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The University of Louisiana at Lafayette was among 11 postsecondary institutions—and the first and only one in Louisiana—recognized recently in Washington, D.C., as a 2016 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School.

The designation commends schools, from elementary to postsecondary, and school districts, for comprehensive sustainability programs and practices. Green Ribbon Schools are recognized for “leadership in reducing environmental impact, improving health, and teaching environmental education,” according to information from the Department of Education.

Seventy-three schools and school districts across the country were recognized as Green Ribbon Schools during an awards ceremony that was held July 20 at the U.S. Department of Commerce building.

“You have demonstrated how environmental education gets students engaged in their studies, keeps students and faculty healthy and fit, and provides a natural link to the careers of the future,” said Andrea Suarez Falken, director of the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools program, during the event.

Earlier this year, UL Lafayette became the first, and only, higher education institution in the state to earn the “Green Ribbon School” designation from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. States can nominate five K-12 schools or districts, and one college or university, each year. Those nominations are submitted to the U.S. Department of Education for consideration for the national designation.

The U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School program was established in 2011. It began recognizing colleges and university’s in 2015, said Gretchen Vanicor, director of UL Lafayette’s Office of Sustainability. She accepted the award for the University in Washington, D.C.

“To be selected in only the second year is an accomplishment that is indicative of the University’s longstanding commitment to environmental stewardship and sustainability practices,” Vanicor said.

In 2014, UL Lafayette implemented a campus-wide sustainability policy. Its sustainability practices, however, can be traced to its first president, Dr. Edwin L. Stephens, who planted live oak trees across the fledgling campus more than 100 years ago.

The U.S. Department of Education commended UL Lafayette for a range of programs, practices, and initiatives, Vanicor said. They include renovation and expansion of the Student Union; campus recycling programs; tree preservation efforts; and sustainable research.

The Student Union project was finished last year. It earned a silver rating from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program. Several factors contribute to LEED certification, including types of construction materials used, energy efficiency, and recycling.

During demolition of the original Student Union, more than 77 percent of debris generated— more than 440 tons of metal and 11,504 tons of concrete—were recycled.

Sustainability-oriented research projects for students, including at the Cleco Alternative Energy Center in Crowley, La., also contributed to the University’s Green Ribbon status. Researchers at the center are evaluating technical and economic aspects of generating electricity from sustainable materials, rather than fossil fuels. Energy sources include everything from sunlight, captured by large solar panels, to alligator fat, which is converted to biofuel.

Students participate in research and testing for projects such as the production of methane using Louisiana food industry wastes, and converting agricultural waste, such as sugar cane bagasse or rice hulls, into energy.

Students are also contributing to campus and community sustainability efforts. In 2015, 1,438 students pitched in 5,713 hours of work during six University-organized cleanups. More than 700, 13-gallon trash bags were filled with litter from roadsides and public spaces.

UL Lafayette collaborated with Lafayette Consolidated Government last year to install traps on storm drains to prevent litter and organic debris from entering water drainage systems.

As part of a joint effort with LCG in 2014, the University installed new bike lanes on St. Mary Boulevard, between Taft and St. Landry streets. The project was designed to increase cyclist safety and manage traffic flow.

The University has also added more bike racks, shelters and lockers, bringing the total number of bicycle parking spaces on campus to more than 2,700.

UL Lafayette has adopted several bike-friendly initiatives, such as free bike maintenance workshops, and allowing students who live in residence halls to take their bicycles inside their rooms for safekeeping.

The University recently launched the Geaux Vélo bike share program. A total of 52 bikes are available at three stations on campus: 32 at Cajun Field, 10 outside the Student Union on Boucher Street, and 10 inside the Girard Park Circle parking garage.

Last year, the League of American Bicyclists recognized the University as a bike friendly campus. The nonprofit organization advocates bicycling and safety for cyclists.

The University’s Zero Waste programs, which include the Geaux RED initiative, and the GameDay Recycling Challenge, also were cited.

Zero Waste focuses on reducing the amount of material that ends up in a landfill. Collection bags for paper, plastic cardboard and aluminum are available in all administrative buildings and faculty offices. There are also receptacles for recyclable materials across campus.

Geaux RED, or Recycle Everything Daily, fosters recycling efforts with the placement of bins in campus offices and outdoors. New bins were recently added in the lobbies of each academic college.

The GameDay Recycling Challenge, a national collegiate recycling contest, encourages universities to measure the amount of recyclable materials collected during home football games. The program was instituted in 2014. That year, the University was ranked 10th in the nation for its diversion rate, which is the percentage of waste that is redirected from landfills to recycling facilities.

Since the program began, the diversion rate during home football games has more than doubled, from almost 29 percent to 59 percent, according to Vanicor.

Overall, the University’s diversion rate has increased from 3 percent 41 percent in two years.

Learn more about the program at http://www2.ed.gov/programs/green-ribbon-schools/index.html

Learn more about UL Lafayette sustainability and recycling at sustainability.louisiana.edu

Photo: Gretchen Vanicor, director of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Office of Sustainability, center, accepted the 2016 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools award recently in Washington, D.C. She is shown with Andrea Suarez Falken, director of the Green Ribbon Schools program, and Adam Honeysett, managing director of state and local engagement for the U.S. Department of Education.