Index for History of Sustainability

Emory's Office of Sustainability Initiatives was founded in September 2006, with the hiring of Ciannat Howett as director. Sustainability-related work at Emory began more than a decade before with six different efforts:


White paper recycling was started by students and staff at the Woodruff Library. Emory Recycles, a campus-wide organization under Campus Services, was established in September 1990 and strongly supported by student, faculty, and staff volunteers. Its award-winning efforts included providing comprehensive solid waste reduction throughout Emory University, Emory's health care arena, at nearby high schools and retirement homes, and at the neighboring Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Campus Forest Protection

In 1919, the founder of Emory's Biology Department, Woolford Baker, was appointed steward of Emory's forests, beginning a tradition of faculty involvement in preserving the wooded areas of the campus. Activities of Professors Bill Murdy and Eloise Carter and the work of the Senate Committee on the Environment laid the foundation for campus forest protection and the University's policy of No-Net-Loss-of-Forest-Canopy. The current campus land use plan designates over half of the campus as protected from development.

Committee on the Environment (COE)

This Senate committee was founded in 1990 in response to a growing need for discussion and action on environmental issues. Its primary focus is review of capital projects and policy recommendations related to planning, development, and the use of the Emory environment. COE has been influential in educating about the University's forest resources, supporting Emory's commitment to green building standards, and fostering a more sustainable approach to growth.

Alternative Transportation

In the mid 1990s, in response to the high costs of parking decks and increased congestion on Clifton Road, Erick Gaither, Cheryl Dedias, and Brian Shaw of Emory's Office of Parking and Transportation created programs to reduce parking subsidies and encourage alternatives to single occupancy vehicles. Since then, a robust alternative transportation program has flourished and provides transit alternatives to thousands of commuters through carpool and vanpool programs, MARTA subsidies, car share programs, and pedestrian and bicycle advocacy programs. A shuttle fleet of buses travels on and around campus and is fueled by natural gas, electricity and biodiesel.

Green Purchasing

Efforts to reduce environmental harms have begun through efforts of Emory's Purchasing department, and a series of vendor fairs offered information about "green" and recycled products to office managers. With the support of the Dean of Emory College, an alumnus of Emory College, these efforts have expanded. A campaign was developed to support the purchase of white paper with recycled content. Today, all of Emory's business cards, stationary, and window and plain envelopes are made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled content paper.

Sustainability in the Curriculum

The Environmental and Occupational Health Program of the Rollins School of Public Health was established in 1990 by Professor Howard Frumkin. Courses in environmental law began in 1993, led by Professor Bill Buzbee of the Law School. By 1997, the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Program was established, followed by the Turner Environmental Law Clinic in 1998. The Environmental Studies Department of Emory College began in 1999 and offers today both the B.S. and the B.A. degrees to undergraduates as well as a joint Masters degree with Rollins School of Public Health. In 2010 the Sustainability Minor and Masters in Sustainable Development Practices was established.

Students Document Aspects of Sustainability at Emory in Anthropology Course

Writing Emory's Sustainability History was a one-time course taught by Dr. Peggy Barlett during Spring 2017. Students documented the history of the leaders, strategies, setbacks, and contributions towards Emory's transition to national leadership on sustainability. The adoption of a new strategic vision for sustainability for the next ten years marked a critical moment for assessing Emory's first decade of university transformation. Topics were drawn from all parts of the sustainability efforts, including food, water, waste, purchasing, transportation, hospitals, curriculum, laboratories, Emory as Place, and the Climate Action Plan. In addition to appearing on Emory's website, the students' work was archived for future historical work.

