In late 1996, representatives of an international foundation
approached South Carolina’s three research universities--Clemson, Medical
University of South Carolina (MUSC) and the University of South Carolina
(USC)--and asked them to work together to incorporate sustainability into
their own institutions, and, by extension, other institutions in the state. Working
with a 16-month planning year grant of $353,800, the three schools came together
to formulate a plan to incorporate sustainability into the curricula of the
three schools, improve campus operations, and strengthen links with the larger
The universities formed a steering committee consisting of two faculty
members and a development officer from each school. The principal
investigators from each university (Dr. Bruce Coull of USC, Dr. Alan Elzerman
of Clemson and Dr. Michael Schmidt of MUSC) constitute the executive committee.
This committee hired a full-time project manager (Trish Jerman) who began
work in September of 1997. Kim Buchanan joined the staff on a part-time
basis in June of 1998. Dr. Coull serves as overall project Principal
Investigator, and Drs. Coull, Elzerman and Schmidt, working with Ms. Jerman,
continue to serve as an executive committee for the project.
Although it is tempting to tell others how to improve rather than
undertake the tedious work of self-improvement, the committee, as well
as our consultants, decided that we should focus on making changes in our
own institutions before becoming heavily involved in trying to influence
other schools. The following mission statement was adopted:
The Sustainable Universities Initiative will serve as both an intellectual
and a financial catalyst for activities which will make the state’s three
research universities, other educational institutions, and ultimately,
the state as a whole, more sustainable. It will also result in a
new model for multi-disciplinary and multi-insitutional cooperation within
South Carolina’s higher education community. Finally, it will serve as
a model for other state-assisted colleges and universities nationwide.
Bearing in mind the “catalytic” nature of the initiative, efforts
are designed to foster discussion, inform debate, facilitate cooperation,
encourage action by others, and keep principles of sustainability in the
forefront of academic consciousness. The initiative will not become
the sole locus of action for sustainability at any of the institutions--and
will be most successful if the need for an organized campaign disappears
Five goals guide our approach to effecting change within our universities:
1. Ensure that students understand principles of sustainability
and act on that understanding.
2. Encourage faculty to incorporate elements of sustainability
into their teaching, research and service.
3. Conserve environmental and financial resources by making
university operations more efficient.
4. Develop linkages with the larger community.
5. Share information and manage effectively.
To demonstrate their commitment to effecting change on campus, all
three research university presidents signed the following statement of
support for the effort:
The South Carolina Sustainable Universities Initiative
The South Carolina Sustainable Universities initiative represents
an intellectual community committed to the advancement of theoretical and
practical knowledge, as well as a collection of physical operations rivaling
small towns in size and scope of impact on the environment. Recognizing
our role as a positive force in the state’s economic and social advancement,
we believe it is incumbent upon us to cooperate in leading the way toward
a more sustainable future through our teaching, research, community service
and facilities management.
We therefore singly and collectively commit to:
Fostering in our students, faculty and staff an understanding of the
relationships among the natural and man-made environment, economics, and
society as a whole.
Encouraging students, faculty and staff to accept individual and collective
responsibility for the environment in which they live and work.
Serving as a center of information exchange for other institutions within
Operating existing facilities and constructing new facilities so
as to maximize efficiency and minimize waste, thereby protecting the environment
and conserving resources.
Clearly, the hardest work of the planning year was assessing strengths
and interests within our own institutions. Both the size and research
focus of these universities makes communication among departments and disciplines
a challenge. We used a number of mechanisms to generate conversations
about creating positive change in our institutions:
Individual meetings with opinion leaders and those already working in
areas related to sustainability
Group meetings within departments, schools (e.g., School of the Environment
faculty) and open meetings for all faculty
Individual meetings with administrative and operations personnel
Presentations at regional meetings of operations personnel
Meetings with formal (e.g., SAGE) or informal (e.g., geography and related
disciplines) student groups
Professional meetings (e.g., Society of Environmental Toxicologists
and Chemists annual meeting, focusing on sustainability)
Sustainable Universities Conference (Clemson, February, 1998)
In general, we found a strong interest among faculty
in including “sustainability”
in their teaching and research agendas, in developing research projects
related to campus operations for students, and in seeing campus operations
become more “green.” While some faculty members appear to be
very comfortable launching into “sustainable” projects on their own, many
more are seeking ideas. While this requires greater energy on the
part of project administrators on each campus, it also allows for greater
coordination of research efforts.
