A user's guide to the sustainable campus

Best practices for creating environmental sustainability

Walk through any university campus today, and you’ll be inspired by the uptick in commitment to environmental sustainability. Recycling programs and energy saving initiatives have become commonplace, in response to a new generation of students, parents, alumni and faculty who care deeply about their campus community’s environmental contributions.

In a world of rising standards for environmental sustainability, university leaders must rise to the challenge: How do we do everything we can to reduce our carbon footprint? How do we infuse every aspect of campus life with a commitment to the highest sustainability standards?

It’s not optional to be green anymore. Many institutions have signed the Carbon Commitment (formerly known as the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment), and countless others have made informal commitments to achieving carbon neutrality. And when it comes to student and faculty recruitment, sustainability commitments make a real positive contribution.

It doesn’t stop there. Addressing energy conservation and sustainability is good not just for image and recruitment, but can also help your institution conserve funds, operate more efficiently, and anticipate state, provincial and regional energy and carbon mandates. Most universities have already conquered the basics, such as campus recycling, bike rentals and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification for new buildings. Yet, much more is needed to achieve carbon neutrality. The good news for higher education institutions? More potential for you to do more, and more long-term benefits to reap when you do.

Steps in the journey to carbon neutrality

Following are five best practices you may want to consider for your campus. These are an excerpt from our Sustainability Best Practices Guide containing nearly 60 best practices used on campuses today.

Custodial services and green cleaning

The chemicals used in many common cleaning products ultimately contribute to a toxic waste stream.

Reducing exposure to chemicals and dangerous pollutants on a daily basis

Green cleaning refers to cleaning products and methods that protect human health without harming the environment. Some common cleaning products have been found to have serious effects on the health of building occupants and custodians — and they’re harmful to the environment, too. Cleaning products generate approximately 8 percent of non-vehicular emissions of the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can trigger asthma and other respiratory illnesses, contribute to smog formation, and inhibit plant growth. Furthermore, the chemicals used in many common cleaning products ultimately contribute to a toxic waste stream.

Our sustainability experts are constantly researching new products and approaches for sustainable cleaning. Our green cleaning practices include:

  • Environmentally friendly cleaning chemicals
  • Products and packaging that is reusable, recyclable and/or sustainability packaged with minimum excess
  • Improved dilution or delivery systems
  • Highly efficient equipment and processes that reduce waste
  • Systematic, ongoing employee training

Elements of a green cleaning program

Our green cleaning program minimizes the environmental impact of keeping your campus spick and span, encompassing the following components:

Operations plan and standard operating procedures (SOPs)

First, we take an inventory of current cleaning problems, goals and resources across your campus. Then, we create a detailed plan addressing each area of campus to be cleaned. We address hazardous chemicals, dangerous handling procedures, improper disposal practices, and effective cleaning strategies. We recommend positive changes and deliver educational programs to help you adopt proactive sustainable practices.

Within the first 90 days of partnering with you, we develop and maintain mandatory standard operating procedures (SOPs) unique to each building to be cleaned. We annually review each SOP for possible revisions to ensure maximum benefits for your stakeholders.

Our SOPs offer clear guidance and processes for:

  • All cleaning procedures
  • Chemical handling and tracking
  • Chemical products and stocking
  • Waste disposal
  • Equipment maintenance
  • Equipment operation
  • Communication protocols and requirements
  • Training programs
  • Safety for all workers, customers, and public bodies
  • Inspection programs
  • Reporting and record keeping

Throughout the program, we follow the recommendations and guidelines of:

  • U.S. Environmental Protections Agency Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) Program
  • Green Seal Standard for Commercial and Institutional Cleaning Services (Green Seal GS-42)
  • Green Building Council LEED Existing Building (EB) Program
Senior stakeholder engagement

We keep your board, trustees and other stakeholders up to date on how the latest green practices can mitigate potential liability that can arise from exposure to toxic chemicals in a facility. Our program reduces exposure to chemical, biological, and particle contaminants that adversely impact air quality, health, building finishes, building systems and the environment.

