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Spelman and Maryland Eastern Shore lead the way as environmentally conscious HBCUs

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The University of Maryland Eastern Shore and Spelman College are at the forefront of sustainability at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). The two schools have been recognized by the Building Green Initiative as the most environmentally conscious HBCUs.

Each was rated No. 1 in its respective category: public and private institutions. They were first selected as top schools in 2014. Since then, they have not stopped fighting for the good of the environment.

The Building Green Initiative was established by the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) in 2010. It advances the environmental green efforts at HBCUs. Eleven HBCUs have included sustainability components in their master or strategic plans.

"We're working to advance sustainability at HBCUs in several key areas: buildings and infrastructure, curriculum, student engagement plus stewardship in the form of endowment," said Felicia Davis, the director of the Building Green Initiative. "We also work on issues like climate change, water and broadly environmental justice."

Davis said that the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) stands out for how it is prioritizing energy conservation, while Spelman stands out for its comprehensive action as a small college.

Other HBCUs are also making a concerted effort.

"Dillard University in New Orleans stands out for what they are doing in the climate change arena, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) stands out for what it's doing in the area of food, energy and water, and Howard University stands out for being a leader in a number of areas and have won the Home Depot sustainability competition for many years straight."

UMES earned its top spot because of its work in generating renewable energy on a large scale for the campus.

Bill Robinson, the director of public relations at UMES, said the school unveiled a 17-acre solar collection site with 7,800 solar panels that generate energy for the campus. He said the panels generate between 12 percent and 15 percent of the school's electrical energy.

Last July, UMES received a $1 million grant from a local utility company, Delmarva Power, to help start its Green Collar Initiative, a sequence of projects that conduct research for the advancement of environmental friendliness.

The newest building on campus, the Engineering & Aviation Science Complex, has many energy-efficient facility features, such as energy-efficient lighting and water units, 250 geothermal wells, low-mercury lamps and a landscaping system that improves water runoff quality.

"When the sun is overhead, the atrium darkens up like photo-grade sunglasses," said Robinson, referring to a skylight that runs the length of the building.

This structure was built for research in various areas, including renewable energy. The school's 21st-century land grant mission is "to train people on how to find ways to use energy in a conservative way and to find new ways to conserve energy," Robinson said.

The engineering building was awarded a Leadership and Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold award, given by the U.S. Green Building Council, which ensures that the building meets the standards of being energy- and resource-efficient.

"We are trying to be a leader in the field of being energy-efficient and promoting green energy," Robinson said.

Spelman earned its distinction because it set a standard for environmental sustainability.

It was the first HBCU to join the U.S. Green Building Council and the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. It was the first Building Green Learning Institution at the UNCF and the first HBCU to be recognized in Sierra's Cool Schools and to be listed in The Princeton Review's Guide to 353 Green Colleges.

Because chemicals are known to be detrimental to air quality and the environment, Spelman introduced Blue Cleaning in 2011. This innovation uses electrically active water as a multi-use solution to clean surfaces such as walls, bathroom fixtures, glass windows, marble, stone, floors and stainless steel. The college also uses green cleaning supplies that are Green Seal or EcoLogo-certified cleaning products, except for disinfectants.

Art Frazier, director of facilities management and services, said going green saves money. Since the top green HBCU list was generated, Spelman has saved money in utility reductions, power and water. In the summer of 2016, all high-flow toilets on campus were replaced.

"We replaced 203 toilets in residence halls that were all about 3½ gallons per flush, and now they are all 1.28 gallons per flush," he said. "We were able to get a rebate from the city of $100 per toilet. Those rebates are reinvested into our funds to be used for other projects."

After participating in Chevrolet's Campus Clean Energy Campaign to reduce carbon emissions, the college sold carbon credits to the automobile company and reinvested $100,000 earned from the sale into its energy-efficient projects. Out of the 12 schools that participated, Spelman was the only HBCU and women's college.

Some successful outcomes of these projects are the irrigation system being fed from stormwater, reduced electrical loads, retired air-conditioning chillers and upgrades to exterior and interior lighting.

In 2016, the school was the first HBCU to win the Sustainability Award in Facilities Management from the Association of Physical Plant Administrators. Two of Spelman's long-term goals are to have a 50 percent decline in baseline greenhouse gas emissions by 2031 and by 2056, and to attain carbon neutrality.

Spelman is planning to build a center for the arts and innovation, and it will be LEED-approved. All of the institution's major renovations and new buildings are required to be up to a LEED Silver certification at minimum.

Spelman doesn't pursue certification on smaller projects but ensures that all construction is done in a sustainable way and up to LEED standards. "Even when we are doing a small renovation, we are requiring the contractors to do construction site recycling, use the most efficient light fixtures and materials that are free of DOC," said Frazier.

Spelman has an energy management policy that went into effect on March 1, 2009. It has an environmental science major under its environmental and health sciences program and helps students become more informed about creating a more sustainable environment.

All of the machines purchased, including computers, have to have an Energy Star rating. There are three LEED-certified buildings on campus: Beverly Daniel Tatum Suites (LEED Silver); Laura Spelman Rockefeller Hall (LEED Gold); and, most recently, The Wellness Center at Read Hall, which was certified LEED Gold in 2015.

Denae McKinney, a junior at Spelman, lives in the Beverly Daniel Tatum Suites. "I appreciate Spelman College's 'going green' initiatives because it positively impacts our environment. If we don't treat the environment with care, who will?" McKinney said.

When the suites were certified in 2009, there were only five LEED-certified buildings at HBCUs. This was the first residence hall certified at an HBCU and, after Emory University, it was the second residence hall project in Georgia.

"Spelman encourages me to recycle by having only recycling bins in the halls, and trash cans are located only on first floor," she added.

Although these actions save Spelman money, there is a deeper reason that the school continues its sustainability efforts.

"It's the right thing to do ... We feel, too, that as an institution whose mission is rooted in social change, whose mission is rooted in educating women of color and future leaders, that educating them on practicing sustainability as a way of life is crucial," said Frazier.

Miniya Shabazz is a Rhoden Fellow from Grambling State University.