Practicing what we teach: sustainability

Sustainability is more than an avocation at Tech. It’s a commitment that we are diligently working to hard-wire into the culture of the Institute, an element so intrinsic that it is part of our mission statement.

In reality, Tech is a living laboratory of sustainability through implementation in education, research and campus operations. We have made inroads and achieved successes in many aspects of sustainability, including recycling, water conservation, building construction and landscape design.

One of our most successful and visible efforts, the Game Day Recycling Program, diverts thousands of plastic, aluminum and glass containers disposed of during football games from landfills into recycling centers.

The program began in 2008 and collected nearly 12 tons of recyclable material during seven home games. Last year, that number increased 64 percent to nearly 20 tons at only six games, an achievement we highlight with pride and are ambitious to build upon.

While games provide high visibility for our recycling efforts, the less dynamic but perhaps more important work occurs daily on campus. The Office of Solid Waste Management and Recycling is expanding recycling and reuse initiatives in every campus corner, from academic buildings to housing.

These efforts toward a more sustainable campus have been acknowledged with an award from the National Recycling Coalition for Outstanding College or University Program, along with the Recycling Department being honored as the American Forest & Paper Association’s University Recycling Program in 2009.

Sustainability begins with infrastructure, a base that exhibits and encourages best practices. Tech currently boasts four LEED-certified buildings—the College of Management, the Klaus Advanced Computing Building, the Old Civil Engineering Building and Clements Mewborn Softball Stadium—with several additional structures targeting this credit.

Perhaps the most visual and dynamic area in which Tech is promoting sustainability is through the aesthetics and practices of campus landscaping.

Six years ago, the Institute established a Landscape Master Plan in order to tie the campus together physically and functionally in an ecological sense; enhance the living, working and learning environment; and imbues the campus with an identity and sense of place.

This ambitious plan encourages innovation in technology and ecology and designates an 80-acre open space, called the Eco-Commons, for recreation and stormwater management. Sustainable development over time is ensured using ecological performance requirements for the whole campus. An already strong pedestrian culture is encouraged and nurtured at Tech.

Stormwater, specifically, is viewed as a “valuable resource” as opposed to a “problem,” allowing us to create a vital landscape without expending extra energy or subsidizing materials.

The landscape plan allows the campus master plan to meet sustainability goals while potentially adding 3 million square feet of buildings. It is a template for landscape planning that would impress any campus. Each one may be different, but ecological principles remain constant. As gravity governs architecture, ecology governs the landscape.

Our efforts continue to be honored. Southeast Construction Magazine announced its Best of 2009 Awards this week and Clements Mewborn Softball Stadium was awarded Best Small Project. Tech was also recently recognized on the Blue Ridge Outdoor’s Honor Roll of the region’s Greenest Colleges and Universities.

As appreciative as we are for these accolades, our hope is that the values and benefits of sustainability are not only evident to our campus population, but also serve as inspiration for the research and work that defines and drives Tech. As proud as we are of the strides we have made in this arena, we hope that these values will be instilled in each of you as you carry the value of sustainability as a living legacy.