Campus / News / May 14, 2008

Engstrom’s report

Knox College Campus Sustainability Status and Opportunities

Assessment by: Nathan Engstrom, Oberlin College Office of Environmental Sustainability

Background on National Campus Sustainability Movement

Only a few short years ago it was easy to keep track of the number of colleges and universities touting campus sustainability as this movement only amounted to a few specialized institutions with explicitly environmental missions such as Northland College, College of the Atlantic, and Sterling College. However, the campus sustainability movement has reached the point where it is no longer possible to keep track of all the individual colleges and universities promoting sustainability as a strategic part of their mission and demonstrating this throughout their institutions.

This movement is national, encompasses Ivy League schools, prestigious liberal arts colleges, top ranked private universities, as well as public universities both large and small. A quick review of colleges and universities participating in the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) and the membership list of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) confirms this assertion. As of October 4th, 409 colleges and universities have signed the ACUPCC and 317 institutions are members of AASHE.

Campus sustainability also attracts a great deal of media attention with Newsweek, Time, the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and a host of other publications highlighting this movement and featuring news on campus sustainability achievements regularly. The volume of institutional participation as well as the movement’s high profile makes participating to some degree a strategic necessity for any institution wishing to remain credible, high profile, and able to attract and retain the most qualified students and faculty.

Current Status

Knox College is currently not well engaged in the rapidly growing campus sustainability movement. This is partly a problem of not being connected to the network of schools active in campus sustainability and not promoting sustainability-related activities that are currently taking place at Knox. Primarily, though this is a problem of not having identified campus sustainability priorities and not having a defined strategic agenda for implementing them. This presents a distinct competitive disadvantage as leading colleges and universities across the country are embracing sustainability as a strategic and fundamental component of their educational missions, eclipsing Knox in the process.

This prevents Knox from taking advantage of educatioinal, fundraising, and promotional benefits inherend in campus sustainability. It also relegates Knox to a lesser tier of colleges and universities not actively promiting and being recognized for their sustainability achievements, thereby lessening Knox’s otherwise distinctive profile. Similarly, Knox is detracting from its appeal to prospective, current, and past students, faculty staff, and donors by appearing socially and environmentally unaware and unengaged. At a time when Knox is still recovering from recent financial hard times, it is important to have every advantage and distinction possible.

Potential and Prospects

Knox College is well positioned to become a leader in campus sustainability if it is willing to take bold, decisive, and prompt action. Its relatively small size makes it nimble in relation to many other institutions, including Oberlin, that continue to struggle finding traction for their sustainability efforts, It was clear form my visit that there is a strong interest among students, faculty, and staff in sustainability as demonstrated by the large audience of over 100 people at my presentation and the level of passion and enthusiasm demonstrated in my meetings the following day. This interest should be focused and engaged in identifying and implementing strategic campus-wide priorities.

The fact that Knox’s peer institutions also do not appear to be well engaged in campus sustainability at the current time presents Knox with a clear opportunity for first mover advantage. Similarly, Knox is well positioned to learn from other colleges and universities that have been blazing the trail for campus sustainability to learn from their mistakes, and avoid the obstacles they have faced. In other words, Knox is in a good position to leapfrog other institutions, implementing campus sustainability measures more quickly and efficiently than current campus sustainability leaders, and emerge as a new leader in a relatively short period of time.

Important First Steps


  1. Join the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education ($1000 annual dues).

  2. Join the U.S. Green Building Council ($750 annual dues).


  1. Develop extra-curricular educational opportunities for the entire campus community such as a speaker series, workshops, and/or symposium.

Web Site and Promotional Materials

  1. Make sustainability a prominent part of the web site. Include a comprehensive portfolio of completed projects and existing initiatives including things that may seem routine or mundane.

  2. Green campus publications by using recycled content papers, tree-free papers, papers from certified sustainably managed forests, and/or soy based inks. Prominently label all publications utilizing these materials.

  3. Create a stand-alone sustainability brochure outlining Knox’s commitment, vision, achievements, and future plans.

Visioning Process and Prioritization

  1. Hold a series of facilitated visioning and planning workshops or retreats for senior administration and the broader campus directed towards identifying a coherent vision for sustainability at Knox.

  2. Hold community listening sessions of “town hall meetings” to solicit comments, concerns, and ideas and to increase transparency.

  3. Coordinate these events with ongoing educational opportunities and direct all these efforts towards the development of objective institutional priorities and a Sustainability Master Plan.

Other Opportunities


  1. Develop a comprehensive Environmental Policy or a series of topic-specific policies such as energy, transportation, green building, etc.

Promotion and Public Relations

  1. Aggressively and proactively promote sustainability achievements locally, regionally, and nationally.

  2. Identify opportunities for including recurring sustainability-related features in College publications as well as developing opportunities for College representatives to be featured in recurring columns, articles, radio and/or TV spots regionally.

  3. Identify a marquee project or initiative and make sustainability its central theme. Provide extensive and continuous coverage online and in print.


  1. Inject sustainability into existing fundraising efforts such as the Alumni Hall renovation to offer additional distinction and attract new donors.

  2. Create an annual giving Green Fund.

  3. Create a capital campaign program around the Sustainability Master Plan.


  1. Consider offering additional financial aid to Environmental Studies students to build the program.

  2. Develop programs for sustainability related internships and fellowships.

  3. Incorporate additional endowed chairs and faculty development opportunities into Sustainability Master Plan fundraising.

  4. Create a Campus Sustainability practicum course.

  5. Conduct dorm energy competitions or Ecolympics events to raise awareness of energy and environmental issues.

Climate Neutrality

  1. Investigate the possibility of signing the Presidents Climate Commitment and making climate neutrality the focus of Knox’s sustainability efforts.

Energy Production and Use

  1. Conduct a feasibility study for investing in renewable energy production or purchasing Renewable Energy Credits.

  2. Continue investing in energy conservation upgrades campus-wide.

  3. Provide real-time energy consumption data in buildings and online.


  1. Conduct a demonstration project such as a rain garden or green roof.

  2. Ensure that native plants are used whenever possible.

  3. Minimize or eliminate fertilizer and pesticide use and implement principles of Integrated Pest Management.

  4. Investigate the feasibility of using biofuels in maintenance equipment.

Facilities Construction, Modernization and Maintenance

  1. Implement a LEED green building requirement for new construction and major renovations or ensure that all future building projects exceed LEED standards.

  2. Develop green building material procurement standards for routine maintenance, repairs and replacement.


  1. Purchase hybrid vehicles for the College’s fleet.

  2. Develop programs to encourage bicycling, walking, and carpooling.

  3. Institute fees for parking permits to discourage private automobile use and generate funds for alternative transportation methods.

Materials, Purchasing, Reuse and Disposal

  1. Develop an eco-purchasing policy.

  2. Aggressively pursue opportunities for purchasing a large percentage of locally produced food.

  3. Identify and standardize green products for large volume categories such as cleaning supplies, paints, furniture, and carpeting.

  4. Develop a large scale composting system for food waste from dining halls.
    Deana Rutherford

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