BIG, the acronym for "Brown is Green," accurately describes
Brown University's campus-wide effort to reduce its environmental
impact. The Providence, Rhode Island university, whose more that
6,500 students, 2,900 employees, 86 office buildings, and 41 dormitories
produce more than 3,000 tons of solid waste a year, had the potential
to affect the environment as much as many medium-sized towns.
Yet, the commitment and sustained efforts of the many students,
faculty and administrators involved with BIG continue to diminish
that impact in all aspects of the university's operations. In
keeping with the principles of the Talloires Declaration, BIG
is setting an example of environmental responsibility by establishing
institutional ecology policies and practices of resource conservation,
recycling, waste reduction, and environmentally sound operations.
Brown is Green began five years ago out of concern over rising
energy costs, low participation in the campus recycling program,
and other wasteful campus behavior. Student projects has begun
to identify resource-saving ideas, yet there was no formal and
unified process to test and utilize these ideas. BIG sprang from
the Center for Environmental Studies' desire to work in two areas-energy
conservation and solid waste management. In January 1991, Brown
President Vartan Gregorian appointed the Brown is Green committee
to advise and encourage implementation. The committee developed
seven principles to guide the university's projects and future
The Seven BIG Principles
- The University should, within limits of capital availability,
invest in any resource conservation project that has an expected
return on investment (ROI) greater that the current borrowing
- For all renovation and new construction projects:
a. The choice of architects, engineers, and consultants should
be based in part upon their demonstrated expertise in resource
b. Architects and engineers shall submit a detailed life cycle
cost analysis of resource conservation options for each project,
and shall certify that all options that satisfy the RIO policy
(#1 above) have been analyzed.
c. Engineering proposals prior to construction and change orders
during construction will be reviewed for impact on the efficiency
of any plumbing, electrical or HVAC system.
- Purchasing choices of items with significant resource impact
should favor resource-efficiency except when special need is
- Decision-makers should be made aware of and consider the
economic and environmental costs of their decisions.
- Conserving energy in University buildings should be a priority,
with the following goals:
a. Whenever possible, heating systems should be upgraded to
- more uniform system control (i.e. adding more zones)
and increased occupant control over room temperature during
non-setback hours of operation
- lighting systems should provide illumination as efficiently
as possible. Unnecessary illumination (e.g. when areas
are unoccupied; lit with adequate daylight) should be
eliminated wherever feasible.
- Improving resource efficiency in University communications
should be a priority.
- Resource efficiency and environmental considerations should
be incorporated in student orientation and employee training.
The success of early programs led to an offer by the vice president
of finance to fund a graduate student to coordinate the program.
The program is currently headed by Kurt Teichert, who came to
Brown as environmental coordinator in 1992. In addition to coordinating
BIG, Teichert also teaches an undergraduate environmental studies
course and supervises student environmental research projects.
Brown implements its seven principles by linking student initiatives
with administrative offices and campus operations. Student projects
come out of one of two environmental courses; "Environmental
Studies," and "The Efficient Use of Natural Resources."
Students choose an issue on campus, research it, and then work
with plant operations, university administrators, and faculty
members to produce a final report. Projects have included reducing
vehicle miles traveled by Brown faculty, increasing bike accessibility,
reducing the use of paper and electricity in connection with Brown
printing, documenting the savings from low-flow showerheads, and
reducing the number of intra-campus mailings.
Many of these projects have ascended from surveys to implementation.
On others, the implementation has proven more challenging, but
campus awareness had been raised. Xena Huff, a Brown graduate
student who has worked extensively on transportation issues, stresses
the importance of projects continuing beyond a particular student's
stay at Brown. "Actions should be designed for the long term
by including in the design a method of handing the project on
from one group to another, from one class to another," Huff
says. In one successful example, three student projects involving
low-maintenance landscaping completed in 1991 led to the creation
of three internships with university grounds crew.
Other projects have even greater longevity. In 1984, students
from a course on efficient use of natural resources applied for
a special-interest house and received West House, a wood framed
building. All West House residents take Teichert's course, and
they have applied what they learn. Thermostat covers have been
removed, the electric dryer has been abandoned, the house has
been weatherized, toilet dams and low-flow showerheads have been
installed, all amounting to thousands of dollars in savings, half
of which has been put back into the house for further environmental
enhancements. In addition to cost savings, West House can boast
a consistent 40 percent reduction in its gas, electricity, and
Students were the main planning and implementation force in the
early stages of Brown's recycling program. The Rhode Island Department
of Environmental Management supplied some initial funding because
it was interested in using Brown as a pilot for developing recycling
policies for the state. Recycling at Brown begins in the dorm
room and extends throughout campus operations. It has had a significant
impact. Last year, Brown recycled 39 percent of the 3,230 tons
of solid waste it produced.