Administrators were interested in improving operations if it allowed
them to save money. One of our challenges is to help all administrators
consider long-term costs, and to link university budget categories in a
way that allows for a more complete evaluation of costs and savings.
For example, construction budgets and operations budgets are generally
managed by separate departments. This eliminates incentives for installation
of more expensive water or energy-saving equipment in new construction,
because costs will come from one budget, while incentives will come from
another. Similarly, many soft drink machines on one campus were converted
from aluminum cans to plastic bottles without considering the impact on
disposal/recycling of waste.
Faculty and students alike seem to have a number of pet peeves related
to campus operations (Styrofoam cups, leaf blowers, lack of public transit,
etc.) Students were refreshing in their willingness to consider public
transit, to volunteer, and to tackle tough issues in concert with campus
administrators. Students are also very interested in courses and
research projects focused on sustainability. The challenge for us
will be to channel that interest in ways that lead to personal and societal
on Which to Build
We discovered a number of efforts related to sustainability already
underway. A sampling of strong programs at the three project schools
MUSC and USC have strong, award winning recycling programs. Clemson's
recycling program has just been strengthened and revitalized.
USC/Clemson Baruch Institute collaboration; USC’s Baruch Marine Lab
environmental assessment program, long-term ecological study of Winyah
Bay, associated programs
Strong interest in environmental factors affecting
Work on several “Eco-industrial parks” led by USC faculty and
staff in cooperation with local governments, industry, utilities, and the
state’s Commerce Department
Clemson’s Biodiversity Initiative, which includes close cooperation
with state government agencies and Hughes Foundation grant to utilize biodiversity
as an “organizing principle” for K-12 education across the state
Clemson/SC State Alliance 20/20 Partnership, funded by Kellogg
Foundation, focused on distance learning and agricultural/environmental
Sustainable Agriculture initiatives at Clemson
MUSC’s Environmental Hazards Assessment Program
Clemson’s Extension Service, in all counties, with
a strong commitment to public service
MUSC (in conjunction with USC Institute of Public Policy) study of pollution
prevention in hospitals and laboratories
New energy and waste management facilities at Clemson; commitment to
New energy management study at USC; commitment to “personal
Commitment to improving public transit at USC
Schools of the Environment at USC and Clemson, and joint MUSC/College
of Charleston Environmental Management degree program
USC’s Honors College “Year of the Environment” and
relevant Honors theses
USC’s National Center for the Freshman Year Experience, and nationally
known “University 101" program
State Botanical Garden (located at Clemson) and associated programs
MUSC’s School of Nursing community outreach programs
Clemson’s Strom Thurmond Institute, and associated
lecture and luncheon series
USC’s Institute of Public Affairs, Center for Environmental
Policy (e.g., pollution prevention and Environmental Excellence Programs)
MUSC outreach network which reaches physicians and health care providers
across the state on a routine basis
South Carolina Universities Research Education Foundation (SCUREF)
has paved the way for multi-university/multi-disciplinary research in South
We assessed faculty, administration and facility management interest
on other campuses through:
• Internet searches for relevant programs, contact
• Phone contacts as appropriate
• Letters mailed to the presidents of all colleges and universities
in South Carolina, inviting them to send faculty and administrators
to our February conference and asking for contact names at their institutions.
• Letters mailed to the presidents of all of the state’s colleges,
universities technical colleges inviting them to send facilities managers
to one of several EPA teleconferences dealing with waste reduction and
recycling. (Downlink sites sponsored by Sustainable Universities
• Presentations at regional conferences for facility administrators
We found faculty in many colleges and universities interested in
sustainability. As was the case at the three research universities,
many had been teaching in areas related to sustainability longer than the
term has been in vogue. The University of Charleston/MUSC joint environmental
management program is producing graduates with a strong inter-disciplinary
background. Furman University, of course, is pursuing sustainability
through the Associated Colleges and Universities of the South. Several
of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the state may be
involved in activities related to sustainability through Second Nature’s
partnership with the United Negro College Fund.
