University of Wisconsin River Falls Campus-wide Environmental Audit
Today, universities are the leaders in teaching environmentally responsible ethics and practices. However, few universities have applied their teachings to their own actions and have aggressively implemented environmentally ethical policies and procedures. Conducting a campus environmental audit is the first step toward increasing awareness and teaching the campus community about environmental responsibility and how it can shape a campus into a sustainable, resource-conserving, highly desired and cost-effective community. During the fall of 1999, the University of Wisconsin River Falls (UW-RF) took a giant leap toward becoming environmentally sustainable - it was the first campus in the UW System to undergo a campus environmental audit.
With knowledge about the way the campus uses resources, I anticipate many possibilities for the future. I envision widespread use of alternative energy sources and a reduction in energy and water consumption. Other universities are beginning to realize the benefits of incorporating energy-reduction measures and recycling practices. In addition to helping increase awareness, an environmental audit serves as a valuable managerial tool that can help analyze programs and outline opportunities for improvement. When used as a management tool, the audit provides critical planning information that can be used by individual departments or by a larger team of people.
When conducting an environmental audit, one of the first challenges is the essential, yet painstaking, step of unearthing background information and compiling basic usage data. To start, I decided to audit UW-RF using the Campus Environmental Audit Response, (Campus Ecology; Smith, 1993). The Campus Environmental Audit Response is a questionnaire that asks basic questions about the University's various systems and their past and present environmental state. By tweaking the Campus Environmental Audit Response questionnaire for this campus, I was able to gather useful data and focus on specific systems. This form, which I call the University of Wisconsin River Falls Campus Environmental Audit Questionnaire (CEAQ), serves as a roadmap of the various systems at the University, including energy, water and solid waste, thereby providing a benchmark for future environmental audits. The purpose of this audit is to be long-lasting and continually updated, so future CEAQs will be completed by the ESM 220 class in the Plant and Earth Science Department at UW-River Falls. The ability to continually update the environmental audit is the single most important element to achieve its ultimate objective: act as an environmental report card for UW-RF. Those who wish to present alternative ideas or comments for implementing changes to current campus practices, policies and systems can also use this information for years to come. Positive change, based upon the data collected in the CEAQ, will keep UW-RF on an environmentally sustainable path.
By providing historical data on solid waste generation, and electricity and water consumption, I eliminated the most difficult groundwork for future environmental audits. By providing campus and community contacts, making recommendations for future audits, and providing various resource usage charts and enrollment statistics, there will be a functional campus audit template in place for future students, faculty, and staff to work from.
Due to the scope of the project, the data collection process was multifaceted. During the project's initial organization stages, I chose which campus systems I wanted to explore: recycling/solid waste, electricity and water. Here is a short summary of the three systems I selected:
To obtain this information, I created an investigative plan and sought answers to the following questions:
The bulk of the information was obtained through personal interviews with the appropriate campus and community contacts. My initial contact was Manville Kenney, UW-River Falls Ground Operations Supervisor. He then directed me to Tim Thum, campus engineer, Richard Kathan, registrar's office, and Carl Gaulke, River Falls Municipal Utilities, who specialize in each of the campus systems. I acknowledge those who assisted me at the top of each relevant section of the CEAQ and at the bottom of the charts in which they provided information.
Recommendations for Future Audits
From gathering information for UW-RF's first audit, I have gained insight about what information will be beneficial to gather when conducting future audits.
This is just a short list of some audits that could be done on campus. There is no such thing as an insignificant audit. If auditors can find merit in what it is they are looking at auditing, then it should be respected. I encourage anyone who has an interest in auditing any part of the UW-RF's campus to e-mail Kelly Cain to see how you can help.
To conduct the audit, I analyzed data from the past four years. From this, I have gained some valuable insight.
This is just a few of the trends one can find when looking at the data from audits of the respective systems. No matter what the system being audited, you cannot dismiss the importance of data to show what is happening. This data is valuable as a decision-making tool for campus facilitators and should aid them when deciding which campus systems deserve updating.
When I first began to work on this project, I only had a listing of questions from Web sites and Campus Ecology to use as a guide for obtaining information. The methodology to be used was specific to each school I looked at and had to be revised for UW-River Falls as I went along.
Recognizing that I would be approaching a large number of people who would undoubtedly be busy already, I was somewhat skeptical as to how successful I would be at getting everything I needed. Much to my surprise, my requests were almost always met with as much enthusiasm about the project as I tried to have, and the information was made readily available. The support shown by Manville Kenney and Tim Thum of Campus Engineering and Carl Gaulke of River Falls Municipal Utilities was tremendous.
Once I had all of the information, I had to decide what the most effective method of presentation would be. I'll be disseminating the information by:
Creating an effective environmental database does not end with the collection of basic information about various systems found within the University environment. Rather, the CEAQ has set benchmarks in the compilation of this kind of data at UW-River Falls. In doing so, I hope it will foster the development of new ideas for further research. In collecting data, it became evident that some areas of the study had the potential for much more in-depth study, so much so that they easily presented themselves as possible project ideas on their own. By creating this document, I hope others will look at what I have produced and not only gather information from it, but also recognize the opportunity to take ideas and apply them. I hope others will be inspired to create a much more substantial information base in a given area, which may be added to this document to enhance its abilities as an effective management tool. Those efforts will guide UW-RF toward becoming a sustainable, resourceful and pleasant campus community, and they will present the opportunity for the campus to set a standard for other universities in the UW System and nationwide.
Smith, A. April and the Student Environmental Action Coalition. Campus Ecology, 1993.
Kenney, Manville. Personal Interview. 10/15/99.
Thum, Tim. Personal Interview. 10/15/99.
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