APRIL 2009 | VOL. 9 NO. 8  
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  Care of the Person, and of the Natural World, at Fairfield University

On April 22, 2008, Fairfield University broke ground on a new Jesuit residence. Held on Earth Day, the ceremony did more than announce an important construction project; it celebrated the university’s continuing commitment to environmental sustainability. The new residence, which is now nearing completion, features a comprehensive geothermal heating and cooling system, a solar-absorbing “green” plant roof and the use of recycled building materials.

The Jesuit residence exemplifies Fairfield’s commitment to pursuing a peaceful, environmentally sound future. The Jesuits’ holistic and spiritual approach to life embraces the study and integration of humanitarian and environmental ethics. With a commitment to education and the cultivation of curious, compassionate minds, Fairfield University is proving that eco-conscious initiatives go hand-in-hand with its mission of cura personalis—or care for the whole person—and, by extension, consideration of the natural world.

Sustainability initiatives at Fairfield are accelerating along three broad fronts: curriculum expansion, campus infrastructure and pollution reduction, and student life. Fairfield recently made a major commitment to environmental education, combining three smaller programs into the new and expanded “Program on the Environment.” This has resulted in a far stronger and integrated environmental curriculum, with new introductory and advanced courses, additional faculty, and more opportunities for student research, internships and co-curricular activities. Looking ahead, Fairfield faculty will work this summer on identifying additional avenues for expanding and improving the program, focusing specifically on developing new courses, interconnecting existing courses, using sustainability education as a means to integrate the undergraduate core curriculum, and expanding student research activities.

Beyond the new Jesuit Residence, many other infrastructure, conservation and pollution reduction projects are reducing Fairfield University’s ecological footprint while also providing educational and economic returns. One of the most important is Fairfield’s Combined Heat and Power Plant, or COGEN facility, which produces about 99 percent of the electricity used on campus and uses the waste energy from electricity production to meet most of the university’s heating requirements. By producing power and heat together on campus in a new, efficient facility—as opposed to getting electricity and heat from the utility grid—the university significantly reduces the amount of pollutants and greenhouse gases it releases to the atmosphere while enjoying long-term economic benefits.

Other efforts include energy, water-use and waste reduction projects. More than 7,700 lighting fixtures have been re-fitted with energy-efficient lamps and electronic starters, and 800 exit signs now use ulta-efficient LED lights. Five hundred and forty-five new, highly efficient showerheads were recently installed along with more than 1,100 low-flow toilets and urinals. Responding to student and staff initiatives, the university eliminated plastic bags in the university bookstore, promoted the use of reusable beverage cups across campus and initiated more comprehensive waste reduction and recycling programs. In October and November 2008 alone, the university recycled more than 26 tons of paper, plastics, glass, metal, cardboard, batteries, chemicals, electronic-wastes and other materials, and diverted an untold amount from entering the waste stream through internal recycling, reuse and more efficient management. In 2008, the university removed trays from the dining halls. While some students expressed skepticism at first, the change proceeded smoothly, producing significant reductions in food waste and eliminating the energy and water previously used to wash the trays.

As with many campuses, transportation at Fairfield is a major sustainability issue. Addressing this head-on, the university has expanded shuttle service to the nearby train station and will soon eliminate parking permits for sophomores as part of its broader efforts to decrease automobile traffic, reduce—by about 380 spaces—the need for student and staff parking, and help green the campus as it engages in several major building and landscaping initiative. Students, faculty and staff are also examining options to replace and expand the current bus fleet with biodiesel and hydrogen-powered vehicles and to create a flotilla of bicycles for students to use on and off campus.

Finally, and most importantly, the university has made a commitment to include students at the forefront of its sustainability efforts. Student representatives serve with senior faculty and administrators on the new and influential Campus Sustainability Committee. The Student Environmental Association is given broad responsibility for planning the annual Earth Week festival, organizing campus and beach cleanups and working with faculty to develop public programs such as Climate Week, which the university hosted in February. The student-run Green Campus Initiative organized a service trip to New Orleans in January to help rebuild homes utilizing eco-friendly materials. The group also carried out a campus-wide recycling audit in 2008 and is working with faculty and staff on composting and bio-diesel and other initiatives.

Students created Earth House as part of the university’s commitment to “Living and Learning.” This program of sustainable living provides an opportunity for upperclassmen to live together in on-campus apartments or townhouses and educate their peers on environmental issues through very real applications that demonstrate how college students can live in a more eco-conscious but still fun way.

Looking forward, the university has made a broad commitment to sustainable building and reducing its energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. In 2008, university President Fr. Jeffrey von Arx, S.J., signed onto the American College & University Presidents Climate Initiative, committing the institution to developing a comprehensive plan to measure and reduce its emissions. The university has also committed to observing Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards in all construction efforts and instituted energy-efficient and environmentally friendly purchasing guidelines.

Fairfield University recognizes the need to act sustainably and has engaged students, faculty and administrators to develop and implement an ambitious agenda. As stated by President von Arx, “As a Jesuit institution, we’re charged to be good stewards of the earth. We consider it part of out mission to undertake projects that contribute positively to the environment and our community.” Fairfield has entered an exciting time its history, and sustainability is an important part of its story.

-David Downie, Director, Program on the Environment/Associate Professor of Politics, and Alexandra Gross, Class of 2009, Fairfield University