UMass Amherst Campus Earns ‘A’ Grades on National Sustainability Report Card

AMHERST, Mass. - The University of Massachusetts Amherst campus has once again earned "A" grades on a national green report card for its achievements in four areas: energy and climate change, student involvement, recycling and food, and transportation. The campus also received a "B" in green building. The report, released recently by Sustainable Endowments Institute of Cambridge, grades hundreds of colleges in the United States and Canada on 52 indicators of commitment to sustainability.

Josh Stoffel, campus sustainability coordinator, says student involvement is at the core of sustainability education and activities on campus. For example, through the Eco-Rep program, undergraduates in 25 residence halls reach over 7,000 of their peers with monthly theme messages on topics such as energy conservation and recycling. This year, 24 enthusiastic students have begun sustainability internships for academic credit for projects in transportation, energy conservation, green building and renewable energy or food systems, as well.

In the energy and climate change category, UMass Amherst is recognized for having achieved a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (equivalent to taking approximately 8,000 cars off the road) from a 2002-04 baseline three years ahead of its 20 percent reduction target. This came through efficiency measures including lighting retrofits and outfitting some parking lots with solar arrays for lighting. The campus also eliminated the coal-fired power plant and converted to a 10-megawatt natural gas co-generation power plant. UMass Amherst aims to become carbon neutral by 2050.

Dining Services, led by award-winning director Ken Toong, is another bright star on the campus’s sustainability report card, recognized for eliminating wasteful paper cups and for purchasing 25 percent of the fresh produce and dairy products used in almost 14,000 meals daily from the campus farm and other local growers. The report card also notes that cooks use many organic, fair trade, confinement-free, hormone- and antibiotic-free sustainably harvested foods. Students get a beverage discount for reusable mugs and the dining halls now compost all pre- and postconsumer food scraps.

The campus recycles not only paper, cans and cardboard, but an impressive list of other items such as light bulbs, paint, tires, small electronics and plastics. Stoffel says the campus also tries hard to make sure that printers and cartridges, CDs, batteries and computers don’t end up in the landfill. This all helps UMass Amherst to reach an overall recycling rate of 56 percent, which is considered quite good for a multi-stream program that asks users to separate recyclables at the bin. Housing staff collect useable clothing and nonperishable food left behind at year’s end for charities and other agencies.

In the transportation category, UMass Amherst truly shines. Its award-winning, five-campus, 10-route transit system has high ridership, a large student workforce, many incentives and "huge" commuter acceptance that all help to reduce single-occupant car trips to campus. Glenn Barrington, transit operations manager, says the routes carry 14,000 to 16,000 passengers every weekday during the academic year, preventing gridlock on area roads. Campus buses run on ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel, one of the cleanest available for these vehicles.

UMass Amherst offers a wide array of alternatives to driving including a link to the Norwottuck Rail Trail bicycle path, on-campus bike repair shop, a commuter ride share matching service and reduced-cost parking for carpools and occasional parkers. A bike-share pilot program is also being developed.

Approximately 15 percent of the university fleet now runs on alternative fuel and the fleet is gradually being upgraded as older, less fuel-efficient and higher-emission models are retired. The campus now owns many hybrid vehicles, including Toyota Priuses that average about 55 miles per gallon and Ford Escapes that averages 32 mpg.

In the area of green building, the campus’s new Integrated Sciences Building meets LEED criteria and plans call for a new laboratory sciences building under construction to meet Gold LEED criteria. The campus has also reduced its annual water consumption by nearly 17 million gallons since 2005, in part by outfitting approximately 60 percent of the campus with low-flow faucets and showerheads. A newly installed bioretention swale now slows thousands of gallons of storm water runoff from parking areas and streets every time it rains, so sediment and thermal pollution is reduced in downstream wetlands. Two more rain garden bioretention swales are planned as part of building projects now underway.

Overall, Stoffel says, "I’m confident that in the coming year, UMass Amherst will make great strides forward and our outstanding commitment to sustainability will show that our campus is an unquestioned leader in the nation."