologically sound and economically viable, the George Washington University initiated various campus-wide programs. The Capital Partners Solar Project supports renewable energy use in the university; the Ecosystem Enhancement Strategy encourages the school to purchase bio-based products and energy and water-efficient products; and the Eco-Building Program targets building-energy reduction.

Student Preparedness           

From a groundbreaking solar partnership, the first LEED Platinum certified building on a university campus in D.C., the creation of “Green Leaf” courses, a growing Sustainability Minor, to an on-campus farmers market that accepts student dining dollars, the George Washington University (GW) has adopted a comprehensive approach to building a sustainable campus community.

GW’s sustainability teaching and research includes over 170 faculty engaging in sustainability research, 38 undergraduate and graduate sustainability-related programs across various disciplines and 345 courses related to sustainability in all 10 schools. GW also has a pan-university undergraduate Sustainability Minor with students from every school. Classes range from environmental and resource policy and geological sciences to anthropology and religion.

GW also offers a wealth of co-curricular education opportunities related to sustainability and climate change: living labs that include substantive work by students collaborating with faculty and staff involving research and experiential learning; internship and alternative breaks programs; and peer-to-peer learning such as the Eco-Rep program. Student Eco-Reps participate in decision-making processes on GW campus development, including sustainability and climate change issues.

The GW Eco-Equity Challenge invites students to propose a project in collaboration with a community partner. The project must have both environmental AND social impact in an under-served or low-income local community. Projects must also raise awareness within the GW community about environmental/climate justice. Projects targeting the GW campus are also considered which demonstrate a local impact beyond campus.

Climate Innovation

Capital Partners Solar Project (CPSP) is an innovative renewable energy project that will provide solar power from three solar farm sites to the regional grid that supports GW, American University, and the George Washington University Hospital. The solar farms will help all three institutions reduce their carbon footprint significantly. The magnitude of CPSP is that it results in abating approximately 60,000 metric tons of CO2 annually. This project demonstrates how large organizations in an urban setting can partner to significantly reduce their carbon footprints while also supporting regional solar energy.

On campus, both an 18-panel photovoltaic array and walkable solar-paneled pathway, known as the Solar Walk, are operating between two buildings at GW’s Virginia Science and Technology Campus. The walkable panels generate enough energy to power 450 LED pathway lights, while the 18-panel array generates electricity that feeds nearby Innovation Hall. In 2011 GW installed solar thermal hot water heating systems on three residence halls (2031 F Street, Shenkman Hall, and 1959 E Street), and will install a fourth in summer 2015 on its Dakota residence hall. The systems supply more than half of the residence halls’ annual water heating needs.

GW is committed to achieving a minimum of LEED Silver certification on all new buildings. To date, GW has exceeded that commitment for most of its 11 LEED-certified buildings, including the first LEED Platinum-certified higher education building in Washington, DC. GW provides campus sustainability and LEED-building tours to students, staff, faculty, and visitors.

Creating Opportunity

As part of its Ecosystem Enhancement Strategy, GW commits to sourcing products that reduce its impact on biodiversity, climate, and water. GW’s Office of Sustainability and Procurement Department partnered with Staples Inc. to implement a sustainable paper procurement initiative. Beginning in 2013, virgin paper was removed from GW’s online purchasing system and replaced with paper comprised of a minimum of 30% recycled fiber content.

GW strives to manage its landscapes in a responsible, sustainable manner to improve the health of the campus ecosystem and maximize usability for the campus community. GW partnered with Casey Trees, a local non-profit, to perform a tree inventory. Casey Trees gathered species, size, and location information for both campus and street trees. Their studies show that current tree cover yields 196 metric tons of CO2 benefit.

Building energy use comprises 80% of the university’s GHG emissions. Through its Eco-Building Program (EBP), GW targets a 15% reduction in building energy use. Within the last 3 years, 30% of GW’s buildings (by square footage) have undergone an energy-efficiency retrofit through this program. In addition to reductions in energy and GHG gas emissions, EBP is expected to produce short-term and long-term financial savings.

GW has undertaken a variety of behavior change initiatives aimed at reducing energy usage and GHG emissions. For example, each fall GW runs a competition known as Eco-Challenge in which students compete to reduce electricity and water consumption within their residence halls. The contest also serves as an educational resource for students through peer-to-peer engagement.