Traditional hotbeds of activism, universities are increasingly incorporating a commitment to the environment into classrooms and campuses.
Consider the organic salad bar at the University of California, Berkeley. Or a small school in Maine with only one major — human ecology.
Both are among 602 colleges nationally whose presidents have committed to neutralize greenhouse gas emissions through the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment.
Zooming in, the list includes the University of Florida, which recycles at every home football game, and the University of South Florida, with a guest fall lecture series on ways to make an environmental difference.
Administrators at the University of Tampa are reviewing their commitment. In October, UT hosted the Earth Charter Climate Change Community Summit and has initiated campus-wide conservation efforts.
"I'm in awe as to how this has escalated," said Linda Devine, vice president for UT operations and planning, which recently added "increasing students' awareness of the needs for a healthy and sustainable environment" to UT's value statements.
On the 100-acre campus along the Hillsborough River, administrators added organic and natural foods, including locally grown produce, to campus menu options.
Last spring they put up campuswide collection bins for paper recycling. Official stationary is from recycled stock, and some publications, like the faculty/staff newsletter and dining surveys, are now solely electronic.
New campus constructions are equipped with low-flow toilets, shower heads and faucets.
And high-tech computer-monitored systems adjust temperatures and turn off lights when people leave.
Universities are increasingly being graded on "greenness" by publications such as the Kaplan College Guide, which focused its 2009 issue on environmental responsibility.
In August, the Princeton Review rated 534 schools on a scale from 60 to 99 by environmentally related policies, practices and academic offerings. The University of Florida scored a 97, although the University of South Florida scored only 60. Also, in the magazine's survey of college applicants last school year 63 percent said a college's environmental commitment could influence their decision to go there.
"What's exciting for me personally is watching a new generation of students and staff engaging us globally with the environment," Devine said.
Faculty and students realize that some efforts to be more green-friendly may not fit into tight university budgets. But incorporating sustainability on campus is always a balance of efficiency and effectiveness, Devine said.
"We recognize we don't operate in a vacuum. Our students, faculty and staff wrap around the globe," she said. "We all want to do things that make good business sense."
Last summer at UT, a team of business graduate students worked with Daniel Verreault, an associate professor of accounting, to learn how to incorporate that balance of cost-effective practices in bay area businesses, while making efforts to be socially, economically and environmentally responsible.
The grad students met to design criteria, which focused on people, profits and the planet. They found companies connecting with their local communities, converting to solar power and educating people about ways to be environmentally responsible.
At the Earth Charter summit in October, 15 Tampa area businesses — picked by the grad students — were recognized and the Earth Charter Sustainable Business Coalition was launched. The coalition, made up of top executives and corporate officers, will help to shape Tampa Bay's sustainable economy.
"I think a lot of companies are taking sustainability seriously now," said Christine Goodwin, who is pursuing a master's in marketing at UT.
The experience affected her personally. Besides learning how businesses can protect the environment while also looking at the bottom line, she is more conscious of the materials she uses and recycles. For instance, she now uses biodegradable, flushable bags to dispose of her dog's waste.
"We should educate people on ways to be sustainable," Verreault said. "It's something I definitely want to leave to our children and grandchildren.
"Shouldn't everybody want to do this?"
Times Researcher Will Gorham contributed to this story. Elisabeth Parker can be reached at [email protected] or (813)226-3321.