Saving big

Kyle Doyle

The idea of “going green” and being more environmentally conscious is a concept that has begun to take hold in several institutions around the world. From car manufacturers offering more fuel efficient and electric automobiles, to energy providers switching to renewable forms of energy such as wind and solar, to universities offering larger recycling and composting programs, many people are trying to lessen their environmental impact and help better the earth.

Although such programs may have started slowly, they have recently taken off due to scientific advancements and public interest and have shown promising results in their potential to promote sustainability. But “going green” means a bit more than just helping the environment.

Grand Valley State University’s sustainability initiatives in the Grand Rapids area have reached an economic impact of more than $250 million in the fiscal year of 2015, according to the GVSU Collective Sustainability Initiative Report. The report outlines 11 areas in which GVSU faculty, staff, students and policies have helped make the campus economically, socially and environmentally a better place.

This figure represents about 35 percent of GVSU’s total economic impact for the fiscal year of 2015, which was $730 million.

“The question becomes, ‘what impact does sustainability have?’” said Norman Christopher, executive director of the GVSU Office of Sustainability Practices. “Instead of just trying to save money, the question starts to shift to ‘how are you creating value?’”

The report highlights several areas in which GVSU’s sustainability programs have shined in bettering the campus and surrounding cities and towns in areas such as job creation, energy-saving programs, new building projects and locally-sourced produce.

Some highlights from the report include the creation of 2,919 jobs due to several construction projects, as well as the existence 20 LEED-certified buildings and six more in the process of being built, certified or designed.

In addition, the report highlights 1 million pounds of food purchased by GVSU Campus Dining from 54 local Michigan suppliers and farms and the completion of over 250 energy-saving projects that have saved GVSU $1.5 million in one-time annual savings and $2 million in annual cost avoidances.

“Grand Valley builds LEED silver standards or better,” Christopher said. “That means every single building that’s going to go up on this campus is going to be a sustainable building.”

The Office of Sustainability Practices was created in 2015 as a renamed version of the Sustainable Community Development Initiative established in 2006. It has the goal of creating a more environmentally friendly campus as well as creating more responsible global citizens. Its staff has undertaken this with several different initiatives, such as the Sustainable Agriculture Project, introducing more sustainability classes into the GVSU curriculum, helping with the expansion of the GVSU recycling and composting programs along with several others.

While the report highlights several accomplishments from the past few years, the staff of the Office of Sustainability Practices has more planned. Christopher said the future is bright for the sustainability program.

“It’s now to the point that after 10 years you’re adding it all up,” Christopher said. “Can we do a better job? Sure. But this certainly describes (how) it certainly has a larger collective impact than one may have expected.”