A Living, Learning Laboratory for Sustainability
At Georgia Tech, sustainability principles and practices permeate practically every facet of campus life – from the locally sourced produce in the dining halls, to the Game Day recycling program that minimizes the amount of waste sent to landfills during home football games, to the school’s Smart Energy Campus program, which is designed to reduce energy consumption and increase building operational effectiveness. The Georgia Tech community is continually aggregating, analyzing, and evaluating data from various programs and initiatives, and designing new strategies for the future, including plans for a future state of carbon neutrality. Community members believe it is their role to foster an ecosystem of innovation, collaboration, and creativity – where new knowledge, methods, and technologies are tested, developed, and applied for insights and solutions to critical sustainability challenges.
In 2007, Georgia Tech joined the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), which requires a university to develop an action plan to achieve climate neutrality and to report progress toward that goal publicly. In keeping with the ACUPCC, Georgia Tech made commitments to reduce energy consumption, expand the use of renewable energy sources, and become carbon neutral by 2050. The institution has made strides toward this goal with greenhouse gas reductions – emissions per every 1000 square feet have been reduced by roughly eight percent since 2011 – despite the challenges of operating world-class research and lab facilities with high energy requirements.
At any given time, there are a multitude of sustainability initiatives underway on the Georgia Tech campus. These efforts unite faculty, staff, and students in a quest to provide solutions to the environmental, ecological, and sustainability challenges of our times. Georgia Tech has made the Princeton Review Green Honor Roll (2014, 2015), Sierra Club Coolest Schools, and has earned an AASHE STARS Gold rating. From 2003 through 2015, Georgia Tech built or renovated 23 projects to LEED Silver-level certification or higher, certifying 2.9 million square feet of space.
Conserving energy through efficient systems, demand management, and alternative solutions are core objectives at Georgia Tech. Major solar power arrays on campus buildings not only generate clean electricity, but provide hands-on opportunities for students and researchers to study working photovoltaic system installations directly. Data from energy utility systems all over campus are collected through the Smart Energy Campus initiative. Data analysis, modeling, and simulation tools are used to help maximize efficiencies, reduce costs, and positively affect energy planning and consumption.
After Georgia Tech fully implemented a green cleaning program, cost savings analyses revealed an annual savings of 84 percent over initial baselines, and a 56 percent reduction of chemical use from 2008 through 2014. Georgia Tech was named American School & University magazine’s 2015 Grand Award winner in the higher education category for the Annual Green Cleaning Award for schools and universities.
The school offers a variety of robust programs to support the health and wellness of the campus community. For example, staff and faculty have access to a comprehensive benefits package with options to meet their diverse needs, and an assistance program ― in place for twenty years ― that helps maintain work-life balance. Students, too, have services that support their physical and mental well-being, including a peer counseling program, and the “G.I.T. FIT” ― Georgia Institute of Technology Fitness ― program, all of which enable participants to learn lifelong skills and increase their fitness levels through over 80 noncredit classes spanning martial arts to golf to personal training. The overall mission is to provide the Georgia Tech community with opportunities to create or sustain healthy lifestyles.
In January 2016, students began to have the opportunity to focus their time and energy on projects centered on creating sustainable communities. As part of the Quality Enhancement Plan for the years 2016 – 2021, Georgia Tech introduced Serve-Learn-Sustain. This program equips students to address sustainability challenges and community-level needs effectively in their professional and civic lives. Students work to develop ways to help make communities more livable, sustainable, and prosperous. This could include developing services for the under-served, deploying community renewable energy, supporting infrastructure for clean water, or developing local, state, and federal environmental policy.
Already, Georgia Tech has 21 endowed chairs and 23 research centers that include a significant sustainability component or focus. Interdisciplinary research centers, corporate partnerships, the National Science Foundation, and Science in Energy and Environmental Design funding all support major sustainability research. Among the academic undergraduate initiatives that support innovative green policy, research, development, and product design are: the Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business, the Center for Biologically-Inspired Design, the Joint Laboratory of Ecological Urban Design and Urban Climate Lab, the Center for Organic Photonics and Electronics, the Strategic Energy Institute, and the Center for Quality Growth and Regional Development. These institutions explore solutions for communities in five program areas: air quality and the natural environment; community design and architecture; healthy places; land development and regional governance; and transportation and infrastructure.
The wide range of efforts to promote effective environmental and sustainability education also includes internship programs and campuswide engagement events. The school also has many highly referenced (“h-index”) green chemistry award-winning researchers, as well as numerous accomplished graduate and undergraduate researchers in the area of environmental sustainability. The collaborative research environment at Georgia Tech encourages all members of its campus family to join this culture of innovation.
In short, Georgia Tech and the surrounding community have worked together to form a living, learning laboratory for sustainability.