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Green guide: Master plan to steer University's sustainability efforts

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The University of Louisiana at Lafayette has issued a master plan that will govern its ground – and water and air – game for the next three years.

The Sustainability Strategic Plan is UL Lafayette’s first comprehensive statement of environmental objectives. It enumerates goals through 2021 that seek to reduce the University’s greenhouse gas emissions, and overall energy and water consumption.

The plan touches most aspects of campus life but also represents UL Lafayette’s broader commitment to sustainability, said Dr. Joseph Savoie, University president.

He approved the 60-page proposal in July. The plan “ultimately reaches beyond campus boundaries because the environmental challenges we face are global,” Savoie said.

Gretchen Lacombe Vanicor, director of the University’s Office of Sustainability, said UL Lafayette established an environmental policy in 2014 “that was designed to create a campus culture of green stewardship.”

“The strategic plan builds on the progress we’ve made. It incorporates sustainability principles into the University’s operations and its education and research missions. It also proposes ways we can partner with faculty, staff and students. Together, we can ensure a more resilient future for campus,” Vanicor said.

The 21-point plan includes calls for:

  • a 10 percent reduction in overall campus energy use;
  • a 10 percent increase in on-campus sustainable energy sources;
  • a 10 percent reduction in the use of drinkable water; and
  • continued efforts to curb runoff from storm water, which carries litter and natural and human-made pollutants into waterways.

It also suggests a 15 percent reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, that trap heat in the earth’s atmosphere. They’re a major contributor to climate change.

Under the plan, the University would protect air quality by prohibiting shuttles and buses from leaving motors on between stops. It would also reduce traffic congestion – and resulting emissions – by encouraging bicycle use and walking for employees and students who live near campus and urging ride sharing for those who live farther away.

Efforts over the past few years have positioned the University to achieve many of the plan’s objectives, Vanicor said. She pointed to the installation of bioswales, or natural filtration systems, as an example.

These shallow troughs hold plants and other vegetation that act as sieves to remove contaminants from rainwater before it’s funneled into drainage systems.

“By populating areas of campus with native grasses and flowers, we’re combating nonpoint source pollution while also reducing emissions because maintenance crews don’t have to mow bioswales,” she said. 

In addition, the recently opened Photovoltaic Applied Research and Testing Lab enables the University to generate a portion of its own power, Vanicor said. The array of 4,500 solar panels in University Research Park produces 1.1 megawatts, or nearly 10 percent of UL Lafayette’s daily power needs. 

Over a year, the PART Lab will provide about 3 percent of the University’s energy, reducing both its power bill and emissions of greenhouse gases that are produced when nonrenewable fossil fuels are used to generate electricity.

The PART Lab, which will test solar panels to determine their viability in Louisiana, exemplifies another objective the strategic plan sets: to use campus as a living lab, Vanicor said.

The concept “merges our environmental goals with UL Lafayette’s mission as a research university. We want to utilize campus and our region as a laboratory that encourages applied research and service projects among both students and faculty.”

The plan also catalogues UL Lafayette’s sustainability milestones, including nine consecutive Tree Campus USA titles, and awards from the U.S. Department of Education and Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries that recognized the University’s eco-friendly initiatives.

The timeline starts in 1901, when founding President Dr. Edwin Lewis Stephens planted the first live oaks on campus. The Century Oaks, 10 of the original 18 saplings Stephens sowed, remain near the intersection of Johnston Street and University Avenue.

“The trees Dr. Stephens planted are magnificent symbols of UL Lafayette’s strength and stability,” Vanicor said. “They also remind the campus community that a healthy, sustainable tomorrow requires us to think beyond today.

“To guarantee that our natural environment survives for future generations to enjoy, we have to set objectives, then we have to establish strategies to realize those plans. The University’s Sustainability Strategic Plan does both.”

Read the plan here.

 

Caption: UL Lafayette students help prepare a bioswale, a natural filtration system, near Oliver Hall on campus. Photo by Doug Dugas

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