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Posted July 31, 2007

A Success Story Well Worth Duplicating
Not Only On Campuses But By Parishes

Catholic campuses embrace 'green' initiatives

By Kaitlynn Riely
Catholic News Service

Amid fears about global warming, going "green" has achieved new popularity. However, for many Catholic colleges and universities, developing a sustainable campus has always been a goal -- one that is now easier to achieve with new technologies.

At Georgetown University in Washington, for instance, solar panels were installed on the roof of a building in the early 1980s. Almost 30 years later, the panel design is the longest running such project of its scale still operational in the United States.

Today, the Jesuit university has an energy management team that monitors and fine-tunes energy use in campus buildings throughout the day.

For another Jesuit school, Boston College, the impetus to reduce energy consumption and become a sustainable campus comes from its Catholic mission, said Jack Dunn, the director of public affairs at the college.

Boston College saved more than a million dollars last year after it launched a campaign to reduce energy consumption. Managing Boston College's effect on the environment, Dunn said, is an effort students have joined.

"Students at Catholic colleges realize that they are being called upon to develop their God-given talents and use them in the service of others," he said in a telephone interview with Catholic News Service. "And one of the greatest challenges that we face in our future is protecting the earth."

Students at the college are familiar with the words of the founder of the Society of Jesus, St. Ignatius of Loyola, who said, "Go set the world aflame." The school used this familiar phrase, Dunn said, in its campaign to cut down on energy consumption. Posters around campus instruct students to "Go set the world aflame, but before you do, don't forget to turn off the lights."

In Chicago, St. Xavier University, run by the Sisters of Mercy, has been investing money in its own green initiatives. One of the core values of St. Xavier University is respect, said Paul J. Matthews, the assistant vice president for facilities management -- and respect for the environment falls under that value.

"If you look at stewardship, and also taking care of mankind and the human element, sustainability falls in line with many of these Catholic teachings," Matthews said.

Last fall, St. Xavier unveiled a green building. Arthur Rubloff Hall, an 88-person residence hall that also houses the Residence Life Office, became the first building at a university or college in Illinois to receive the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, gold designation from the U.S. Green Building Council.

The council is a nonprofit organization that developed the LEED system as a way to rate the performance and sustainability of buildings. Gold is the second-highest designation.

The building has carpeting made from recycled plastics, a green roof covered with small plants to filter and purify rainwater and a carbon dioxide detection system that can tell if a room is occupied, and then adjust the airflow accordingly. Matthews said the school is happy with the building after its first year.

But this new technology didn't come cheap. Rubloff Hall cost approximately $9 million to build, about $290,000 more than a conventional building would have cost.

"Yeah, it was a little more expensive," Matthews told CNS. "But in the long term, it's going to pay back in the energy savings we are making."

A conventional building would cost about $90,000 a year in heating and cooling. Rubloff Hall should cost the university less than $60,000 a year, meaning the school will break even in a little more than eight years.

Another plus, Matthews said, is that the school is emitting fewer gases into the environment.

Reducing gas expenditure is a challenge Mayor Michael Bloomberg has presented to the city of New York -- and its top colleges and universities in particular.

Jesuit-run Fordham University accepted the challenge, and in the next 10 years will attempt to reduce its carbon dioxide footprint by 30 percent. But Fordham had already been taking steps to reduce its affect on the environment, said Joseph Muriana, the associate vice president of government relations and urban affairs at the university.

Buildings at the university are computer-controlled for energy efficiency and have environmentally-friendly lighting, so the campuses have already had significant energy usage reductions in past years. The school also runs shuttle buses back and forth between its two campuses. These buses -- eight an hour -- move more than 80,000 people a year, Muriana said.

Bloomberg's initiative, Muriana said, "is an opportunity to do more."

The university is currently doing calculations to figure out what its 2005-06 carbon dioxide footprint was, so those figures can be used as a base.

"We are committed to the challenge," Muriana told CNS. "We are committed to reaching that."