Facilities managers at many of the smaller colleges and universities
seem interested in improving their operations, but as is the case at the
three research universities, are hampered by lack of funds, time, and sometimes
administration support. Since the smaller schools lack a large cadre
of graduate students, the research universities may be able to assist by
focusing teams of graduate students on problems of concern to managers
at smaller schools. Technical schools, because of their curriculum,
already focus on waste reduction and related issues. It is unclear
whether this focus results in “greener” campus operations, or if it is
focused primarily at the industrial sector.
Finally, we have attempted to identify potential collaborators within
the community. Examples include:
The SC Energy Office has a strong sustainable development program
The Harmony Project, a non-profit focused on green building technology
and sustainable communities
The SC Sea Grant Consortium has a strong interest in sustainability
The Savannah River Site hosts a joint degree program
offered by Clemson and USC. It also houses the Savannah River Environmental
Sciences Field Station, administered by SC State University, with an advisory
board including Clemson and USC
The Central Carolina chapter of Habitat for Humanity has a strong interest
in green building technology, and has taken the lead in promoting the concept
throughout the region
Several ISO 14000 certified industries, including BMW
have offered assistance in creating the universities’ environmental management
OF THE 1997 - 98 ACADEMIC YEAR
Goal I: Ensure
that students understand principles of sustainability and act on that understanding
Our objectives for the student body are that:
1. Students will leave the institution with a basic understanding
of the interrelationships between the human and natural environment.
They will understand that they have an individual responsibility to act,
and will have the ability to “ask good questions.” Most importantly,
students will leave the institution understanding that human systems interact
with, and are a part of, natural systems.
2. Students will understand how to become a force for
local action and positive change. They will be given the opportunity to
interact with administrators, and community representatives, and will graduate
prepared to be active citizens in their community and state.
3. Students will expect to recycle, to conserve water,
energy and other natural resources, and to think carefully about transportation
and planning issues throughout their adult lives.
4. Students will have been exposed to ideas relating
to stewardship, conservation and consumption.
5. Students will “know their ecological address” and
will have a basic understanding of the natural community within which their
human community(s) functions.
6. Some students will develop competence/expertise in
disciplines related to sustainability, enabling them to lead industry,
government, and non-governmental organizations to become more sustainable.
In order to produce graduates who are well prepared to make productive
contributions to society, we want to enhance students awareness of issues,
and knowledge of facts, in order to change attitudes and behavior.
We want to expose all students to concepts of sustainability and responsible
living, planting ideas and creating habits which we hope will last a life
Enhancing curricula through addition of new courses or expansion
of existing courses
To meet the goals outlined above, students must be exposed
to general information about the interdependence between humans and the
natural environment, to courses imparting specific knowledge within a traditional
discipline and to courses fostering the integration of knowledge across
disciplinary boundaries. Many courses meeting these criteria are
already in place on our campuses. Examples include the required “integrative
seminars” of USC’s MEERM program, case study and capstone courses required
of students in the joint MUSC/University of Charleston Master of Science
in Environmental Studies; courses taught in conjunction with Clemson’s
sustainable agriculture program, and USC’s marine science program, which
integrates biology, chemistry, physics, and courses in policy, economics,
and related areas. During the 1997-98 academic year, new courses
or segments of courses pertinent to sustainability were added to the curricula:
Sustainable Development seminar required of MEERM students at USC
Sustainable Design and Development course offered in USC School of Engineering
Service learning segment of environmental education
courses for undergraduate non-science majors at USC focused on campus
Service learning components of Clemson Sociology and Horticulture classes
focused on sustainable landscaping
Research components of various engineering classes focused on campus
or community sustainability
Modules related to sustainability were added to a variety
of courses including engineering and geography.
