The Greening of WPI

The Greening of WPI


As a community, perhaps the most important work we can do together is to ensure a sustainable future for those who come after us. From recycling dining hall scraps into animal feed, to forward-thinking policy on the construction and operation of campus facilities, to a new environmental studies major designed to educate the leaders of tomorrow, WPI is deeply and widely engaged in the global effort to clean up, and green up, the Earth.

When Trustee Judy Nitsch ’75 joined a group of WPI volunteers at a Kensington, Conn., nursery last spring, she knew their work would sow the seeds—literally—for sustainability. In August 2008, the 10,000 seedlings they handplanted in modular pallets were installed atop East Hall— crowning WPI’s newest residence hall with a living green roof. In addition to providing thermal insulation and particulate filtration for storm water, Worcester’s first-ever green roof allows students and faculty to gather research data on storm water quality and flow. "Our civil and environmental engineering students will be comparing and contrasting the storm water runoff so WPI can quantify the advantage of a green roof," says Nitsch, who has been a driving force and benefactor for green design and sustainable construction on WPI’s campus.

East Hall, a showcase of recycled materials and energysaving features, is on track to become WPI’s second LEEDcertified building. (LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a national rating system by the U.S. Green Building Council for developing high-performance, sustainable buildings.) The first was Bartlett Center, home to admissions and financial aid, which opened in 2006. In February 2007, the WPI Board of Trustees voted to adopt a policy calling for all future campus buildings to be environmentally friendly and to be LEED certifiable. "WPI recognizes the importance of making permanent changes in how organizations do business— with respect to energy, the environment, and the economy," says Fred DiMauro, assistant vice president for facilities. "Energy efficiency, the careful selection of a building site, responsible use of natural resources, and reduction in generating waste are just some factors that need to become standard procedures in the design, construction, and operation of all buildings."


At 5,000 square feet, the green roof stands as a visible symbol of WPI’s commitment to environmental responsibility. A much smaller, but very important, patch of green bloomed on WPI’s homepage on St. Patrick’s Day 2008; it is a logo that links to the Sustainability at WPI website (wpi.edu/+sustainability). The site was unveiled to mark the kickoff of a campus-wide effort, led by the President’s Task Force on Sustainability, to strengthen the 'sustainability sensibility' on campus, and inspire research and action throughout the world. Its mission embraces academic and operational initiatives in the areas of climate protection, materials management, facilities operations, local and global communities, and academics. The results can be observed in every corner of the campus and by all segments of the community. "We’re looking critically at the way we live and work," says Liz Tomaszewski, WPI facilities systems manager and sustainability coordinator, "and encouraging changes that will have a positive impact on our campus, on the city of Worcester, and throughout the world."

As a student in WPI’s Power the World class, one of the Great Problems Seminars, Kyle Bartosik ’12 joined his peers during project presentation day. His team project, 'Hydrogen Powered Vehicle: The Case for Hydrogen Internal Combustion,' was one of 50 that explored aspects of sustainable energy and development.

Already, WPI has installed solar panels to light Alumni Field walkways, instituted paperless billing, and designated choice parking spaces for carpoolers and hybrid drivers. Zipcar, a self-service, all-hybrid car rental system, is available on campus to faculty, staff, and students, as an alternative to car ownership. WPI Dining Services has begun recycling leftover food from Morgan Hall—an impressive 400 pounds daily—for use at local hog farms, and the university is currently undergoing a carbon audit of the campus.

With recycling bins taking up residence in dorms and offices, Recyclemania challenged students to tackle garbage as a competitive sport from January through March, when residence halls went head-to-head to recycle the most material. Spurring these efforts are student organizations such as GAEA (Global Awareness of Environmental Activity) and the Green Team. Their energy brought the National Teach-In on Climate Change to campus in February, and sent a video letter to congress. "Colleges are breeding grounds for alternative research, especially WPI," says Green Team member Scott Guzman ’09, who represents students on the President’s Task Force on Sustainability. They are even changing the hue of April’s traditional Quad Fest, which coincides with Earth Day. "This year it will be brought to you by the color green," Guzman says.

Perhaps the least tangible—but most promising— greening is taking place in WPI’s classrooms, project sites, and laboratories, with student- and faculty research and new academic initiatives. Last year the Massachusetts legislature designated WPI as the site of the state’s Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Institute and authorized $10 million to spearhead research.

In April 2008 the university launched an interdisciplinary bachelor of arts degree in Environmental Studies. "The new BA program in environmental studies complements our environmental engineering degree, with an emphasis much more on the human and public policy sides of the ledger," says WPI Provost John Orr. "It emphasizes the political and public policy aspects of human-induced changes to the environment, strongly drawing from areas of social science and providing education in sociological as well as scientific analysis. Of course, this program is conducted within the context of WPI’s long-term strengths on the technological side."

Regardless of major, WPI’s project-based curriculum requires students to do some hands-on work on the complex challenges of the 21st century. First year students can begin their education with the Great Problems Seminars, which are organized around global topics, such as 'Power the World' and 'Making Our World,' to investigate sustainable energy and development. At project centers around the globe, WPI teams have been addressing these issues for decades. This year, an analysis of greenhouse gas emissions at cafeterias in Lyngby- Taarbæk, Denmark, was a nominee for the 2008 President’s IQP Award. Closer to home, project teams have also developed tools to track and reduce greenhouse gases and monitor electric usage in campus dorms and academic buildings. In the larger local community, they assisted the town of Southbridge, Mass., with its municipal sustainability planning, and WPI students were critically involved in the city’s first major wind turbine installation at Worcester’s Holy Name Central Catholic Junior Senior High School.

"This is an exciting time to be involved in the sustainability effort in the WPI community," Tomaszewski says. "The momentum is really building for WPI as a model of the sustainable campus and the leader of sustainability in our community."

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Last modified: April 01, 2009 16:09:05