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Campus Environmental Audits:

In recent years a movement of campus sustainability has surfaced, and not only in the form of increasingly environmentally aware curriculum formats. Universities have also opted to take action to improve their own long-term sustainability. A common initiative that universities have employed to do so is the campus environmental audit. A campus environmental audit is essentially an environmental report card for universities. Rusty Callier of the University of Wisconsin River-Falls defines a campus environmental audit as “a way to judge where resources are being used efficiently and where they are being used inefficiently” (#6). An environmental audit can help to put into perspective whether or not current and future resource conservation efforts are actually making a difference. Environmental audits are just the beginning of a planning process. They are a first step to understanding what kinds of impacts the university has on the environment and how they can work to reduce those impacts. Once an audit is completed goals must be set based on the new knowledge that has been gained about the university’s operations.

The campus environmental audit was first introduced in 1990 in UCLA by a group of six students, and since then it has continued to be a powerful tool for bringing about environmental change at colleges and universities across the country (#10). There are many advantages to performing an environmental audit on the university or college campus. First of all, it provides students with a vehicle for applying knowledge learned in the classroom to their immediate campus experience. They will remember the hands on experience much more readily than textbook examples. Environmental audits can also lead to a dramatic reduction in resource consumption and the costs associated with resource use. Audits also cultivate teamwork among many otherwise unfamiliar people such as student activists, grounds managers, recycling directors, purchasing agents, food service managers, and facilities managers on campus. In fact, universities that have already completed an audit of this sort, have demonstrated that the “traditional gaps between student activists and campus authorities can be bridged by providing students with the knowledge and skills needed to be credible players in the eyes of administrators”(#10). Environmental audits also provide an opportunity for students to participate in some of the decision-making processes on campus and boost the moral of the persons involved in the audit. Lastly, audits can result in establishing and institutionalizing campus environmental programs thereby expanding the possibilities for change in the future.

Environmental audits not only benefit the university, but the community as well, therefore conducting an audit can improve a universities image and its relationship with the community. It also affirms the notion that the university itself is a part of the community and if they choose to negatively affect it they will be, in effect, harming themselves. Creighton points out in her book Greening the Ivory Tower that “a beautifully maintained campus surrounded by traffic, air pollution, litter, and a filthy river will have difficulty attracting students”(#9). Furthermore, environmental efforts that are made by the campus for the community can be used as a selling point to perspective students and community requests. It may not seem as though it is a real issue to students, but environmental issues can definitely have an effect on student enrolment. For example, “nearly 20% of the students who enter Tufts University list environmental concerns as one of their three top concerns”(#9).

With such an extensive list of benefits it is not hard to believe that institutions other than universities are performing environmental audits. Many businesses large and small are realizing the value in performing a similar type of audit resulting in increased efficiency, reduced costs, and the acquisition of a coveted green image to their customers. For example, Ford Motor Company is one business committed to an environmental standard in the business world. They rely heavily on the data gathered through the use of self-audits in order to evaluate their performance at all of their 150 plants. However, many people believe that colleges and universities have a special responsibility to set an example, to serve the community, and to provide leadership on important issues, including environmental protection.

There are many exciting and innovative efforts in almost every sector of campus operations and activities. Sometimes, it seems, a particular effort will flourish in a specific part of a university while other parts will not be as successful. This provides students with a wide range of possibilities for system and activity exploration and an almost guaranteed chance that they will succeed in at least one area of opportunity. Among the operations commonly examined are; water resources, recycling programs, solid waste management, transportation, composting/dining services, landscaping/grounds, procurement policies, hazardous waste management, and energy use. Each and every initiative has the possibility of far reaching implications although they may seem very modest initially.

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Last update: October 10, 2003
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