(It is important to note that many faculty
members have included discussions of sustainability in their courses
as a result of involvement with the Sustainable Universities Initiative,
trends in their fields, or independent research. However, we have no reliable
reporting mechanism for such inclusions and faculty have little incentive
to call them to our attention. Therefore, we note them when we can,
and ask that others who have included sustainability in their courses let
us know so we can expand our database.)
Student projects related to sustainability are listed in Appendix
A. (Note that many faculty members simply incorporate new ideas without
reporting back to us; forgive any omissions, and let us know what is missing
from the list.)
Honors College as Proving Ground
Honors Colleges offer an ideal opportunity to test new courses and
approaches before exposing them to a wider audience. USC’s Honors
College focused the 1996-97 school year on the environment, and has committed
to continuing the effort through a sustainability focus over the next five
years, beginning in the spring of 1999. A 1998 “Maymester” Honors
course embodied principles of sustainability, using our state’s rivers
as an outdoor classroom for learning about the historical, economic, and
environmental dimensions of South Carolina. During the 1997-98 academic
year, Jamey McDaniel’s honors thesis assessed of student attitudes and
practices relevant to sustainability. We expect to repeat her work
on an annual basis.
Freshman Year Experience/New Student Orientation
All new students at each of the project schools receive orientation
material. We have begun to develop materials to be distributed to
new students at the beginning of each new school year. A Sustainable
Universities intern at Clemson developed some materials for that school,
and met with a total of 2,936 students brought to campus for orientation.
As a part of his “message” he collected soda cans from each orientation
session and weighed the 1,507 can total: orientation alone contributed
about 50 pounds of aluminum to the University’s waste load. At USC,
a brochure about the initiative and options for “responsible living” on
campus has been distributed on a trial basis to groups of incoming students,
and to faculty teaching English 101 (which reaches more than 90% of incoming
Enhancing student knowledge through research and service-based
Students learn by doing, and can better understand the relationships
among disciplines when they put classroom ideas into practice. All
three schools have existing internship programs and some degree programs
require an internship for graduation; however, we encouraged new and expanded
opportunities for research and service learning. Internships and
research-based learning have already yielded significant results in the
project schools, winning the cooperation and interest of university administrators.
Of special note is the internship program associated with Clemson’s Central
Energy Facility, which has employed over 60 students in the past 4 years,
allowing them to solve real problems for the university and making them
more “workplace ready.” The program will expand even more when the
Energy Systems Laboratory is completed and ready for use. Examples
of projects undertaken by interns or research assistants during the planning
year include an assessment of trash disposal, development of new
educational materials, assessment of plastic recycling options, development
of student orientation programs, initiation of an energy conservation education
program, and analysis of public transportation options on campus. (See
Appendix C for a list of 1997-98 internships.)
Many classes at Clemson and USC offer a research or service learning
component. A partial listing of course projects is included as Appendix
D. One unusual offering was a partnership between USC’s School of the Environment
and the Department of Chemical Engineering to create a Research Experience
for Undergraduates (REU) program on environmentally friendly manufacturing.
Sometimes informal learning can be just as effective as formal learning.
We want to provide a variety of ways to capture student interest and capitalize
on “teachable moments” outside of routine classroom activities. In
February of 1998, the National Wildlife Federation, USC’s Students
Asking for a Greener Earth (SAGE) and the School of the Environment sponsored
a Campus Ecology clinic. Students from all colleges within
the state were invited, and many of the state’s schools sent representatives.
In addition, students from as far away as Texas and Vermont attended.
It provided opportunities to partner not only with the National Wildlife
Federation, but with its state affiliate.
Earth Day presented another opportunity for non-classroom learning.
The student environmental group at Clemson organized an Earth Day celebration
open to school children from the surrounding district. At USC, the
occasion was marked by a campus cleanup, with teams of students noting
the type and location of litter collected. Organizers plan to make
this an annual event, allowing for long-term tracking of campus trends.
Teams of students, faculty and staff also participated in a river clean-up
in partnership with the National Guard, River Alliance, and the Department
of Health and Environmental Control. Finally, USC President John
Palms presented awards to campus operations personnel and student groups
for efforts related to sustainability on campus.
Finally, students at each of our campuses were provided with travel
funds to participate in a variety of regional conferences.
