UGA taking huge strides to make the campus more sustainable.
Consistently cited as a reason the University of Georgia is a top educational destination, the natural beauty of UGA’s main campus rivals peer and aspirational institutions across the country and stands shoulder-to-shoulder with any institution in the world.
As a land- and sea-grant university, our campus is an example to others in reducing its environmental footprint to the greatest extent possible. This includes efforts to significantly reduce energy and water use, improve air and water quality, provide sustainable food and transportation options, purchase environmentally responsible products and equipment, minimize waste and increase recycling.
These initiatives are implemented to conserve and protect natural resources on our campus.
Town Spring restoration
Historic Town Spring is the original drinking water source for UGA and Athens. John Milledge described a “copious spring of excellent water” in his letter to the original search committee responsible for finding a site for the university.
A collaborative vision for its restoration was developed by the Office of University Architects, Facilities Management Division, College of Environment & Design and Odum School of Ecology. Phase one of the design and construction was completed in-house by the Facilities Management Division’s Grounds Department in 2008. Grounds staff removed invasive plant material; exposed the original bedrock and restored the soil; planted native wetland plant species; and celebrated the site’s cultural heritage as an important rail corridor by installing a historic rail truck on the existing rail line, which is mostly obscured by flourishing plants.
Longer-term plans include daylighting more of the spring from its source under the Central Duplicating Building to its confluence with the North Oconee River, near the School of Social Work building, which was previously O’Malley’s and originally Easley’s Mill.
Rain gardens on campus
UGA has installed over 70 rain gardens throughout the main campus to improve water quality on campus and in downstream waterways. Rain gardens (or bioretention areas) are engineered depressions in the landscape designed to collect and infiltrate rainwater, causing it to be slowed and cleansed before it enters creeks and rivers. The plants, mulch, soil and micro-organisms help to capture and remove harmful pollutants such as oils and metals, keeping them out of our natural waterways.
There are 15 rain gardens along Lumpkin Street designed to treat 90 percent of rainfall in the project area, collectively creating the largest roadside water quality improvement project of its kind in the country when it was constructed. The project was a town-gown partnership using UGA property and expertise to filter storm water from the county-owned roadway. The project involved students and faculty from College of Environment & Design, College of Engineering, Odum School of Ecology and others as well as staff in the Office of University Architects, Facilities Management Division and Athens-Clarke County Transportation and Public Works.
The entire UGA campus is designated as a campus arboretum, signifying our commitment to preserving and enhancing land resources, cultural heritage and campus trees. The mission of the arboretum is to provide a biologically diverse and aesthetic collection of trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants in designed settings for the enjoyment and education of students, staff, faculty and visitors. Self-directed walking tours of the UGA Campus Arboretum are available at www.hort.uga.edu/research/arboretum/index.htm.
UGA has been designated as a Tree Campus USA for four consecutive years, recognition for the Grounds Department’s ongoing commitment to healthy campus tree management. Overall, there are more than 10,000 mapped campus trees, including hundreds of mature trees planted as part of the Select Sustainable Tree Trust program.
Campus stream cleanup and water sampling
UGA students, faculty and staff have been working for years to monitor and improve the health of campus streams and the Middle and North Oconee rivers. The Grounds Department manages an ongoing contract with Brown & Caldwell environmental consultants to conduct quarterly stream monitoring in over 15 locations in campus streams. Students and faculty in various disciplines from ecology and public health to landscape architecture, geography and engineering are sampling, modeling and designing for healthy stream systems on campus.
UGA students, faculty and staff participate in hands-on cleanup events as part of classes such as the environmental practicum taught by Laurie Fowler, and campus and community events such as River Rendezvous, Rivers Alive and the annual UGA Earth Week Middle Oconee River cleanup and kayak trip.
Watershed UGA is an initiative to engage every student through multiple disciplines at UGA in a transformative, experiential learning opportunity related to our campus watersheds.
Big Belly containers
The UGA Office of Sustainability has a simple goal of making it equally as easy to recycle on campus as it is to throw something away. Big Belly Solar compacting trash and recycling bins are a significant step in this direction.
Overall, UGA sends about 9.5 million pounds of waste to local landfills. Since Big Belly compactors were first installed on campus in September 2013, the recycling rate rose from less than 1 percent to over 40 percent in affected areas, and the staff time and cost to empty campus waste receptacles was reduced by 90 percent.
The solar panels atop the containers power a compactor to help more items fit inside each bin and also send text messages to collection staff to indicate when the bins are full. This targeted collection allows UGA staff to focus on other work and to service the Big Belly “landfill” and “mixed recyclables” bins only when needed.
Phase one of the Big Belly project installed 30 exterior waste reduction stations (co-located trash and recycling bins) on North Campus, Central Campus and high-use bus stops. Phase two—to be implemented in fall 2015—will install 40 more of these stations.
Native planting process
UGA is prioritizing the use of native plants in the campus landscape. Appropriately sited native plants require less inputs to grow and flourish, and they contribute to the enhanced sense of place that distinguishes UGA as one of the most beautiful college campuses in the U.S.
The FMD Grounds Department and the Office of University Architects are carefully planning and managing the campus landscape to create a healthy, beautiful and ecologically functional physical campus. In addition to using native plants in constructed landscapes such as the eco-revelatory designs at the Lamar Dodd School of Art, the campus is intentionally removing exotic invasive plants and rehabilitating riparian piedmont forests along Tanyard Branch on North and Central Campus and Lilly Branch on South Campus.
Coal fired boiler replacement
On March 24, UGA burned its last lump of coal on campus. The coal-fired boiler is being deconstructed this summer to make way for a new electrode boiler that will run more efficiently and save UGA more than $19 million over the next 30 years.
Elimination of the coal-fired boiler will minimize impacts on natural resources by decreasing emissions and improving air quality, enhancing human health through reduced particulates in the air, improving water quality through elimination of the coal stored on site in the steam plant watershed and decreasing burden on offsite landfills required for proper disposal of coal fly ash.
Surface parking lots to green space
The UGA physical master plan focuses on creating the optimal student environment and enhancing natural resources. Overall, UGA has converted approximately 60 acres of paved surfaces to ecologically functional and pedestrian green space.
The first master plan green space conversion project was the establishment of Herty Field in place of a then-prime parking lot on North Campus. Other notable asphalt-turned-green-space projects include D.W. Brooks Mall on South Campus; the Georgia Quad between the Tate Student Center, the Miller Learning Center and the UGA Memorial Garden; the oval lawn at the Special Collections Library; and the Performing and Visual Arts Complex on UGA’s East Campus.
Green space contributes to improved water and air quality, decreased heat island effect and enhanced habitat for local flora and fauna.
— Kevin Kirsche and Andrew Lentini, Office of Sustainability