For the third year in a row, Western Michigan University has been named one of America’s most environmentally responsible universities. The Princeton review and the U.S. Green Building Council point to the purchase of five Ford Transit Connect electric vehicles and fifteen new charging stations attached to a massive solar panel as just a few of the university’s successes.
Peter Strazdas, WMU's Vice-President of Facilities, says maintaining what the university has started is essential: “Over the last fourteen to fifteen years, Western has reduced its energy consumption by nineteen percent while we grew the campus in square footage by five to six percent.”
The College of Health and Human Services achieved "Gold" level, the highest certification, from the Green Building Council, making it the first higher education building in the country to achieve a rating higher than "Silver". Monitored water usage in restrooms and landscaping, ozone-free cooling systems, recycling and waste management, sustainable cleaning products and policies, and lighting control are just a few of the aspects involved.
WMU is also seeking gold-level certification for one of the newest developments on campus: Sangren hall. Strazdas says there’s more in store for Sangren: “If you’ve ever driven by Miller Auditorium, that’s a lot of solar panels! That’s a 50-kilowatt system; we’re planning on a 200-kilowatt system to go on the roof of Sangren hall.”
Western also plans to put the new home for the university's Archives near the corner of Oakland Drive and Howard Street. And Srazdas says it will also be "green": “We’re very proud to share with the community that that particular building will be our first geothermal heating and cooling system. That project will be done about a year from now and will prove to be very energy efficient.”
WMU President John Dunn says students are driving that push to keep the universities facilities to stay ahead of the green curve.
“I think the students are really the driving force. Their energy, their enthusiasm, their really good ideas, and their ability to think out of the box, but also the pride they have affiliating with a campus that is committed to sustainability.”
Samuel Timbrel is a junior at Western who works with the Office of Sustainability. Timbrel says he's surprised by the variety and amount of things that can be recycled on campus. Timbrel uses one of the new electric vehicles to collect recyclable paper and conduct other projects: “They’re extremely fun, they have a lot more acceleration than I was honestly expecting. I was expecting something golf cart like but they’re one of the more comfortable vehicles and they’re completely silent while driving with zero emissions.”
Timbrel says that the goal of the office is simple: “We want to reduce what we can first, reuse what we can second, and then recycle if we have to.”