WCU listed among premier environmentally responsible campuses in green college guide

Lauren Bishop explains the opportunities for electric vehicles while standing beside an early model Tesla, one of several makes and models demonstrated during the inaugural WCU EV Expo.

For the seventh consecutive year, Western Carolina University has been listed as one of the most environmentally responsible colleges in North America.

WCU is included in “The Princeton Review Guide to 375 Green Colleges,” which was recently released by the educational services company (not affiliated with Princeton University). WCU has gained the repeated recognition in part through its multitiered, comprehensive approach to recycling and wise energy use, led by the Office of Sustainability and Energy Management and the university’s Sustainable Energy Initiative, a committee comprised of students, faculty and staff advisers working toward implementation of renewable energy, energy efficiency improvements, research and campus internships.

“Our journey to greenness has definitely evolved over time,” said Lauren Bishop, WCU’s chief sustainability officer. “I believe we were initially selected to be included because of our aggressive energy-savings measures. Our current story is about that and student engagement,” she said.

“Students are extremely dedicated and involved,” she said. “Every year, the growth of interest from students is exponential, and we want them to help guide our path to sustainability. This is their home and their school. There so many benefits to having them be involved in the process, from hands-on experience, educational growth, technical expertise, learning soft skills, increased school pride and more.”

Cardboard recycling on campus has proven to be an ecological and economic boost for the community, thanks to the contributions of (from left) university employees Cale Wilson and Randy Yacuzzo, seen here with student worker Jermaine Carnell.

One example of renewable sustainability is the campus cardboard recycling efforts. WCU produces nearly 100 tons of cardboard annually, which is collected by housekeeping, grounds and recycling staff. Under the supervision of university grounds superintendent Roger Turk, two grounds department employees, Cale Wilson and Randy Yacuzzo, routinely bale the collected cardboard and take it to Jackson Paper in Sylva, where it ia manufactured into a top-quality, 100-percent recycled medium and supplied to corrugated cardboard box makers throughout the U.S.

In addition to the usual paper, aluminum, glass and plastics collected for recycling, WCU also accepts printer cartridges, small electronic devices, batteries, fluorescent lamps and food and oil waste from dining services, as well as construction waste and scrap metal.

“Recycling also provides the feed stock materials to produce new products, which sustain jobs and create new ones,” said Jeff White, WCU’s recycling coordinator. “Reduced CO2 pollution, fewer undesirable landfill impacts and many other environmental, social and economic benefits result when ‘Whee Recycle.’”

Informing the community of sustainable energy options, such as through the inaugural electric vehicle expo held Friday, Oct. 6, is another important component of environmental responsibility, Bishop said. Throughout the afternoon, the new electric vehicle charging station located at the parking lot behind Reid Gymnasium was demonstrated, with a self-driving Tesla, a BMW i3, Ford Fusion and other plug-in vehicles on hand.

“It’s using campus as a living-learning lab,” Bishop said. “Our student leaders come from a broad spectrum of disciplines, which makes us more dynamic and stronger. They are amazing and very smart.  I am always impressed with the ‘thinking outside of the box’ ideas they come up with as well as organizational skills and quick-processing time.”

Another example of the effort to enhance energy efficiency cited was the work of David King, WCU energy manager. Over the course of five years, he has worked for Energy Star and LEED certification for campus buildings, including the university bookstore, and implemented improvements for comprehensive energy efficient and environmentally friendly features for other buildings. WCU also received the N.C. State Energy Office Leadership Award in 2012 and 2016 for achieving 44 percent reduction in energy usage since 2002.

For more information about WCU’s sustainability initiatives, contact Bishop at lbishop@wcu.edu or 828-227-3562.