University plan could help town go greener
Published 7:48 pm, Wednesday, December 28, 2016
FAIRFIELD — Fairfield University recently made its first plan to become a more sustainable campus.
The university announced its finalized campus sustainability plan this fall after an endorsement from the school’s president. The plan was five years in the making, said Jim Biardi, Director of Environmental Studies and professor at the university who was among those that crafted the plan.
“We are responsible citizens,” Biardi said. “That’s really important to Fairfield’s mission as a Jesuit and Catholic institution. We are really focused on service to the community, service to others.”
He added service to the environment has become more and more relevant to the university’s mission in recent years.
Fairfield Clean Energy Task Force Chair Scott Thompson, currently leading the town’s effort to create a sustainability plan of its own, said a primary component of promoting sustainability is increasing awareness.
“It’s really great that Fairfield U. is setting that example and being a leader in sustainability,” he said. “And as great as that is, it’s something that you probably also tend to expect of a university of Fairfield U.’s caliber. It’s great they’re doing what they should be doing.”
Among sustainability efforts enacted while creating the plan, Fairfield introduced a Combined Heat and Power — “co-generation” — facility that uses a natural gas generator system to power campus electricity, as well as heat and cool some buildings with the waste heat. Energy efficient and sustainable, the system also creates cost savings.
Biardi also highlighted an environmental studies major, introduced last fall, and initiatives in the plan to improve recycling and waste management, divert as much waste as possible to recycling and generate less waste as a campus.
Some of the sustainable measures directly impact the neighboring town community. The university has goals for its landscaping to utilize more plants, flowers and greenery native to the local Connecticut environment, Biardi said.
Avoiding pesticide use is also among recommendations, which would help lessen chemical residue and excess nitrogen and phosphorous in the local area, he said. Pesticide use impacts the Long Island Sound and can cause summertime algae blooms, Biardi added.
Thompson said reducing pesticide use also reduces local pollution and run-off and that he would welcome the university reducing its reliance on such chemicals.
“Everything ends up in the Long Island Sound, and we exacerbate the ecosystem struggles when we continue to add those pollutants and chemicals,” he said.
Other efforts also impact the town community. University spending on environmentally-friendly projects helps stimulate the green economy, in turn generating opportunities for green businesses that are then available to smaller purchasers — local businesses or the town itself, Thompson said.
The efforts have been nearly a decade coming.
Fairfield University’s President, the Rev. Jeffrey von Arx, signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment in 2007, pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions alongside hundreds of institutions. His next step was a Campus Sustainability Committee of faculty, students and administrators to plan for emission reductions and sustainability initiatives.
Work on the campus sustainability plan began in 2010, Biardi said, but as focus shifted to the university’s campus-wide strategic planning, “Fairfield 2020,” the plan’s progress momentarily stalled. The plan was finalized last spring before its official launch this fall.
Biardi said the plan both communicates the importance of sustainability and is helping enlighten community members on opportunities for the campus to both increase its green efforts and save money over time.
“Having this document is a great way to organize all of those ideas and goals, and have a central reference document that anybody at the university can go to and try to make those improvements work,” he said.
The town’s sustainability plan has been in the works for three months and efforts are ongoing. The town committee aims to begin rolling out elements of the plan early next spring.
Thompson said the plan will be a broad effort, focusing on town facilities first and foremost, but also offering recommendations for residents, local businesses and non-business institutions, such as universities, to create an overall vision for sustainability in Fairfield.
“Really the focus is on the town leading by example but giving guidance to our residents and to our businesses,” he said.