Read their work here:

Emory’s Sustainable Food Initiative by Peggy F. Barlett

Teaching the Future: Academic Infusion of Sustainability at Emory by Meggie Stewart

Constructing a Movement, One Building at a Time: The History of Green Buildings at Emory University by Micah Hahn

Sustainability in Campus Life: The Changing of Behavior by Jamie Nadler

Carbon, Climate, and Co-Generation: A History of Emory University’s Energy and Climate Commitments by Katelyn Boisvert

The Sparks of Sustainable Energy by Mona Patel

“Going Into a Place of Beauty:” Forest Preservation and Restoration at Emory by Whitney Easton

Greenspace at Emory: Finding the Balance by Orli Hendler

Sustainable Healthcare at Emory University by Lauren Balotin

Institutionalization of Change:A History of Emory University’s Office of Sustainability Initiatives by Kristen Kaufman

History of Sustainability at Emory: Alternative Transportation by Andrew M Foote

Emory’s History of Waste Diversion and Recycling by Amelia Howell

Stormwater Management and Water Conservation at Emory University by Kelly Endres

Emergence of Broad-based Sustainability Efforts

In 1999, the Ad Hoc Committee on Environmental Stewardship was formed to foster a deeper engagement with sustainability issues across campus. Led by Peggy Barlett, professor of anthropology, a group of 20 to 30 faculty, staff, administrators, students, and alumni met monthly for three years, to educate themselves about campus issues and to take action in several directions. The impetus for the formation of the Ad Hoc Committee was a much-disputed new road through precious forested Lullwater grounds, designed to link the new Clairmont campus with the main Clifton Road campus and parking deck. As a result, John Wegner, Committee on the Environment member and faculty in Environmental Studies, began to work with Campus Planning and Construction to reduce the environmental harm of the road. Positive relationships emerged from the 1999 engagements constroversy and led to future collaborative projects.

One early focus of the Ad Hoc Committee was expanded awareness of campus forests, which led to a series of woods walks guided by Bill Murdy, John Wegner, and Eloise Carter. From these enjoyable rambles in the little-known forests on the edges of campus came the plan to begin restoration of Baker Woodland by removing invasive ivy and privet. Ivy pulls coordinated by Facilities Management staff Jimmy Powell and Al Herzog led to truckloads of ivy removed on Saturday workdays over a four year period. One well-attended Saturday saw 80 people pulling ivy from the three-and-a-half acre site. Suppressed spring wildflowers began to bloom again once the ivy was removed.

A second early focus of the Ad Hoc Committee began in 2000 to create an Environmental Mission Statement for the University. The effort became a platform to bring environmental issues to the forefront of many units. In developing the wording for the mission statement, Ad Hoc Committee members studied other schools' documents and met with 22 campus divisions and groups, including the Employee Council, the Libraries, Purchasing, Emory Dining, faculty from the different units, and student groups. The final consensus wording was adopted by the University Senate and approved by the President in March 2001. After a taskforce studied how best to implement the mission statement, John Wegner was hired as Campus Environmental Officer in the division of Campus Services, a role he held until 2009.

A third early effort of the Ad Hoc Committee was the creation of a Faculty Green Lunch Group, supported by the Provost, the new Environmental Studies Department, Environmental and Occupational Health, and the Program in Science and Society. One or two dozen faculty each month hear research presentations on environmental issues from topics as diverse as green chemistry for paper mills, environmental poetry, water quality in developing countries, and environmental justice: race vs. class. The Green Lunch tradition has linked Emory faculty presenters and attendees in deeper awareness of environmental issues and sustainability for over seven years. The group occasionally discusses teaching dilemmas as well and supports the emergence of Emory's curriculum development program for sustainability, the Piedmont Project.

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New Platforms for Campus Visibility

As part of Emory's reflections surrounding the 2000 millennium year, Ad Hoc Committee members organized a day and a half workshop for nearly 100 campus participants ("Nurturing a Green University"), led by Second Nature from Boston and supported by the Provost, the Reconciliation Year Committee, Emory College, and the Chaplain's office. David Orr and E.O. Wilson spoke at the Millennium Conference and a group of faculty and staff developed a self-guided walking tour brochure that highlighted 10 sites for reflection about the sustainability dilemmas facing the University.

