Ball State University: The ACUPCC as ‘Feature’ and ‘Framework’

May 7, 2013
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By Robert J. Koester, Professor of Architecture & Director of Center for Energy Research, Education & Service

(This article appears in the May, 2013 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)


This article provides a brief overview of the history of activities at Ball State University as we have engaged the challenges of bringing sustainability into the many dimensions of the campus community.  The long-standing history of interest which predates the origination of the ACUPCC and the follow-on implementation of ACUPCC are described.  Key points regarding institutional structure, the role of champions, and the importance of communication are emphasized.  Finally the benefit of our long-standing engagement is noted in the current branding of the institution.

Starting in 1990, Ball State University began its “dance” with the challenges of sustainability. At that time, the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Warren Vander Hill, appointed our first Green Committee (G-1) consisting of 14 members charged with formulating “…recommendations which, if undertaken might raise environmental consciousness in our student body, foster conviction in students regarding these issues, and empower them with understandings of how they might effectively channel their awareness to shape the future...”  Some 35 recommendations were made; including short-term immediate actions that could occur at no cost and longer-term, more substantial steps that would require structural change and/or sizable capital expenditure.  

Flowing out of this work, Ball State University began the tasks of integrating sustainability into all that it does. We gave birth to the Greening of the Campus (GOC) Conference Series as a means, initially, of learning from other universities but ultimately as a catalytic event that spawned numerous collaborative and interactive opportunities for those attending. We anchored the series with a stellar slate of internationally-recognized keynote speakers and included numerous hands-on workshops, panel sessions and forums for interaction with national experts; to assure that participants could take material back to their home campus for immediate implementation. We also celebrated the entrepreneurial spirit of the campus; hosting ‘Green’ for Green summer workshops to enable (over a ten-year time) one-fourth of our colleagues to work across disciplinary lines—a practice for which the campus culture is well known.

In 1999, Ball State University was fortunate to have our president, Dr. John E. Worthen, sign-on to the Talloires Declaration and to have our Provost (re)convene the Green Committee (G-2) to examine how we might implement the tenets of Talloires. Some 94 members participated and brought forward 186 recommendations with a top-10 list of important first-pass actions. In addition we recommended the creation of the Council on the Environment (COTE) as an operational forum for celebrating, facilitating and anticipating sustainability activities campus-wide.

COTE is populated in membership with representation from every administrative level and interest group across campus and in the near-surround community. To date we have hosted 97 meetings and have fully 35 members participating at a high level of commitment. COTE has provided multiple recommendations to the university administration. These have covered course offerings, curricular structuring, policy statements, operational practices, administrative leadership, and community outreach.

Since the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) came along after many years of our campus activity, its introduction on the national stage served Ball State University as a new ‘feature’; a means of focusing the attention of our campus leadership. With the hiring of a new President and appointing of a new Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, we made special efforts to apprise her/him of the history of green campus activity at Ball State University – the signing of Talloires, the creation of COTE, and the long-standing success of the GOC Conference Series – and the opportunity for integrating that legacy of effort with the adoption of the ACUPCC.

In fact, not only did we present this to our administration but also to our faculty, staff and student constituents as a next logical step in our continuing efforts; joining a nationally-recognized initiative with its state-of-the-art vision for further transition and action. And so, with an understanding of our history, our new president, Dr. Jo Ann M. Gora, signed-on, in 2006, as one of the twelve founding members of the Leadership Circle of ACUPCC – calling on her counterparts across the country to do the same.

Once signed, of course, the ACUPCC then has served as our operational ‘framework’; for inventorying the operational impact of the university, goal-setting of clearly-achievable next steps for immediate and long-term implementation, committing to strategies of operational mitigation, acknowledging the need for curricular integration, and recognizing the importance of outreach to the near-surrounding community.

With the more recent integration of the national standards for sustainability reporting, we are now actively engaged in further discovery. We collaborate routinely in building our ‘Get on the Map’ database for use in reporting to ACUPCC, AASHE STARS, the Princeton Review, and the Sierra Club Cool Schools List. We’ve recently completed a full ten-year profiling of our GHG emissions and will be updating our ACUPCC and STARS reports to reflect the latest version of this Clean Air-Cool Plant (CA-CP) data set.

As a result of these efforts, we have successfully bridged the otherwise substantial chasm between Academic Affairs and Business Affairs. With the construction of our new district-scale geothermal heat pump chiller system, we now have these two sectors of campus in day-to-day interaction as faculty and students monitor the system performance and as facility staffs look to academic colleagues to broach new research and education opportunities. In fact, we have been able to include a test-bed installation in the plans for completion of the south borehole field and are seeking federal funding for implementation.

Moreover, we have come to recognize the importance of campus community members at every administrative level serving as ‘champions’ of sustainability, the role of communication in sustaining the institutional memory and, most importantly, we have come to respect the connection of this good work with the ultimate branding of the institution – not so much for leadership in sustainability but rather as the very substance of the research, education and service experience of our administrators, faculty, staff and students. In our case, this has been captured in a newly branded tag line as ‘Education Redefined.

We are committed to Immersive Learning; engaged in Building Better Communities across the state; and have launched a new initiative focused on Primacy of Place which will address sustainability metrics.

The ACUPCC as ‘feature’ and ‘framework’ continues to serve us well.