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WKU recognized as state’s first university-level Green Ribbon Schools nominee

WKU has been recognized as Kentucky’s first university-level nominee for the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools award.

“When the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education invited proposals for the Green Ribbon Schools award, we were thrilled,” WKU Sustainability Coordinator Christian Ryan said. “Colleges and universities are recognized for sustainability efforts in a few different ways, for example in the Princeton Review’s Guide to Green Colleges and the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability’s STARS program, but national recognition by the U.S. Department of Education is pretty great, and we love that higher education now gets to participate.”

WKU was recognized April 9 in Frankfort as Kentucky’s first university-level nominee for the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools award. From left: Bob King, CPE president; Alex Hezik, WKU sustainable agriculture major and member of WKU Climate Action Committee; Christian Ryan, WKU Sustainability coordinator; Jane Beshear, Kentucky first lady; Beth McGrew, WKU graduate student in Social Responsibility and Sustainable Communities program and student director of Project Grow community garden; Elizabeth Schmitz, Kentucky Environmental Education Council executive director; Len Peters, Energy and Environment Cabinet secretary.

WKU was recognized April 9 in Frankfort as Kentucky’s first university-level nominee for the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools award. From left: Bob King, CPE president; Alex Hezik, WKU sustainable agriculture major and member of WKU Climate Action Committee; Christian Ryan, WKU Sustainability coordinator; Jane Beshear, Kentucky first lady; Beth McGrew, WKU graduate student in Social Responsibility and Sustainable Communities program and student director of Project Grow community garden; Elizabeth Schmitz, Kentucky Environmental Education Council executive director; Len Peters, Energy and Environment Cabinet secretary.

The U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools award honors public and private elementary, middle and high schools, districts and postsecondary institutions that are exemplary in three Pillars: Reduced Environmental Impacts and Costs; Improved Health and Wellness; and Effective Environmental and Sustainability Education.

“We are proud to be Kentucky’s first Green Ribbon university nominee,” WKU President Gary Ransdell said. “We take sustainability and conservation seriously at WKU. Whether it is reduced energy or clean energy use, recycling, protecting our precious campus tree canopy, eating local fresh food, or rain water collection, we are all in when it comes to thoughtful use of our natural resources and reducing our carbon footprint. Our students learn sustainable behavior by what they observe us doing across campus every day, and they take those lessons to the communities in which they work as WKU alumni.”

WKU was recognized as the state’s Green Ribbon Schools nominee Thursday (April 9) in Frankfort. The national winners will be announced on Earth Day, April 22. This is the first year the program has been open to higher education institutions.

“For WKU to be the inaugural Kentucky nominated institution is really exciting,” Ryan said, “but we could not have earned the nomination if not for a passionate community of students, faculty and staff that are committed to making WKU a more sustainable campus in many ways.”

As noted in its award application, “WKU seeks to walk the walk, demonstrating sustainability best practices in the operations and services of our university.”

Among the highlights of sustainability, wellness and environmental education at WKU:

  • The Office of Sustainability was created and a Sustainability Coordinator hired in 2008.
  • Since 2008, conservation and efficiency initiatives have reduced WKU’s energy use by 25 percent.
  • In 2014, 15 tons of food waste from WKU dining halls was composted.
  • WKU has been a Tree Campus USA since 2010; in 2015, WKU’s main campus was recognized as a certified arboretum.
  • In 2009, WKU made a commitment to building to LEED standards and has three LEED-certified buildings with two others pending.
  • WKU has been included in the Princeton Review’s Guide to Green Colleges every year since 2009.
  • WKU’s Wellness program also has evolved into a highly visible, proactive model that promotes healthy and sustainable practices. In 2014, the National Safety Council accredited WKU as a Safe Community, only the fourth university and 25th community in the nation to receive the recognition.
  • WKU’s campus is a “living laboratory” for students. For example, students assist in the completion our biannual greenhouse gas emissions inventory. Honors Thesis/Capstone Projects have focused on feasibility of rainwater collection on campus and the transformation of the Office of Sustainability as a best practice demonstration home.
  • WKU has developed community partnerships, particularly with the Community Farmers Market and a Mobile Market, in effort to improve food access.
  • Sustainability has been integrated into disciplines across departments and colleges.

“We had far more to share for each pillar than we could fit in the 15-page limit proposal,” Ryan said.

WKU’s state-level recognition was celebrated during the 2015 Earth Day Celebration in the Brown-Forman Room and Cralle-Day Garden at the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History in downtown Frankfort.

Earth Day activities are planned for all through the month of April on the WKU main campus. For information, visit http://www.wku.edu/sustainability/earthday2015.php, follow the Office of Sustainability on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/WKUsustainability, or contact the WKU Office of Sustainability at (270) 745-2508.

Contact: Christian Ryan, (270) 745-2508

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