After two years of existence, the Ad Hoc Committee celebrated its accomplishments and noted the emergence of a rich web of alliances around sustainability issues. Local organizations, such as Friends of Emory Forest and the Peavine Watershed Alliance had partnered in several new efforts. Components of Emory, such as the Committee on the Environment, Facilities Management (later renamed Campus Services), the Lullwater Taskforce, EcoSEAC (Student Environmental Action Coalition), Alternative Transportation, and Emory Recycles were invigorated by the emergence of new groups and the cross-fertilizing energy of growing campus awareness.
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Early Steps Toward Green Building and Energy Conservation

Emory's commitment to green building has captured the imagination of employees, students, and visitors alike. Currently a national leader in green building, this effort began when the Ad Hoc Committee received funding from Campus Life and the Dean of the College for a team of 10 campus planners, students, and faculty to attend a regional sustainability workshop. Hearing David Orr's presentation about the LEED platinum Lewis Center at Oberlin College inspired innovations in the construction of the Whitehead Medical Research Building; the first LEED certified building constructed in the Southeast by former Vice President for Campus Services, Bob Hascall, Project Manager John Fields, and Campus Architect Jen Fabrick. Emory's encouragement to local architects and engineers supported design innovations and resulted in LEED silver certification. Campus Services led the request to the Board of Trustees for a commitment to LEED standards in all new building projects at Emory, which was established in 2001.

A pilot energy conservation program in 10 Emory College buildings began in 2002, inspired by significant savings in other universities around the country. Supported by the former Emory College Dean, Robert Paul, five electricity-saving behavioral changes were recommended in a brochure, presentations to department chairs, and in face-to-face contacts by student liaisons. Though metering problems made data analysis difficult, for eight buildings with reliable data it was determined that electricity use went down 8 percent in the first year and 6.7 percent in the second year, despite growth in faculty, staff, and machines in some buildings. A more robust energy reduction plan was developed in 2005 and is being implemented under the guidance of Campus Services.

During these early years of the Ad Hoc Committee, many university units were making important steps forward. Emory Recycles created its Recycling Center and expanded its efforts into the community, Parking and Transportation established the Emory shuttle system, and Emory's Procurement Office began to negotiate new prices for key items, such as recycled-content white paper.
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Early Steps Toward Transforming Curriculum

In 2001, Peggy Barlett from the Anthropology Department and Arri Eisen from Biology and the Science and Society Program launched a summer faculty development program to infuse sustainability and environmental issues across the curriculum. Called the Piedmont Project, it was modeled on the Ponderosa Project at Northern Arizona University, and leaders Geoff Chase and Paul Rowland came to Emory to facilitate the opening workshop. Each summer, 20 faculty from all units and departments of the University come together for a two-day workshop that stimulates the imagination around teaching and offers multi-disciplinary brainstorming around sustainability issues, experiential learning about place, and pedagogical exercises designed to help faculty develop new courses or new course modules for existing courses. Piedmont Project participants develop syllabi and then come together for a field trip at the end of the summer to share their experiences. Funding has been provided internally by teaching innovation programs, the Program in Science and Society, the Deans of each of the schools of the University, and by the Provost's office.

In nine years since the program's start, more than 167 faculty (plus a few administrators and library staff) have participated in the program, and thousands of students a year are affected. In 2004, the Piedmont Project was expanded to include a one-day workshop for graduate students. To date 99 graduate students have participated. An introduction to sustainability is also a part of each graduate student's teacher training course in their second year. Each year, new faculty step forward to help facilitate the program, and a number of creative teaching efforts have emerged from the Piedmont Project, including a collaboration between a Russian professor and a Theater professor to read Chekhov outdoors under the trees and a team-taught, writing-intensive course, "Water in Science, Philosophy, and Literature." A Chinese professor teaches language by having students create a pamphlet describing Emory's sustainability efforts in Chinese, and a course in Pharmacology explores the environmental hazards of drug research and drug delivery systems. Sustainability and health issues are components of a Nursing School course on lactation, and a social movements course in Sociology and Theology uses a module about the environmental movement. In 2008, a survey of 1100 faculty in all units except Medicine showed that 34 out of 43 Emory departments had at least one sustainability-related course (79%).