Occupant education and feedback

Your green cleaning program becomes more powerful when students are informed. We provide informational tent cards for student rooms to convey that their rooms were cleaned with green products and practices. And, the cards are printed on recycled paper to reinforce messages about the campus recycling program.


Training is fundamental in our green cleaning programs. We provide small group, hands-on and multimedia training for all associates. Training often includes presentations by product manufacturers, who provide subject matter expertise and third-party case studies.

Measurement and quality assurance

As a facilities partner for your institution, we constantly measure service quality to ensure the clean and pleasant environment of all campus buildings. Our quality assurance includes green cleaning, too. We monitor the kinds and quantities of cleaning products used on campus, indoor air quality (IAQ), hard floor traction and surface cleanliness. We measure all stages of sustainable cleaning for environmental performance, including product and equipment installation, operation, long-term maintenance and disposal.

Energy conservation

Campus resilience depends on a diverse mix of energy sources

In a typical college or university classroom building, lighting uses 31 percent of the total energy consumed, while and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) uses 28 percent. Therefore, energy-efficient lighting and HVAC strategies are a priority in our higher education sustainability programs. In addition, we install ENERGY STAR equipment and appliances when replacements are needed. The following are energy conservation practices that we incorporate into our campus sustainability programs.

Energy coasting

In the private sector, facility managers often use “energy coasting” to save energy, and the practice can be used on campuses, too. By simply turning off heating and cooling equipment a few minutes before the official “after-hours” time begins, we may be able to save tens of thousands of dollars annually without any occupants even noticing. We start by shutting down systems 15 minutes earlier than usual and monitor the building environment to determine whether we’re compromising occupant health and comfort. Depending on the building, we might be able to shut down even earlier while maintaining temperature and air quality.

Sustainable landscape design

Shape a stunning first impression

Native plants are fundamental to sustainable landscapes, as they tend to naturally resist insects and infections and fungus.

A sustainable campus landscape begins with design. Our best practice is to create a campus master landscape plan that considers the natural features of your campus, how it looks today and how it might look in the future. The goal is to create an attractive landscape requiring minimal inputs of water, fertilizers, pesticides, labor and building materials. Native plants are fundamental to sustainable landscapes, as they tend to naturally resist insects and infections and fungus. Also important, they can withstand local weather conditions such as extreme heat, cold or drought. When it comes to sustainable grounds management, we look to augment strategies you currently use on your campus. Our best practices include harvesting rainwater, using organic pesticides and mulches, converting garden waste into compost, and much more. These practices can help protect the environment and often reduce costs, while contributing to an attractive and appealing campus environment.

Conservation buffers

We create conservation buffers as another best practice for improving water quality and preserving animal habitats. Commonly seen on farmland, a conservation buffer is a strip of vegetation alongside a stream or wetland that protects air, soil and water quality, and keeps water and dirt from spreading to unwanted places. On a college or university campus, buffer strips can provide relaxing views and be incorporated into educational programs.

Recycling and waste management

Surprising strategies for repurposing and reuse

Your university may have already have implemented a campus recycling program for paper, plastic, cans and bottles. We can help you expand your program to include a broader range of products and materials. Below are our recommended add-ons to traditional campus recycling.


To increase student participation in recycling, hundreds of colleges and universities participate in the annual RecycleMania competition. Over a period of eight to ten weeks, institutions compete to see how much their students, faculty and staff can recycle. The competition provides valuable benchmarking information to help participants improve their recycling practices.

Miscellaneous programs

More ways to reduce waste and improve your campus

Trayless dining

Often, students’ eyes are bigger than their stomachs, and that leads to wasted food and wasted resources used for washing. We recommend that you take away the cafeteria tray to help students conserve— and that means less waste of food and the resources used to clean trays and dishes.

Bottle fill stations

Many campuses have banned plastic water bottles, sometimes even providing students with long-lasting personal bottles, and installing bottle-filling stations that help reduce waste. Bottle fill stations are popular among students, who often are happy to use their own water bottles instead of purchasing bottled water. Automated fill stations are hands-free, providing a sanitary water source.

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