26 ways Emory advances sustainability on campus and around the world

By Roger Slavens and Ellie Purinton 24C

This article originally appeared in the Emory News Center on April 21st, 2022. 

Through leadership across Emory University, Emory Healthcare and in the Atlanta community, the staff, faculty and students who make up the Office of Sustainability Initiatives, Resilience and Economic Inclusion (OSI) and its partners have made tremendous impacts at Emory, not only in campus environments, but also in classrooms, laboratories and health care facilities.

And what’s been implemented locally thrives out in the greater world wherever the university’s cutting-edge research — and its sustainability-minded alumni — have taken root.

For Earth Day, learn how Emory is investing in the future of our planet through sustainability stewardship, academic innovation, student engagement and groundbreaking projects like the WaterHub, Oxford Organic Farm and thousands of solar panels on campus.

Overall sustainability stewardship

  1. Emory University ranks No. 6 in the United States out of 853 schools surveyed in The Princeton Review’s 2022 Guide to Green Colleges based on 2019 data evaluated for administrative and academic excellence in sustainability.
  2. The Piedmont Project, the country’s longest running faculty development program in sustainability, was launched at Emory in 2001. For 21 years, Emory has developed the curriculum, led and hosted this national program for the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), supporting more than 600 educators from across the country — including over 250 Emory faculty members — to integrate sustainability into their curriculum.
  3. Emory in 2021 earned a “Gold” rating in the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS) Report for leadership and innovation in sustainability from AASHE — the fourth time in a row it has achieved this honor.
  4. Lofty — but attainable — sustainability goals for the university’s campuses include 50% carbon reduction by 2030 (from 2010 levels) and total carbon neutrality by 2050, 100% clean energy by 2035, 95% diversion of waste from landfills and 50% reduction in the use of potable water, among many others.
  5. Two years ago, Emory signed a transformative solar power agreement with Cherry Street Energy to install more than 15,000 solar panels on its campuses. These panels will generate approximately 10% of Emory’s peak energy requirements and reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by about 4,300 metric tons.
  6. A founding member of the Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council, Emory has helped create a shared, national platform for guiding, measuring and recognizing leadership in sustainable purchasing.
  7. In its last ranking, Business Insider placed Emory 20 among universities for students who want to change the world, with the university’s sustainability leadership cited as a key factor.

Academic innovation

  1. Emory faculty have created or modified more than 400 courses in 40 academic departments that are related to sustainability; 61% of academic departments have sustainability course offerings.
  2. The university has developed minors, certificates and concentrations in sustainability for both undergraduate and graduate students that teach students sustainability as an integrated concept. Undergrads can earn a sustainability minor in interdisciplinary studiessustainability sciences minor through Emory College’s Department of Environmental Sciences, or concentrate in environmental management through the Goizueta Business School. They can also strengthen leadership skills while creating sustainable community change with the Ethics and Servant Leadership Program and the community building and social change minor.
  3. Graduate students can earn a master’s in development practiceat the Laney Graduate School and the master’s of public health in environmental health and certificate in climate and health at the Rollins School of Public Health.
  4. The Turner Environmental Law Clinic and the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Program, directed by clinical professor of law Mindy Goldstein, train School of Law students to become sustainability leaders in environmental law.
  5. Emory’s School of Medicine received the No. 1 ranking on the Planetary Health Report Card by medical students and faculty covering 62 medical schools in the U.S., U.K., Ireland and Canada based on curriculum that incorporates climate change and operational leadership.
  6. The Oxford Organic Farm, located on the edge of Oxford campus, was created in 2014 on 11 acres of land donated by an Emory alumnus. This interactive outdoor classroom gives students hands-on experience in sustainable agriculture and provides fresh food for Emory’s campuses and the surrounding communities.

Student engagement and activism

  1. Some 95% of Emory students report an increase in sustainability-related knowledge during their time learning at the university. But more important, 46% of students say they increased their own sustainable behaviors while at Emory.
  2. In June 2021, President Gregory L. Fenves adopted a “Break Free from Plastics Pledge” that commits the university to reduce its consumption of unnecessary single-use plastics, after meeting with the student-led Plastic-Free Emory. Cofounded by students Nithya Narayanaswamy and C.J. O’Brien, the group has built a broad coalition to collect data, engage the Emory community and develop actionable solutions
  3. Just months later in October 2021, the Emory Climate Coalition — comprised of three student groups — enlisted Fenves, on behalf of the university community, to join the global Race to Zero, an initiative backed by higher ed institutions devoted to achieving zero carbon emissions.
  4. At the same time, Fenves also signed the Second Nature Climate Leadership Network, joining 450 other universities and colleges that have agreed to take actionable and trackable steps toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  5. Since its founding in 2006, the OSI has offered more than 170 internships to Emory students who utilize research, data analysis, outreach, training, communications and programmatic skills to integrate sustainability into all levels of the Emory enterprise.
  6. This spring, OSI is launching its inaugural post-graduate fellowship program and adding a new Climate Solutions Fellow and a Sustainability and Social Justice Programs Fellow. Both will gain one full year of expertise and mentorship in these areas.
  7. Under the tutelage of associate professor of environmental sciences Eri Saikawa, four Emory students — Kaela Wilkinson 23C, Ryan Thorne 23G, Marlon Gant 23G and Chiara Brust 23PH — had the opportunity to share their voices on the world stage at the 2021 U.N. Climate Change Conference and gain invaluable experience as scholars and advocates for climate change solutions.

Groundbreaking projects

  1. Emory’s Resilience and Sustainability Collaboratory (RSC) is a think-and-do tank that leverages the collective expertise of corporate leaders, university faculty and staff, government and community organizations and plugs into actionable projects that generate innovative solutions to sustainability and resilience challenges. RSC projects are first tested locally, exploring on-the-ground solutions that may be translatable and scalable to communities across the globe.
  2. One RSC project led by Saikawa involves soil testing in West Atlanta, where exposure to heavy metals and metalloids can cause serious health consequences and even death. Having found slag dumps and high levels of these contaminants in the soil, the project is working to increase awareness in the community while encouraging systematic testing and community-engaged remediation.
  3. The Working Farms Fund, a partnership between Emory and The Conservation Fund, has acquired farmland within 100 miles of Atlanta which helps protect and promote small and mid-sized farms surrounding the metro area while generating a resilient food supply. This land is leased to a new generation of historically underrepresented farmers with a 5- to 10-year path to ownership. In November 2021, Emory started receiving the first produce from these farms.
  4. In 2020, OSI received a national grant from the EPA to establish an on-campus prototype for an anaerobic digester. This cutting-edge technology can turn food waste into biogas (renewable energy) and soil amendments (agricultural use).
  5. The WaterHub at Emory is a water recycling system that uses eco-engineering processes to clean wastewater for future non-potable uses like heating and cooling buildings and flushing toilets. Installed in 2015, it was the first system of its kind in the U.S. and now recycles up to 400,000 gallons of water daily.
  6. Last fall, Emory hosted leaders of the Muscogee Nation and adopted an official Land Acknowledgement as early steps toward honoring the Indigenous peoples as the original inhabitants and stewards of the land on which Emory now sits. Important work still lies ahead to create a university community that is more inclusive of Native and Indigenous perspectives, learning and scholarship, as well as to provide respectful stewardship of the land.

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