By Katie Kershman and Amy Volckens

Higher Education and Sustainability Implementation

Higher education institutions are at the confluence of research and sustainability. Combine this with an extensive force of inquiring minds in need of professional experience (students) and empowered faculty, administrators, and staff and you’ve got a hot spot for sustainability advancement.

Brendle Group has been working with higher education institutions for the better part of 25 years and we’ve seen exemplary leadership on sustainability through the years. In fact, our water practice got its start in higher education when we were asked to tackle the water efficiency component for a University of Colorado Student Housing energy and water performance contract.

Demand for Sustainable Water Practices

In a changing climate, the western U.S. faces many challenges affecting our water resources – drought, wildfire, flooding, and rapid growth just to name a few – making water a rapidly emerging priority for regional, state, and local planning. Despite the rising demand, there remains a lack of coordinated water management and stewardship on higher education campuses. Even on campuses that prioritize sustainability, water has often fallen below climate action and energy priorities.

Activating Higher Education Institutions to Address Sustainable Water Management

Brendle Group is fortunate to be working with the Colorado Water Collaboratory to stimulate this coordination and stewardship. The Colorado Water Collaboratory focuses on higher education campuses as living laboratories for innovating and testing better water management practices, and for sharing resources with faculty, staff, students, and the broader public. In its current incarnation, it is a partnership between the One World One Water Center (OWOW) at Metropolitan State University-Denver (MSU), the University of Colorado-Boulder (CU), and their water suppliers.

Brendle Group is supporting two Collaboratory projects (1) water action planning on the MSU Auraria and CU-Boulder campuses and (2) campus competitions to increase awareness of Colorado’s Water Plan and seek innovative solutions to help address water issues. Some of the project outcomes include:

  • MSU’s campus water action plan is expected to be completed by December 2019. In 2020, Brendle Group will support OWOW’s efforts to implement a water saving project on campus.
  • CU-Boulder has formed a water working group to identify water priorities on campus and determine how these efforts fit with broader campus sustainability efforts.
  • MSU is hosting a student competition during the Fall 2019 semester. Six classrooms will participate, with wide-ranging subjects that include water resource design, industrial design, sustainability mitigation planning, public relations, socially engaged art, and community climate initiatives. Projects will be judged on campus on December 4, 2019. The public will be invited to the project showcase – so keep an eye out for details!

Campuses offer the opportunity to reach a diverse, highly engaged, and innovative audience that makes a great volunteer base and includes our workforce of tomorrow. As large water users, with just a little effort, higher education institutions can improve their own water sustainability through experiential learning opportunities.

Here are some other universities doing work that we love in water action planning and sustainability:

  • Sustainable Stanford: Over the past 17 years, Stanford has reduced its water use by 45%.
  • Three Zeroes at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill: Its integrated approach to reducing its environmental footprint includes a goal for net zero water usage on campus.
  • Yale’s Sustainability Plan 2025: Sets an objective for land and water management approaches that enhance human health, biodiversity, and environmental vitality.
  • Cornell: Has one of only 52 landscapes certified by SITES and a Master Plan that requires land and water management approaches on campus – to preserve existing ecosystem services.
  • University of California: Berkeley and Santa Barbara campuses have set goals to reduce potable water use on campus.