Emory now hosts a workshop for campus leaders across North America to learn how to create a faculty development program like the Piedmont Project. Co-led with Geoff Chase, who helped create the Ponderosa Project, it is offered both at Emory and at San Diego State University and is sponsored by AASHE, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. Over 315 participants from over 200 institutions have carried the Piedmont/Ponderosa approach to their home campuses.
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Early Steps Toward Forest Preservation and Creek Awareness

Professor Woolford Baker came to Emory in 1919 and became the first guardian of Emory's forests. By 1970, Professor Robert Platt and his students documented the deteriorating condition of the natural environment of the campus. Professors WH Murdy and MEB Carter authored a key document in forest preservation and restoration in 1986, assessing the extent and state of the original hardwood forests of the campus. Their conclusion that Emory's forest represents "a unique and valuable resource of scientific, educational, and aesthetic value" has been affirmed over the years by Emory administrators.

Tim Bryson, librarian in Woodruff Library, led an effort to name the 10 perennially-running streams on the Emory campus. With an energetic campaign to engage public imagination around possible names, a committee chose names for the first four streams:
  • Antoinette Candler Creek (Baker Woodland creek), named for Antoinette (Nettie) Candler, wife of Warren Candler (Emory's Chancellor, 1914-1922) who cared for and planted the area.
  • Henry Hornbostel Creek (Cox Hall Bridge creek), architect and author of Emory's first campus plan, who highlighted the clear waters with a bridge over which students passed from their dormitories to class.
  • George Cooper Creek (Asbury House creek), named for the Emory Sports Hall of Fame and popular coach who served as the Director of Emory's Intramural Sports Program from 1947 to 1976.
  • Ernest Richardson Creek (Lullwater stream), in honor of the caretaker of Lullwater from 1926 to 1962, who also fostered the reforestation of the estate.
Later committees worked with Vice President Gary Hauk to develop a series of permanent campus outdoor signs that highlight Emory's heritage and commitment to environmental stewardship, building on the success of signs that accompanied the Millennium Year walking tour signs.
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Sustainability Becomes a Principle of the University

A vigorous strategic planning process began at Emory in 2004 under the leadership of Emory's former President, James Wagner, Provost Earl Lewis, and Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration, Mike Mandl. Sustainability emerged from a two-year process as a core commitment of the University. The president subsequently asked Peggy Barlett and Mike Mandl to co-chair a Sustainability Committee, to develop a clearer vision of what sustainability might mean and how the University could gauge its progress. The Report of the Sustainability Committee, "Sustainability Vision for Emory" was adopted by the President's Cabinet and guides the University's efforts today.

The report called for bold action: "We envision a future for Emory as an educational model for healthy living, both locally and globally -- a responsive and responsible part of a life-sustaining ecosystem. To this end, Emory will collaborate with others beyond the University to provide leadership in sustaining and restoring all aspects of a healthy life: economic, environmental, and social."

Sustainability was defined:
What is sustainability? The Brundtland Commission identified sustainable development in 1987 as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. A sustainable Emory will be part of a healthy ecosystem; we seek to reduce the University's harmful impacts on the environment and contribute to regeneration of the ecosystem. A thriving economic sector will provide equitable opportunities for satisfying livelihoods and study through a safe, healthy, high quality of life for current and future generations. A sustainable Emory community implicates social dimensions, including a rich fabric of cultural diversity and the opportunity for all members to play a role in determining their own future. The intersections of social, economic, and environmental dimensions of sustainability are the "triple bottom line" by which we will assess our progress.

Attending to the ecosystem context, the built environment, leadership and participation, the living-learning-working community, and education and research, the report specifies a series of challenges and goals to move forward to being "responsive and responsible."
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Related Articles
Sustainability Vision for Emory (2006)
Emory University Environmental Mission Statement
Emory’s Sustainable Food Initiative