Each dorm room is provided with a container to collect recyclables,
newspaper, white paper, mixed office paper, corrugated cardboard,
glass bottles, and limited types of plastic bottles. Individual
buckets are separated into larger bins at centralized locations.
The larger bins are lined with clear plastic bags so recyclables
can be seen easily. The separated bags are placed outside by custodians
twice a week and are picked up by a contracted waste hauler. In
addition, each semester, dorms run collections for reusable clothing
and other durable goods. A student group distributes these goods
to community organizations throughout Providence.
The same system of recycling extends to the campus's office buildings,
libraries, labs, and copy centers. Each building has a volunteer
recycling coordinator, and student interns monitor the program
in coordination with the plant operations custodial staff. The
interns check on campus buildings, research potential, source-reducing
alternatives, and manage a database of recycled and landfilled
On a campus of more than 10,000 potential recyclers, which experiences
an influx of new students each year, organizers say publicity
and information are vital components in the program's success.
All new students receive information on what and how to recycle,
and information sessions are conducted in all first-year dorms.
Electronic bulletin boards, posters, and periodic advertisements
in the school papers encourage participation, and marked containers
located in centralized areas make it convenient.
Brown's Food Services also plays an active role in reducing its
solid waste. Its job extends beyond recycling food packaging,
corrugated cardboard, office paper, and mixed recyclables to encouraging
source reduction and "recycling" food waste. Reusable
mugs are sold and students receive a discount on beverages when
they use the mug. An awareness program tries to reduce the use
of other disposable items, especially napkins. Family-sized cereal
boxes have been replaced with bulk bins of cereal. Food garbage
is collected in 55-gallon drums and hauled away by a local pig
farmer. All programs were initiated by students and implemented
in conjunction with Teichert and the associate food service director.
Program coordinator Anne Lawrence explains that beginning to
recycle was a challenge. "Recycling was difficult to implement,
because our labor force is extremely large, including some temporary
labor-whereby we deal with new faces on an almost-daily basis-and
diverse," Lawrence says. "Occasionally, we encounter
language barriers which makes communication difficult to get our
stable full-time workforce to learn new habits."
After training sessions and multi-lingual labels and instructions
were introduced, most of the staff adjusted to the new recycling
system. The results are impressive. Last year, the amount of food
waste being segregated increased from 275 tons to 712 tons.
The replacement showerheads and exit sign lighting were two projects
with calculable economic paybacks. The showerheads were replaced
following the recommendation of a student BIG project. The cost
to retrofit 750 showerheads was $11,368 but the avoided cost per
year was $26,066 due to decreased water consumption. Although
problems were encountered in the installation due to aged mixing
valves, payback for the project occurred in less than six months,
and students haven't complained about the change in water pressure.
Several years ago 1,500 conventional exit sign bulbs were replaced
with lower wattage, longer lasting Eternalamps. Because exit signs
burn 24 hours a day, the change in bulbs significantly reduced
the total kilowatt-hours consumed and the maintenance hours required.
The old bulbs lasted only 2,000 hours, the new bulbs are guaranteed
to last 5 years-480,000 hours.
Although students were not directly involved in the design and
construction of Brown's new Undergraduate Sciences Teaching Building,
it has been a learning experience. The project presented BIG with
a green opportunity to design a building to be a model by environmental
standards, "The process of environmentally responsible design
is the critical component of a green building," explains
The process began with setting forth the criteria for a green
building, which included considerations of energy efficiency,
conservation of resources, occupant health and productivity, transportation
efficiency, and potential impacts on the surrounding air, land
and water. Lead architects Koetter, Kim and Associates then took
into account available daylight, heat recovery, the recycling
of demolition and construction wastes, and the full costs and
impacts of each piece of equipment purchased. The firm is a member
of the American Institute of Architects Committee on the Environment,
and Brown is a member of the United States Green Building Council
(USGBC), which provided access to guidelines, specifications and
As a 9,400-person institution, Brown has advantages in the business
of recycling and purchasing. "The advantage of size is that
we are more attractive to vendors, consultants, and designers
when they bid on any one job or product, because they know that
they may be able to do a considerable amount of business,"
Teichert says. "Not only does an account with Brown bring
large volume, it also becomes a high-profile client and reference
for the vendor. Brown's reputation for environmental programs
puts us in an advantageous position with firms looking to increase
their profile in 'environmental services.'"
There are also disadvantages to size. The decentralization involved
in the many levels of bureaucracy makes decisions harder to implement.
For example, monitoring the flows of toner cartridge on campus
became difficult without a central purchasing authority. Environmental
audits are also difficult on such a large scale because by the
time the students gather information, much of it is dated.
Brown is still compared to many large state universities. It
does not have a recycling and waste manager. Currently, the tasks
are divided among staff and students, which is less efficient
than having a specialist concentrating specifically on waste management.
Yet the need for dedicated student involvement is also an advantage,
and Brown serves as a real environmental model for a new force
of environmental citizens.
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