Encourage faculty to incorporate elements of sustainability into their
teaching, research and service.
Faculty all over the state have been teaching and researching
topics related to sustainability for many years. While many have
made efforts to integrate their subject matter with other disciplines,
we believe much more can be done. One strategy is to keep “sustainability”
in the forefront of campus thinking by continually providing new sources
of information and inspiration.
During the 1997-98 academic year, many events contributed to the
development of a community of scholars interested in sustainability.
Events funded or arranged by the SUI include presentations, both formal
and informal, by Dr. Tony Cortese of Second Nature; a round table on Environmental
Ethics and the Philosophy of Nature with Dr. Strachan Donnelly, hosted
by the SUI and the Science Studies Group at USC; an evening lecture by
Dr. David Orr offered as part of the Campus Ecology clinic, but opened
to the general public; a presentation by noted industrial ecologist Brad
Allenby of Bell Labs, a presentation open to the general public by Randall
Arendt, a noted landscape designer and planner, and Clemson’s monthly
policy forums, which consistently bring people at the forefront of environmental
policy to the Strom Thurmond Institute to meet with a diverse group of
students and faculty representing many disciplines. The Strom Thurmond
Institute also brings a number of excellent speakers to campus for lectures
which are open to the general public as well as the university community.
Both the policy forums and the lecture series are publicized to all SUI
associates through links on the SUI web page. Potentially interested
individuals at other campuses are notified of pertinent events through
an informal network spearheaded through the SUI.
Summer Support for Faculty
We have already enjoyed significant dividends from planning grant
funds used to provide summer support for faculty members interested in
becoming more deeply involved in aspects of sustainability. Dr. Wally
Peters (USC Mechanical Engineering) has used summer support to coordinate
a student project to develop a more sustainable Habitat for Humanity house,
oversee a number of interns, create a new course and develop new areas
of research. One outcome of his research is a partnership with Fluor
Daniel which was recently included in a presentation made by the company
to the Republican Governors’ Association. Dr. Kirsten Dow (USC Geography)
conducted a focused outreach effort to the College of Liberal Arts, which
resulted in the development of a sustainability writing contest for the
90% of incoming students who take English 101, plans for additional projects
in English and Art, and a meeting of faculty with interests in sustainability
to share ideas. Davis Folsom, USC Aiken, worked with Jeff Arpan (International
Business) to add elements of sustainability to USC Aiken’s courses in international
Goal III: Conserve
Environmental and Financial Resources by Making University Operations More
In recent years, facility managers at each of our institutions
have introduced many changes resulting in greater conservation and efficiency.
Without exception, they have been eager to work with the SUI to continue
Operations Matching Fund
By the end of the grant period:
1. Each institution will develop an environmental policy which
ensures continual evaluation and improvement, and which adopts a systems
approach to facility management. Policies should address purchasing,
contracts, energy and other resource conservation, and transportation at
2. Each institution will develop a structure which will ensure
continuity despite personnel changes. Ideally, each institution will have
one or more positions charged with monitoring progress in facilities maintenance
3. Facility managers, students and faculty will work as partners
to solve specific operational problems.
4. When possible, institutions will enhance their buying “clout”
through purchasing partnerships designed to create larger markets for environmentally
During the planning year, each school set aside approximately $15,000
to use for operations-related problems. We found the funding enabled
us to do several creative things which would otherwise not have been done.
We also found that having funds available allowed us to leverage existing
operations funds, getting far more “bang for the buck.” The animal
waste composting system at MUSC is a good example of both creative solutions
to operations problems, and creative financing. Availability of planning
year grant funds allowed MUSC to obtain nearly double that amount in state
agency funds, significantly expanding the scope of the project.
At USC, operations funds were used to purchase 7 recycling centers
for strategic placement around campus. This complements state and
university funded purchases of approximately $30,000 in additional
recycling equipment to facilitate cardboard recycling and food waste composting.
Inspired, but not funded, by the SUI, MUSC has spent approximately
$25,000 to implement computer technology to reduce the use of paper.
