• Students in the Environmental Studies capstone class taught by Josh Long (right) developed a comprehensive sustainability strategic plan for Southwestern.
  • Jessica Olson, Joey Kyle and Thomas Newman are part of the spring 2014 Environmental Studies capstone class that is trying to determine Southwestern's ecological footprint using a nationwide rating system.
  • This water bottle filling station in Mood-Bridwell is one of three that have been installed on campus to eliminate the need for plastic water bottles.

In the past 10 years, Southwestern has made major strides in becoming an environmentally friendly campus. It has built two certified “green” buildings and signed a contract to get all its electricity from wind power for 18 years.

The latest sustainability project on campus is a series of water bottle filling stations that have eliminated the need for plastic water bottles.

But could Southwestern do better?

That is the question that the 16 students in Josh Long’s Environmental Studies capstone class are asking this semester. Their goal is to come up with a comprehensive “sustainability strategic plan” for Southwestern.

“We want to make Southwestern the greenest school in Texas,” said Long, who is Southwestern’s first environmental studies professor.

To help accomplish this, Southwestern recently joined the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), which offers a wide range of resources to help universities become more sustainable. Among these is the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS), which is used by many guidebooks that try to rate campuses on how “green” they are.

The Environmental Studies capstone class plans to use the STARS program to calculate Southwestern’s ecological footprint and compare it to peer institutions. More than 600 other colleges and universities are already using STARS.

Jessica Olson, who is one of the students in the capstone class, said having such information available is important because many prospective students want information on a college’s sustainability. She herself was an example of this.

“I was looking for a campus that had sustainability in mind,” she said.

Southwestern has been lucky to date, Long said, because it has received generous funding for environmental initiatives from organizations such as the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Kendeda Fund. But as those grants end, the university needs to find another source of revenue to fund sustainability projects.

Among the options the students will be looking at is a “green fund” that is supported by yearly student fees. According to the AASHE, 130 colleges and universities – including several in central Texas  – already have such a fund to help pay for campus sustainability projects.

Long-term, Southwestern also needs to have a “sustainability coordinator” who is dedicated solely to sustainability initiatives and reporting. Long said some schools have totally funded sustainability offices through savings achieved by sustainability initiatives.

Students in the capstone class gave an initial presentation to the campus community in February and plan to give another presentation on Wednesday, April 30, at 6 p.m. in the Campus Center Ballrooms.