GVSU commits to sustainability


The Seidman Center at GVSU's Pew campus in downtown Grand Rapids is LEED Gold certified. Courtesy GVSU

Grand Valley State University has slowly introduced a university-wide commitment to the “triple bottom line.”

GVSU regularly is recognized by The Princeton Review as one of the top sustainable colleges in the United States — Aquinas regularly makes this list, as well. The school also has been recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Sustainable Endowment Institute and U.S. Green Building Council for its campus-wide sustainability efforts.

Although there’s no dedicated major, sustainability courses and practices have trickled down throughout the university’s eight colleges.

“It’s all about the integration of sustainable best practices across campus,” said Norman Christopher, executive director of GVSU’s Sustainable Community Development Initiative. “It’s in our education as well as decision-making on projects. It’s continuing to develop best practices, and what drives us is the student interest.”

Christopher said the distinction is rooted in the fact that students look for sustainable factors no matter what field they go into. Although the university is fully behind the sustainable efforts, each college is on its own to develop ways to implement sustainability into the curriculums.

Because of the university’s approach, each college is offering more classes that focus on a sustainability aspect and can be applied to the degree.

“It’s been the individual colleges and how they addressed it with the faculty,” Christopher said. “Rather than having a specific degree, one can obtain an emphasis or certificate.

“When you do an emphasis or certificate, you really take a look at the electives you normally provide and package them. That’s the key to success for us.”

Christopher noted the general liberal arts package with an emphasis on sustainability and a Master’s in Business Administration with an emphasis in sustainability as two primary examples of the programs that have been modified.

Environmental studies also have increased at Grand Valley, including a natural resources management major and minor, and a certificate in green chemistry. Christopher said his background is in chemistry, but green chemistry is a whole different ballgame than his traditional education.

“I’d have to go back to the drawing board,” he said, noting Grand Valley is one of the few colleges in the country to offer the course.

He said major chemical companies and organizations such as Dow Chemical, DuPont and the American Chemical Society have begun to tout the advantages to green practices in chemicals, as well.

The Master’s of Public Administration offers a certificate in sustainability. The College of Education also has integrated sustainability into its seven key issue areas. The College of Engineering offers renewable energy and product development.

Courses, certificates and emphases are always being looked at, Christopher said.

“Proliferation of courses and more certificates keep us up to date,” he said. “This is a much different model. It’s the opportunity to engage on campus and in the community.”

The sustainability of Grand Valley doesn’t stop in the classroom. There are grants, scholarships and internship pairings in sustainability for students. Educational resources are provided to help educate faculty and students about how to reduce energy and food waste, and there is a large campus-wide recycling program.

On GVSU’s website, there’s a pledge students are encouraged to commit to on the Sustainable Community Development Initiative page: “I pledge to use the knowledge and experience I gain at GVSU and beyond to take into account the economic, social and environmental consequences of my decisions. Furthermore, I pledge to make every effort to reduce my ecological footprint and to improve the sustainability of the communities in which I live, learn, work and play."

That’s the triple bottom line, and Christopher said the university does its best to commit to a sustainable lifestyle.

“GVSU has said sustainability is one of its major values,” he said. “When it’s a value, it applies across all of campus operations and education. It has to be one that is culturally adapted.”

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