How green is Western Carolina University?

On paper, WCU is among the top universities in the nation in terms of participation in various green initiatives, but the students say we can do more.

WCU recently placed in The Princeton Review’s Guide to 322 Green Colleges.  The review points out a specific initiative, “Reducing Our Carbon Paw Print,” which was designed to help reduce energy usage on campus and spread awareness about how our energy usage can impact the environment.

Another program designed to cut our energy consumption is Battle of the Plug, a national competition that pits schools against their rivals in a battle to reduce energy consumption over the course of three weeks.  This year, WCU lost to Appalachian State University with only a 0.2 percent reduction.

Despite our loss to ASU, Western is still a leader in energy reduction among schools in the UNC system. According to WCU Green Energy Manager Lauren Bishop, we were the first to reduce our energy consumption when North Carolina required all UNC schools to slash energy usage by 30 percent before 2015.  Western met the challenge in three years, reducing its energy consumption by 34 percent as part of the Strategic Energy Plan. “We’re the best in the state at reducing energy use,” Bishop said.

WCU has taken part in other competitions as well, including the nationwide effort RecycleMania, which reports how much trash is collected at various universities and how much is recycled.  WCU has also held a Recycled Sled Competition in which students created sleds using 90 percent recycled materials.

Beyond competitions, Western Carolina University has its own Sustainability Council, made up of various sub-councils dedicated to various aspects of sustainability, such as student and community outreach and integrating sustainability in the classrooms.

The Sustainability Council is under WCU’s Energy Management section of Facilities Management.  The department is dedicated to making Western a greener place by creating green events, participating in community outreach and focusing on the conservation of energy and resources.

“Our holistic approach is through programs and student groups on campus,” said Bishop.

Students are also doing their part in creating a greener campus.  The student group EcoC.A.T.S (Campus Awareness Team for Sustainability) puts on events to spread awareness of what students and community members alike can do to help the environment.  Events have ranged from free screenings of documentaries to recycling drives during football games.

WCU Dining Services has also done its fair share to reduce its carbon footprint, including donating food waste to local hog farmers, recycling napkins and napkin dispensers and using green cleaning supplies.

Even buildings on campus are going green.  The new Health and Human Sciences building is certified by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).  The HHS building offers large windows to allow for natural light and a rooftop garden, which keeps the building cool without using as much energy.  The newly renovated Harrill Hall has the same certificate and features geothermal heating and rainwater collectors.

Though WCU has been recognized as a relatively green school, not everyone would agree.

“We are so not green,” said student Jessica Grant. “We have recycling bins, but they’re not cleaned out enough.  Students will go to recycle and see it’s completely full and throw it in the trash.  Water consumption I guess we’re okay with.  There’s a few things Western could do to be a lot greener.  We have so much wind here.  If we could just have one wind turbine, it would cut down on electricity.”

WCU has recently added 68 new recycling bins on campus, hoping to encourage students to reduce, reuse and recycle and further boost our rating as a green school.

Video by Kathleen Kiser