From water-free urinals to trayless dining halls, college campuses have been making strides in becoming more environmentally friendly. Here are several green innovations undertaken by the Triangle's major universities.
By the development of environmentally friendly projects, the schools are not only trying to instill a sense of responsibility in the thousands of people who walk the quads every day; they're also saving money, conserving natural resources and preserving Earth's beauty one flush, one carpool and one fewer tray at a time.
Restrooms: Some of the most eco-friendly innovations can be found in campus bathrooms where the university has installed dual-flush toilets to help conserve water. An upward flush for liquid waste uses only 1.1 gallons of water, while a downward flush for solid waste uses 1.6 gallons, resulting in a reduction of water use by 31 percent per flush. The toilets are marked by their lime green handles. There are worse colors, we suppose.
We're trying to imagine what water-free urinals look like, so we may have to peek at one of the 160 installed on campus. Each urinal is estimated to conserve about 13,300 gallons of water per year, for a total of 2.1 million gallons and $17,300 in annual savings.
Even with a head full of suds, you won't miss the water in low-flow fixtures, such as showerheads and faucets, which are among UNC's most recent experiments. They are installed in the Student Union, undergraduate library and four residence halls. Faucets use only a half-gallon of water per minute, while the showerheads use only two gallons per minute, 50 percent less than traditional fixtures. Residence halls are targeted for these faucets and showerheads because these buildings consume more water than any other type on campus.
Outdoors: New and recently renovated buildings, such as Carrington Hall, the Global Education Center and Rams Head Plaza, feature green roofs with waterproof membranes, root barriers, drainage/ retention layers and plants. Green roofs reduce storm water runoff and sewer costs and improve air quality. They can also help lower the temperature inside the buildings.
Dining: FLO (fair, local, organic) Food (studentorgs.unc.edu/flo) has heightened students' awareness about the origins of dining hall food. The group has worked with Carolina Dining Service, which serves cage-free eggs in both dining halls, and committed to purchasing local, grass-fed beef last semester. FLO also is planning green-themed meals and its second Sustainable Food Week, which last year featured a campus farmers' market for the thousands of meals served per week, with input and support from FLO.
For more information about UNC's green initiatives, contact the Vice Chancellor's Sustainability Advisory Committee, a group of students, faculty and staff that guides university-wide green policies and practices and recommends green policies and initiatives. UNC's Sustainability Office's Web site is sustainability.unc.edu
Green Grant Fund: Got a cool idea that'll make your school more green? If you attend or work at Duke, your brainchild could be eligible for the Green Grant Fund. Implemented three years ago by Executive Vice President Tallman Trask, the fund doles out $50,000 to projects that will make Duke more eco-friendly. The money has helped organize national conferences and install an on-campus cistern, which helps collect water, and a vertical wall garden at The Refectory Café at Duke Law School.
A portion of student fees goes toward the Green Grant Fund, said Ryan Pfirrmann-Powell, Duke's sustainability education and outreach coordinator.
Carpool and vanpool programs: Driving on Towerview and Science Drive on West Campus can be a bitch, but Duke launched a carpool and vanpool program to reduce traffic. The carpool program is open to Duke staff, faculty and students who have a car and live off-campus. Carpools of four or more passengers receive free parking in a preferred lot. Each person also receives 12 daily passes for the preferred lot and 12 passes for any other lot. Undergraduate students with carpools of at least four passengers get free and reserved parking and 10-day passes for any unreserved space.
The vanpool program is restricted to employees. With the regional bus system, Triangle Transit, the vanpool program enables people who live near one other and share similar work schedules drive a van to and from work. The minimum number is seven people (a driver and six riders). The vans park for free at Duke, while the TTA pays for gas, insurance and maintenance. A refundable $150 security deposit is required. Riders pay a monthly fare based on round-trip mileage, and the primary driver does not have to pay. For more on Duke's alternative transportation program, visit www.parking.duke.edu/alternative_transportation/index.php
Dining: Gone are the days of the ugly plastic lunch tray. Student dining has gone green, since the university's sustainability office has dedicated an entire unit to eco-friendly food. N.C. State uses a "trayless" system, in which instead of people carrying their food on plates on trays, diners use only reusable plates. The 2007 drought prompted N.C. State to eliminate the trays, which enabled the dining halls to conserve 51,000 gallons of water per week and greatly reduced food waste.
University Dining also recycles its cooking oil through a contract with Piedmont Biofuels to collect the oil for free and convert it into biodiesel fuel.
"It really was a no-brainer for us. Having our cooking oil recycled has multiple benefits and no downside," said Jennifer Gilmore, marketing and communications coordinator for University Dining.
N.C. Solar Center: Although it's under the university umbrella, the N.C. Solar Center helps businesses and people unaffiliated with N.C. State with renewable energy projects, including wind and biomass. The center has become a national resource for renewable energy and energy efficiency policy and incentives. www.ncsc.ncsu.edu
The university plans to expand its participation in the N.C. Green Project, a sustainability program for state agencies and public universities. N.C. Central is working to develop student groups to publicize and raise campus-wide awareness of environmental sustainability issues. The campus also is working to reduce the amount of liquid and solid hazardous waste it generates, while increasing the amount of recycling of cardboard, paper and aluminum products, plus plastics, glass and metals used in art studios for potential new art forms. For more information, call Ed Eng, 530-7244.