Berry College has long been recognized for the beauty and splendor of its 26,000-acre Northwest Georgia campus. Increasingly, however, the institution is gaining regional and national attention for its sustainability efforts and environmental stewardship practices.
Major achievements this year include gold certification for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) for the college’s two newest student residences, Audrey B. Morgan and Deerfield halls. Established by the U.S. Green Building Council and verified by the Green Building Certification Institute, LEED is the nation’s preeminent program for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings.
According to statistics provided by Leesa Carter, executive director for the Georgia Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, only 208 projects statewide have earned LEED certification at any level. Less than half have been certified Gold or higher; many of these are located in Metro Atlanta.
“It is a great accomplishment,” Carter stated.
At Berry, green building principles are being incorporated into new construction as well as the renovation of older facilities. Environmental features in Morgan and Deerfield include low-flow showerheads, faucets and washers; motion sensor lights and thermostats; and LED lighting fixtures. Water conservation features have been installed in approximately half of the buildings on campus, and geothermal grids for heating and cooling are currently used in 12 buildings.
“Buildings are a prime example of how human systems integrate with natural systems,” said Rick Fedrizzi, president, CEO and founding chair of the U.S. Green Building Council. “The residence hall project at Berry College efficiently uses our natural resources and makes an immediate, positive impact on our planet, which will tremendously benefit future generations to come.”
LEED Gold certification for Morgan and Deerfield halls is the latest in a series of honors for Berry, which recently joined the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. Other accolades include a spot on Blue Ridge Outdoors’ honor roll of the region’s greenest colleges and universities, a No. 11 ranking out of 346 participants in the per capita division of this year’s national Recyclemania competition, and a grade of B on the 2010 College Sustainability Report Card. The latter equals the highest grade awarded to any of Georgia’s colleges and universities.
“Sustainability at Berry is a campuswide commitment,” noted Dr. Steve Briggs, Berry’s president since 2006. “Given the amazing natural assets that we as an institution have inherited, it is fitting and important that we be superb stewards of these resources. We must strive to sustain and improve our natural environment as our gift to future generations.”
Berry’s commitment to sustainability was formalized as a strategic goal in 2007 when Dr. Briggs signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. As part of this agreement, Berry has pledged to reduce campus greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent over the next decade. The college has also developed a long-term Climate Action Plan (CAP) aimed at achieving carbon neutrality.
“Our commitment to sustainability complements the college’s overall mission of providing firsthand experiences for students that enhance the academic curriculum,” said Eddie Elsberry, director of environmental compliance and sustainability. “The excitement and enthusiasm shown by the students is critical, serving as the main driver for many of our recent green initiatives.”
Examples of student involvement include participation in strategic discussions with faculty, staff and administrators; oversight of college recycling efforts; and development of campus educational programs. Student leadership is provided by the Green Team, a new program launched by the dean of students in fall 2009. The Green Team coordinates recycling and energy conservation efforts in the residence halls and works alongside Students Against Violating the Earth (SAVE) and other groups to promote environmental awareness and education on campus and beyond.
The emphasis on education also extends to Berry’s formal academic curriculum, with fields as diverse as environmental science, economics and philosophy incorporating climate neutrality and sustainability topics.
“These efforts are making a difference,” said Keiko Stobaeus, student coordinator of the Green Team. “Any actions taken to help care for the environment are significant – people just need to be educated on what they can do to help. I believe that we are all doing what we can to help make Berry, our community and our world a better place.”
The success of Berry’s approach can be measured by the institution’s improved performance on the College Sustainability Report Card. The survey – administered by the Sustainable Endowments Institute, a special project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors – measures performance in the areas of administration, climate change and energy, food recycling, green building, student involvement, transportation, endowment transparency, investment priorities, and shareholder engagement.
Berry’s grade of B on the 2010 report card ranked it among the top 40 percent of 332 participating colleges and universities in the United States and Canada. Only two other institutions in Georgia, Emory University and the Georgia Institute of Technology, equaled that mark.
Berry performed similarly well on Blue Ridge Outdoors' honor roll of the region’s greenest colleges and universities, ranking No. 4 among institutions with enrollments under 7,500 in a four-state area encompassing Georgia, North and South Carolina, and Virginia. The college received high marks in several different categories, including green space, outdoor recreation, recycling, green building and environmental studies. Other schools on the honor roll included the University of North Carolina-Asheville, Warren Wilson College and Longwood University.
Progress can also be measured by Berry’s performance in the annual Recyclemania competition. This year’s 10-week effort, organized by the Berry College Sustainability Program, resulted in the collection of more than 111,500 pounds of recyclable material. Although more students were living on campus in 2009-10, the amount of waste collected in the residence halls actually dropped by more than 6,000 pounds. The percentage of waste generated in the student center also went down.
“Overall, Recyclemania was a great improvement from last year,” Elsberry stated. “I feel the improvement stems from the fact that students, faculty and staff alike are adopting more environmentally friendly habits.”
Evidence of this commitment can be found in the student dining hall, where the implementation of trayless dining has led to a 30-percent reduction in food waste while cutting water usage by 140,000 gallons annually. The use of compostable and biodegradable “to-go” containers has further diminished waste. The college also purchases Energy Star appliances, recycled paper, green cleaning products and EPEAT-registered computers whenever possible.
“It is our job to preserve this wonderful campus so that its beauty will endure for future generations,” Elsberry said.
Prepared by Public Relations Assistant Emily Williams.