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Top 10 Universities Taking the Lead on Sustainability

Sustainia, a Scandinavian think tank, and the International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU) have partnered to produce the Green Guide for Universities, which offers tangible solutions to address environmental sustainability from some of the top universities in the world. The guide contains 23 case studies in sustainability from universities such as Yale, Cambridge, Peking and Copenhagen University.

These 10 universities are leaders in sustainability.

This guide, which is free, provides steps to begin the work, including ideas for "a portfolio of easy-to-access tools and guidance for building maintenance, green purchasing, transportation, and employee and student involvement across campus and between departments." Each chapter of the book focuses on a particular topic in campus sustainability, such as buildings, transportation and purchasing. At the end of every chapter, there is a section that highlights challenges other universities might face and offers solutions to those challenges.

“We are very excited to see top universities unite to promote sustainability initiatives and goals, and hereby highlight the change that the education sector can drive," said Laura Storm, director of Sustainia.

Ralph Eichler, Chair of IARU, emphasized the crucial role universities play in advancing sustainability: “Universities have the opportunity to create cultures of sustainability for today’s students and tomorrow’s leaders, and to set their expectations for how the world should be. The Green Guide provides real-world examples to inspire innovative and creative action at universities around the globe.”

Universities have historically been engines of social change and this guide allows them to discover best practices and charge ahead on taking the lead in the sustainability movement.

Here's a summary, provided by Sustainia, on some of the initiatives that have been implemented at each of the 10 participating universities:

Yale University: Two initiatives are sustainability training for the core purchasing staff and the creation of a Sustainability Services Corps that, among other things, performs energy audits and benchmarks energy usage among the buildings on campus.

Peking University: Biking and walking are encouraged by placing car parking outside the campus area.

University of OxfordSustainable building policies are creating new standards for building design on campus. A business travel toolkit gives tips for the most appropriate mode of transportation for staff.

University of Copenhagen: A Green Campus Office was established in 2008 to develop policies and action plans for energy efficiency. Rector at the University of Copenhagen Ralf Hemmingsen said, "We have reduced our energy consumption per person by 20 percent, and we have cut our CO2 emissions per person by nearly 30 percent since 2006. Many of our buildings have been made more energy efficient, for example by replacing ventilation units, installing LED lighting, insulating pipes and making laboratory work more energy efficient."

University of Cambridge: The Gurdon Institute created an awareness campaign on how to save energy, an inter-lab competition with cash prizes and a visualization tool to make staff aware of energy use.

University of California Berkeley: The Energy Management Initiative stopped treating energy as a free commodity on campus. Instead, departments now get money back if they use less energy than estimated.

ETH Zurich: Triple bottom line principles have been implemented in the planning, construction and operation of new buildings. The university also does a life-cycle cost analysis to ensure it's using a sustainable and holistic approach to construction and maintenance. A major underground heating and storage project will make the heating of campus carbon-neutral.

National University of Singapore: Students have utilized monetary incentives such as a plastic bag tax and a rebate for individuals who use reusable lunch boxes and water bottles.

Australian National University: An organic waste recycling program diverts approximately 136 tons of food and biological waste from the landfill each year and converts it into a high-grade compost used at students' vegetable gardens and in the campus landscaping.

University of Tokyo: A sustainable campus fund provides a subsidy to give each graduate school an incentive to invest in energy conservation.

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