April 10, 2009

Information, resources available to help VU ‘go green’

Information, resources available to help VU ‘go green’

Environmental information is a lot like weight loss information, according to Andrea George, Ph.D., director of Vanderbilt's Sustainability and Environmental Management Office.

“There's so much conflicting information out there that people get stymied,” she said. “They want to do something, but they don't know what to do. They don't know what will make a difference.”

Enter SustainVU, a repository of environmental information and resources to help all areas of Vanderbilt University “go green.”

The SustainVU Web site, at www.vanderbilt.edu/sustainvu, has information on everything from breaking research and the Vanderbilt Biodiesel Initiative to recycling and commuter programs.

There is also a link to the “Think One” campaign, which asks the Vanderbilt community to think of one energy conservation effort they can make each day. Suggestions are tailored to patient care, research, administrative and student areas and are as simple as turning off the light when leaving a room or using the “sleep mode” on computers.

“We wanted people to know that if they individually just change one decision every day, over time all those people added up can really make an enormous difference,” George said. All the recommendations have been heavily researched.

The SustainVU program provides resources to help everyone at Vanderbilt take part in environmental sustainability efforts. (photo by Anne Rayner)

The SustainVU program provides resources to help everyone at Vanderbilt take part in environmental sustainability efforts. (photo by Anne Rayner)

“I want to be sure that if the University invests money in a certain sustainability program, then that investment is something that's going to pay off. It's not just an experiment to see what happens,” George said.

Although SustainVU is a University-wide initiative, George said the Medical Center's participation is especially crucial.

“The Medical Center is of utmost importance because the vast majority of our employees are there,” she said. “The Medical Center generates a huge amount of solid waste, so it has huge potential for recycling. Pretty much, if you name it in the environmental realm, the Medical Center has a big impact.”

SustainVU originated in early 2007 when George, who was working in environmental compliance, realized that there were many sustainability projects in place but no central entity to support them. George asked for input from students at the Owen Graduate School of Management, and they suggested creating a brand and building a central Web site.

Although SustainVU has been around for two years, its real birth will occur this Earth Day, April 22, when an environmental commitment statement and carbon footprint assessment will be released.

“Those will be cornerstone of our environmental management system,” George said. “The statement is not a policy with details like setting our thermostat on a certain degree; it will put forth the areas we're going to focus on in the future and what environmental values the VU community hold dear.”

A carbon footprint is an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions and is used by an organization to quantify the impact they have on the environment. Data has been collected from 2005-2007 to create an average year's emissions, and these numbers will be used as a baseline to compare with future improvements.

On Earth Day, SustainVU is also organizing a visual presentation of Vanderbilt's consumption. Waste from all buildings that touch Alumni Lawn, except Rand and Sarratt, will be placed into a big pile forming “Mt. Trashmore.”

The Dayani Center is celebrating Earth Week with a variety of lectures and presentations open to members and faculty and staff. For more information, contact Marilyn Young at 322-4751.

In upcoming issues, the Reporter will highlight sustainability projects under way around the Medical Center, from recycling efforts and green purchasing to vanpools and fluorescent lighting.

With all these programs, the message is the same: sustaining the environment and sustaining Vanderbilt.

“We always want to be good stewards for Vanderbilt and the environment,” George said, “so we look at what's good for the environment, what conserves natural resources and what can save money.”



• In 2007, Vanderbilt consumed more than 363,000 megawatt-hours of electricity — the same amount consumed by nearly 23,500 homes in the Nashville area last year.

• Vanderbilt spends approximately $36 million per year on energy consumption.

• 35 percent of the electricity consumed by Vanderbilt is generated at the on-campus Power House.

• If everyone at Vanderbilt turned off their computer monitors when they weren't in use, 1.1 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions would be eliminated.

• The average employee commute is 24 miles one way.

• The average Medical Center employee can eliminate 95 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions of their commute by riding an MTA bus instead of driving alone to work.

• One urinal uses 40,000 gallons of water per year.

• Producing, packaging and transporting one liter of bottled water requires almost 2,000 times more energy than treating and delivering the same amount of tap water.

• The average American produces eight pounds of garbage per day.

• Recycling one aluminum can can save enough energy to keep a television running for three hours.