Green by design 



Steps UAB takes toward sustainability

Whitney Sides
Blazer News Reporter

 As UAB continues to grow, the university strives to bring a culture of sustainability to campus. Now, UAB has highlighted energy and water reductions as some of the top priorities in the university’s five-year sustainability plan.  Introducing irrigation systems, the use of solar panels, tree mapping and gardens are some of the few things UAB has implemented to continue sustainability, President Ray Watts said.

“We want a green, sustainable, safe, campus environment so that our students, our faculty, our staff and the millions of patients a year feel like they are coming to work and study in a place that allows them to be as productive as possible,” Watts said. 

UAB is in the process of drilling their first well, near the Utilities Center, which will take water from natural sources and aquifers to use it for the university’s utilities and irrigation, Watts said. 

“As part of our campus master plan, we have been working very hard to make sure that our buildings are as energy efficient as possible and don’t waste energy,” Watts said. “We’ve taken down many older buildings. We’ve saved millions of dollars on utilities.” 

Watts said UAB hopes to use new sources of water, including wells, to decrease the use of drinking quality water for utility and industrial purposes. This also includes stormwater collection sites all over campus, such as the New Freshman Residence Hall already has. Birmingham’s largest solar panel is on top of the Recreation Center. The university has also planted over 4,000 trees on campus.  “Around the Green, we started intelligently landscaping, and its beautiful,” Watts said.

plants cmyk

“The crosswalk between the Green and Hill Student Center, how beautiful on both sides it is. That’s not by accident. That’s by design. We plant flowering trees”  

Michelle Reynolds, Natives Curator at Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve, said cities should be careful in the species of plants they utilize.  

“A big thing would be to get rid of, or minimize, high maintenance turn grasses,” Reynold said. “Things that are highly engineered. Doesn’t have to be that complicated. It can be simpler.” 

To maintain the grass around campus, UAB uses TruGreen herbicide products. The herbicide contains a dye, which is an indicator for the applicator to confirm they are applying the product to the intended target.


This lets pedestrians know where the product has been used, said Tim Sullivan, Campus Services and Grounds Manager. 

“UAB’s facilities and grounds are a reflection of the quality of the institution as a whole,” Sullivan said. “We take a minimalist approach to turf applications using products only three times a year. Controlling weeds prior to germination with a pre-emergence product is considered the most intelligent approach.” 

Reynolds said the use of herbicide may cause environmental harm, in some aspects. 

“One big reason for decline in native species is we use herbicides,” Reynolds said. “Birmingham is waging war on weeds. They don’t stop to consider that some weeds are native plants that are good for environment. When they poison to manage weeds, it takes away a valuable food source.” 

In addition to the herbicide, UAB uses shade to cast over areas where weeds occur, since it lowers the percentage of weed seed germination as well as keeping the soil moist and reducing irrigation costs, Sullivan said.

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