The University's recent commendable achievements in instituting green practices have been recognized by the Sustainable Endowments Institute, which ranked Princeton among the top-25 "Campus Sustainability Leaders" out of 100 schools surveyed in a recent report. Princeton earned "A" grades in administration, food and recycling and green building practices.
Nevertheless, there are still many who are unaware of Princeton's commitment to the environment. For example, Greg Kats, the principal of the environmental and energy consulting firm, Capital E, said, "Princeton is slipping behind Harvard, Yale, Stanford and Columbia on green building standards." In the face of such criticism, the University must increase efforts to ensure that perception of its sustainability efforts reflects the real strides that have been made in making our campus green.
There are many ways in which this could be accomplished. One important step would be to have the University's new buildings evaluated for LEED certification. This would prove that they meet standards established by the U.S. Green Building Council. Of course, if the University determines after careful consideration that it cannot build a LEED-certifiable structure due to the campus' unique characteristics, it should not feel constrained to build to these standards. Indeed, it would be a shame for campus planners and architects to miss an opportunity for innovation in sustainability due to an obsession with fitting into cuurent standards. To the extent that new buildings are LEED-certifiable or could be made so with limited modifications in the design process, however, the University would be wise to better its public image and pay for the requisite documentation to have these buildings certified.
There are many other excellent ways for the University to demonstrate to the public its commitment to sustainability. One of these would be to expand the Facilities Department's Office of Sustainability, which currently consists of only a director and several student interns. The University should also build off the momentum generated by last semester's student-initiated seminar entitled "Towards an Ethical Greenhouse Gas Emissions Trajectory for Princeton University." Environmentally conscious undergrads should be encouraged to pressure their friends to do their part in making the campus more sustainable by turning off lights and recycling paper.
By improving the public perception of Princeton's sustainability efforts, the University has much to gain. Civic-minded students, who presumably are interested in the environment, would be more likely to enroll. Students who do enroll would live on a campus more committed to the values of conservation and frugality inherent in sustainability efforts. It is for these reasons that Princeton should make all reasonable efforts to ensure that public opinion of its sustainability practices does not lag behind its real accomplishments.
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