The “push” technology will allow seminar and lecture notices to be disseminated
electronically. Eventually, the system will replace most paper announcements
on campus. The system is being implemented with the assistance of
4 students from a College of Charleston Engineering Design class, and we
hope that students from future classes can be used to spread the technology
to other campuses.
Goal IV: Strengthen
Linkages with Larger Community
Strengthening the ties between universities and the larger
community will be beneficial to all concerned. Faculty can share ideas
with like-minded professionals, community professionals can take advantage
of faculty expertise, and students can acquire “real-life” experience and
potential job leads. During the 1997-98 academic year:
Students at USC developed a menu of options for a more sustainable Habitat
for Humanity house.
Students at Clemson built a Habitat house as a part of Homecoming activities.
Students at Clemson designed “sustainable” landscaping
(xeriscape, wildlife plantings, composting, vegetable garden, bird houses)
for two Habitat houses.
A USC graduate student developed a slide show for use
with focus groups for “Imagine Richland” a countywide planning effort.
Students designed a more effective wetland-crossing bridge for the statewide
Palmetto Trail system.
USC joined the River Alliance and the National Guard in sponsoring a
SUI representatives spoke to a number of statewide organizations, such
as Sustainable Agriculture Forum, Energy managers/facility managers, etc.
SUI representatives were active on the local level, speaking on topics
ranging from green building to religion and the environment in churches
and to student groups.
SUI representatives were asked to participate in the National Wildlife
Federation’s press conference unveiling their newest publication Green
Investment, Green Return.
SUI was asked to serve on the Green Village Expo planning committee,
contributing to a conference of regional importance.
We have become a Founding Partner in the Green Schools
portion of Green Village Expo, a series of “green building” workshops and demonstrations
held in Charleston. The Expo is inspired by the work of John Knott
at Dewees Island, called this country’s most sustainable community.
The Expo and Green School provide mechanisms for sharing new information
with other schools, and professionals such as architects and engineers. (The
next Green Village Expo will be in September, 1999, in Charleston.)
We have also started a network of cooperating agencies and
organizations, developing good working relationships with the state Energy
Office, Department of Health and Environmental Control, Department of Commerce
and Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism. Clemson’s Strom
Thurmond Institute has a well developed list of interested community members;
USC is developing such a list, and has included community members in several
lectures and seminars.
Many of the state’s technical and liberal arts colleges have expressed
an interest in working with us. All of the state’s four-year
schools were invited to send representatives to our February, 1998 conference,
and many did. We included all the state’s higher education institutions
(including technical schools) in invitations to attend two teleconferences
for which Clemson, USC and MUSC provided downlink sites and/or facilitators.
Our intention is to include all these schools in announcements of speakers,
seminars, workshops, etc.
Goal V: Share Information/Manage
During the planning year, we solicited information from a number
of faculty, administration and operations staff and students on the three
main project campuses. We also studied other programs and consulted
Our kick-off conference in February of 1998 brought together approximately
130 faculty and staff from both the project schools and other colleges
and universities around the state, students, and community professionals.
Displays and presentations offered useful information on incorporating
sustainability into the classroom and into campus operations. A summary
of points made by speakers is included in Appendix E, and a summary of
attendees is included as Appendix F.
A challenge of a program like ours is ensuring that valuable lessons
are shared among participating schools and others who are interested.
We accomplished this both informally, through individual contacts, and
formally. Measures taken include creation of a SUI web page, which
provides useful links to other sites related to sustainability, maintains
a calendar of upcoming events, and offers tips and practical advice for
responsible living. As the program expands the web site will include
more and more information.
We have also shared information about the program through a brief
video, through pamphlets and flyers, a display which has been used at several
statewide meetings as well as on campuses, and through articles in statewide
publications (see Appendix G for examples.) and interviews on radio talk
Finally, the SUI office maintains a “resource room” of files,
videos and publications on topics ranging from green building to religion
and ecology. Students and, to a lesser degree, faculty call frequently
We believe we’ve made a good start, but know much more needs to be
done. We hope this document will prompt faculty, staff and students
who have been working on sustainability issues to let us know about their
efforts, so that lessons can be shared across the state.