College campuses around the nation are striving to lessen their negative impacts on the environment and committing to “green” initiatives such as campus-wide recycling, service projects and energy saving technologies. At Texas A&M University, the efforts to conserve resources, protect and improve the environment are almost too many to count, so here’s a rundown of the Top 5 ways the Maroon and White is showing how green it can be.
1. Texas-sized Reductions and Savings
Texas A&M’s campus, at more than 5,200 acres, is one of the largest college campuses in America with one of the biggest student populations, yet has seen substantial reductions in energy and water consumption. The university’s energy-related cost avoidance measures have resulted in a 40 percent reduction in energy consumption and more than $140 million in cost savings over the last 10 years. The EPA presented Texas A&M with the 2013 Energy Star CHP Award for energy efficiencies resulting from the installation of a combined heating and power (CHP) system that requires one-third less fuel than a typical off-campus power plant. Campus water consumption has also decreased, by 30 percent since 2000. And campus recycling has greatly increased over the last three years; a record 64 percent of campus waste was recycled in FY 2012. Texas A&M Utilities & Energy Services (UES) has played a major role in consumption reductions and increased recycling, and UES Executive Director Jim Riley credits the success to both his team and the campus community as a whole. “With great support from the campus community, we’ve achieved significant improvement in efficiency of operation while customer comfort and service levels have seen measurable improvement,” Riley notes.
“Respect. Protect. Preserve,” is the motto of Texas A&M’s Office of Sustainability, which defines sustainability as “the efficient, deliberate and responsible preservation of environmental, social and economic resources to protect our earth for future generations…” The renovated Memorial Student Center is a model of sustainability, both in its construction and routine functions. A majority, 68 percent, of the building’s existing material was repurposed and reused in the renovation, say university officials. Additionally, the daily functions of the facility are ingrained with sustainable practices including the use of natural lighting and recyclable materials. Water bottle filling stations in the MSC and across campus allow for water bottles to be refilled rather than thrown away. From just the 19 filling stations installed by the Office of Sustainability, the equivalent of 452,000 water bottles have been saved from disposal, according to Kelly Wellman, Texas A&M’s sustainability officer. “We are all called upon to be good stewards of our resources,” she says. “As an institution teaching the leaders of tomorrow, we must continually model stewardship through actions, teaching and infusing the Aggie Core Values into everyday life.”
For the past three years, Texas A&M has been designated a “Tree Campus USA” honoree by the Arbor Day Foundation for its effective campus tree management. The university’s efforts include maintaining a tree advisory committee, a campus tree-care plan, dedicated annual expenditures toward trees, an Arbor Day observance and student service-learning projects. This year, the university’s first “virtual tree tour” went online, allowing for a unique way to tour campus by following a route of the university’s most beautiful and famous trees. And speaking of famous trees, the legendary “Century Tree” at the heart of campus, site of many an Aggie marriage proposal, has been designated as a “Famous Tree of Texas” by the Texas A&M Forest Service. “In addition to providing direct environmental services such as stormwater management and energy conservation, being around trees is known to reduce stress, anxiety and aggression,” says Gretchen Riley of the Texas A&M Forest Service. “Consequently, students are better able to concentrate on tasks and build positive relationships — just the kind of environment we want at a college campus.”
4. Green Research
From rooftop planting to finding potential new sources of energy, cutting edge research in all things green is being conducted by Texas A&M students and faculty. “Green roof” planting projects on the roofs of the Langford Architecture Building A and the Mitchell Physics Building are not only reaping environmental benefits, such as rainwater collection and energy conservation, they are serving as hands-on learning experiences for students. And finding alternative sources of fuel is the goal of numerous, ongoing university research projects. For example, researchers at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences are endeavoring to produce renewable energy from organic matter including, of all things, tobacco. Professor of Plant Pathology and Microbiology Joshua Yuan’s research into using tobacco plants to derive fuel has garnered the attention of the U.S. Department of Energy which has given Yuan a $1.8 million grant to continue his investigation. “Instead of going to oil fields, which are not sustainable, not only can we solve our problem of energy dependence and energy security, but also we will provide a solution for sustainable fuel production,” he explains. “And it will be renewable for years to come.”
5. Selfless Service
Texas A&M’s Core Value of “Selfless Service” has been front and center in Aggie efforts to improve the environment. For example, after the community of Bastrop suffered the most damaging wildfire in Texas history in 2011, Aggies partnered with the Texas A&M Forest Service and Texas Parks & Wildlife to replant the Lost Pines of Bastrop State Park. This past February, around 800 Aggies worked to plant thousands of pine seedlings there. The effort was led by Aggie Replant, a student environmental organization formed more than 20 years ago to replace trees cut down for Bonfire, and although Bonfire is no longer a university-sanctioned activity, Aggie Replant continues to care for the environment with such initiatives as Replant Day, an annual event where Aggie volunteers plant trees around the Brazos Valley. Tarek Abbassi, a senior biomedical engineering major and an Aggie Replant leader, says the Bastrop replant project allowed the organization to expand its service impact. “Every year we bring trees to the B/CS area, but I’ve always felt that Replant could and should do more for the environment around Texas,” he says. “Replant’s involvement in the Lost Pines Forest Recovery Campaign is important because it represents the growth and change that Replant has made over the years.”
More green campus initiatives are planned for the future at Texas A&M including a new $45 million capital plan to support utility production upgrades in the four campus utilities plants, with construction on the first project to begin this fall.
About 12 Impacts of the 12th Man: 12 Impacts of the 12th Man is an ongoing series throughout the year highlighting the significant contributions of Texas A&M University students, faculty, staff and former students on their community, state, nation and world. To learn more about the series and see additional impacts, visit 12thman.tamu.edu.