Creating a More Sustainable Campus

By Lisa C. Bailey and Matt Windsor

Illustrations by Tim Rocks

For senior math major Joseph Olson, green isn’t just a school color; it’s a lifestyle—and another way to show support for UAB. As a freshman, he joined the student-led UAB Green Initiative, and with his sister, Kristin—then a UAB sophomore—he orchestrated a recycling effort for the residents at Blazer Hall. “Our recycling containers would fill up every 24 hours, and we would take them to the Birmingham recycling center until we got the Campus Recycling Center in 2009,” Olson says.

Later, as president of the initiative, Olson applied for and won a grant from an organization named Do Something to start a recycling program at Glen Iris Elementary School, just blocks from UAB’s campus. “One of us goes over every Friday and collects the material and brings it to UAB Recycling,” Olson says. That penchant for environmental action earned Olson a spot as a student representative on the UAB Sustainability Committee, which formed in 2011. The committee brings together students, staff, and faculty to brainstorm ways to reduce energy use and promote earth-friendly changes across campus.

Story continues after video

Watch UAB students create a new green roof at the Hill University Center in this time-lapse video, and read more about the project in this article from the UAB Reporter.

Leading the team behind these efforts is David Hagan, who joined UAB three years ago as environmental affairs director. Hagan works with Brooks Baker, associate vice president of facilities, and Mark Goska, executive director of quality and compliance and a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)–certified architect, to help drive sustainable changes at the university.

“Promoting sustainability fits UAB’s mission of educating and preparing young people for the working world,” Hagan says. “They’re going to deal with these issues when they get a job, so it behooves us as an institution to set a good example.”

Many of UAB’s current sustainability efforts revolve around improving energy efficiency for existing buildings and ensuring that new construction meets LEED certification standards. But Hagan notes that creative minds like Olson are making their own contributions all over campus. Learn more below.

{slide=Waste Not}

recycle1UAB’s Campus Recycling Center collects nearly one million pounds of recyclable material each year. From October 2010 through September 2011, the facility’s paper recycling efforts alone saved the equivalent of nearly 7,500 trees and 167,472 gallons of oil.


{slide=Up on the Roof}

recycle4Roofs are generally the least interesting aspect of any building. That’s not the case at UAB, where facilities around campus are playing host to “green roofs”—vegetation-covered upper decks designed to keep buildings cooler in summer and warmer in winter. An interdisciplinary group from the School of Engineering, Department of Biology, and UAB Facilities is using the roofs of the Hulsey Center, Chemistry Building, and Campbell Hall, among others, to test the effectiveness of different types of soil and vegetation.


{slide=Building a Sustainable Future}

recycle3Several new programs at UAB’s School of Engineering will help prepare students to meet the growing demand for sustainable engineering expertise, including an undergraduate concentration and master’s track in sustainable engineering design and construction, as well as a certificate in sustainable engineering for professionals in the field. Meanwhile, UAB’s new Sustainable Smart Cities Research Center will primarily focus on green infrastructure design and transportation solutions, economic development, and health and livability issues.


{slide=Clean Power}

recycle2UAB relies on steam for several important processes, including sterilizing instruments in its hospitals and labs. Today a new, UAB-owned steam plant is under construction on the edge of campus, along with four miles of pipes connecting the plant to facilities in an eight-square-block area. A condensate-return system will return water from 20 buildings to the plant for reuse, reducing generation costs by 20 percent.


{slide=Recycling with Care}

recycle6The Go Green project at UAB Hospital is recycling blood-pressure cuffs, pulse-oximeter probes, and other previously disposable supplies through an outside company. UAB Hospital opened its own recycling center in Jefferson Tower in 2010 as a complement to the main campus recycling center. Staff at multiple hospital facilities are now recycling cardboard, cell phones, and ink cartridges.


{slide=Off the Grid}

recycle5The two newest vehicles in the UAB Facilities transportation fleet are true green machines. The golf cart-size vehicles are street legal; with a fully charged battery, they can cruise for 35 miles at up to 26 miles per hour. The total cost per use is two cents/mile, or the equivalent of paying four cents/gallon for a typical gas-powered car.


{slide=Green to Go}

recycle6Students, faculty, and staff getting their food to go at campus dining facilities can reduce waste with the new Eco-Ware reusable containers. For $7, diners can purchase one of the sturdy green containers from one of three campus restaurants, and then exchange the used container for a new one at their next meal.


Learn more about sustainability efforts at UAB here.