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Facilities Staff And The Sustainability Movement

Facilities Staff And The Sustainability MovementAs part of a roundtable discussion on sustainability, Tufts’ Sarah Hammond Creighton discussed the role facilities departments can play in promoting sustainability on college campuses.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [03.07.07] Sustainability experts recently gathered in Boston for a roundtable discussion focused on climate change, energy use and environmental health. The group—which consisted of professionals from higher education and the architecture field—highlighted the important role college and university facilities offices can play in the move toward sustainability.

“The key people in the environmental piece of sustainability are the operations people,” Sarah Hammond Creighton, director of the Tufts Climate Initiative, said during the discussion, which was sponsored by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

According to Creighton—who was joined in the discussion by a Boston architect and leaders from the University of New Hampshire and the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities—facilities personnel can be strong allies in the sustainability movement.

“For 15 years, I have been talking to students who want to green their campus, and the first question I always ask is, Have you talked to your facilities director?” she said, adding that it’s a smart first step. “First of all, [the facilities people] may have already done a lot, and second, they are the people you will need to partner with if you want to make something happen.”

"Sustainability covers such a broad area, but Facilities is almost always supportive of any sustainability efforts," says Bob Bertram, director of facilities at Tufts. "Highly sustainable systems are simpler for maintenance and repair and have longer equipment life, and that has the effect of making a lower life cycle cost."

At Tufts, Creighton explained, members of the facilities staff also participate in the formal education of students. As part of the university’s climate-change course, facilities personnel give students a guided tour of Tufts’ boiler plant. “Students love it,” she said.

According to Creighton, Tufts students find “great value” in their interactions with facilities staff.

“We have had students tell us that the most useful parts of their entire academic experience were projects that they worked on with the grounds manager,” she said. “There is a huge wealth of knowledge within … the people who make facilities run.”

She also pointed out that there are lessons to be learned from the buildings themselves.

They “certainly teach,” Creighton said of the brick-and-mortar structures on campus. She pointed out that, when they arrive at college, most students don’t have a solid understanding of where their water comes from and where their waste goes. “Just simply pointing out that buildings have costs and wastes is important,” she said.

Also important, according to Creighton, is practicing what you preach.

“Awareness alone is not the solution, and we are spending way too much time in the sustainability movement focusing on awareness,” she said. “We need to move to real action … and that’s where facilities come in.”


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