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Furman recognized as top performer in Sustainable Campus Index

Aerial view of the Furman campus. James B. Duke Library (center)

Furman University has been recognized as a top performer in the 2020 Sustainable Campus Index, ranking No. 9 overall among baccalaureate institutions and moving up from last year’s No. 10 slot.

A publication of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), the Sustainable Campus Index recognizes top-performing sustainable colleges and universities overall and in 17 impact areas, as measured by the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS).

Laura Bain
Laura Bain, associate director of sustainability assessment.

STARS is a voluntary framework used by hundreds of colleges and universities to measure, report and strengthen their contributions to global sustainability. Since 2015, Furman has held a STARS Gold rating.

The ranking gauges performance from buildings and grounds to campus engagement and diversity and affordability, and everything in between. In the “research” impact area, Furman placed in the top 10 among baccalaureates, tying for 6th place.

Laura Bain, associate director of sustainability assessment at the Shi Institute for Sustainable Communities, points to the inclusion of sustainability in academics and curricula – the seedbed for research – as driving forces in Furman’s high ranking, and why Furman is the only four-year institution in the top performers representing the South.

“Furman is the only liberal arts institution in the United States that offers a bachelor of science degree in sustainability science,” she says. “And all students, regardless of major, are required to take a course that explores humans and the natural environment. Plus many of our courses include a sustainability topic.”

Also contributing to Furman’s strong showing in the index, Bain says, are Furman’s “robust” outreach and education programs such as the Green Office Program for employees and Eco-Reps program for students.

More broadly, she says sustainability is woven into long-term planning beginning with the 2009 Sustainable Furman master plan, which has taken on additional components over the years including diversity initiatives, procurement guidelines and wellness programs.

With an institutional goal to become carbon neutral by 2026, there’s still much work to be done, Bain says.

She says there’s room for improvement in campus operations, such as the potential to participate in Duke Energy’s Green Source Advantage program, which would allow Furman to source renewable energy, and to partner with Greenlink, Greenville’s public transportation system, to provide alternative transportation options. Renovations on the horizon for the South Housing and North Village campus housing areas will create opportunities to boost energy and monetary savings in the long run.

Talks are underway with a glass recycler to bring that service back to campus, and for the sustainability science practicum. Students in the sustainability science practicum course are working across campus to help draft new policies, including a “thermostat set point” that would help regulate heating, cooling and ventilation systems, and a green-cleaning policy aimed at improving the sustainability of cleaning products used across campus.

Meanwhile, Bain says there are many ways students, faculty and staff can help Furman achieve higher sustainability ratings and to snag the elusive STARS Platinum rating, which few universities, none of them baccalaureate, hold.

“Participate in programs like Green Office, get involved in Eco-Reps or other outreach and education campaigns. Install UCapture on your internet browser to gain carbon offsets – this one is really easy. Share and edit documents electronically, opt for virtual conferences, conserve energy through reduced lighting, proper temperature settings, and limit personal appliances,” she says. And finally, “Reduce, reuse, recycle.”

The Shi Institute for Sustainable Communities will submit another report in spring 2021. Bain’s goal is to continually improve Furman’s rating on the way to achieving carbon neutrality, and, for good measure, to secure that coveted Platinum seal from AASHE.

“It will take all of us working toward a common vision to meet that goal,” she says.

For more ways to help, contact Laura Bain at shi.institute@furman.edu, and 864-294-3656.

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