The Catholic University of America is making bold moves demonstrating leadership in safeguarding a sustainable environment on campus, in the District of Columbia, and beyond. In FY 2022, students, staff, and faculty forged new connections and stepped into new roles designed to respond to opportunities to collaborate, educate, and create dialogue on today’s key sustainability issues.
The new Office of Campus Sustainability focused on accelerating connection points in academics and campus life, while also growing with the addition of a new sustainability manager. As a result of these efforts, new and exciting initiatives have thrived in classrooms and offices, and opportunities to engage with other higher education institutions and community stakeholders have flourished.
Major developments in FY 2022 included announcing the West Campus solar project to develop the largest urban solar array in the metropolitan area; committing to the Vatican’s Laudato Si’ Action Platform; leading the first cohort of the Sustainable Living Office independent study; hosting the Climate Change and the Future of Work Conference; participating in the regional Climate Justice Teach-In; groundbreaking for the new sustainability- and wellness-minded nursing and sciences building; and the opening of Welcome Plaza.
Upcoming activities will continue to generate positive environmental change, promote education and research, preserve resources, raise awareness, reduce expenditures, and generate exciting dialogue.
This progress report provides an overview of the university’s progress towards achieving the sustainability initiatives included in the 5-year Sustainability Plan. The current plan runs from FY 2021 to FY 2025 and is organized around four guiding pillars: Catholic Identity - Living Laudato Si', Sustainability Leadership and Recognition, Campus Facilities and People, Planet, and Prosperity, and Engagement.
Pillar 1: Catholic Identity - Living Laudato Si'
Living Laudato Si’ goals and milestones are grounded in the University’s mission and identity as The Catholic University of America. Initiatives include establishing sustainability focus groups, establishing sustainability plans and procedures, and benchmarking our metrics. Initiatives also include encouraging environmental stewardship and creating lasting dialogue aligning environmental stewardship with a Catholic identity. FY 2022 initiatives included:
- Offsetting 100% of electricity with renewable energy credits.
- Enrolling in the Laudato Si’ Action Platform.
- Offering 30+ courses inclusive of sustainability concepts.
- Organizing the Climate Change and the Future of Work Conference.
- Forming new staff, faculty, and student convening groups to advance sustainability initiatives.
- Holding focus groups on campus attitudes towards sustainability, led by students in the School of Architecture and Planning and the Busch School of Business.
The Catholic University of America Joins Vatican Sustainability Initiative
Catholic University became one of the first universities in the world to sign onto a new Vatican initiative, the Laudato Si’ Action Platform, committing to a plan for environmental sustainability.
Inspired by Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si’, the initiative was launched by the Dicastery for Integral Human Development to engage the universal Catholic Church in “a journey toward full sustainability” that recognizes our responsibility to care for creation and the disproportionate harm environmental damage has on the vulnerable.
As University President John Garvey noted in 2016, “We are taking to heart Pope Francis’s call for an ‘ecological conversion.’ Our faculty and students are studying that message in the classroom. And they are putting it into effect on our campus, in our city, and around the world.”
Climate Change and the Future of Work Conference
In April 2022, the University held a conference on the impact that a changing global climate will have on work and careers throughout the 21st century. Building on themes addressed by Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Si’, the conference addressed the ways that jobs throughout the global economy will be, and are already being, impacted by climate change and by increased attention to environmental stewardship, resiliency, human ecology, and sustainability.
The conference featured a keynote from U.S. Department of Energy Deputy Secretary David M. Turk. An expert panel followed the keynote with representatives from the District of Columbia Department of Energy and the Environment; U.S. Department of Energy; Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington; Catholic Climate Covenant; Consigli Construction; Ascension, a faith-based healthcare organization; and a former advisor to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. The conference also included a networking fair with participation from nearly two dozen organizations and breakout sessions with speakers from government, industry, universities, and the nonprofit sector focused on food and water equity; politics, law, and national security; science and technology; arts and culture; spirituality and ministry; business; the built environment; and human health.
The conference provided a forum to engage our students as they prepare to take their places in a professional world adapting to a changing climate. Over 200 attendees, including students, faculty, staff and external guests, joined us for the lively discussion.
The conference was preceded by opening ceremonies on the evening of April 21 with an address by Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory, Archbishop of Washington, chancellor of Catholic University, and a climate change leader.
Pillar 2: Leadership and Recognition
Leadership and recognition goals and milestones are focused on developing and implementing communications plans to celebrate progress, highlight accomplishments, and emphasize transparency to benefit Catholic University’s overall profile and visibility both locally and nationally. FY 2022 initiatives included:
- Collaborating with nine other D.C.-area universities for a Climate Justice Teach-in.
- Collaborating with Washington, D.C.-area universities as part of the District of Columbia Mayor’s College and University Sustainability Pledge and the District of Columbia Sustainable Energy Utility’s College and University Roundtable Series.
- Joining the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.
- Updating the sustainability website to provide access to new resources such as the Green Events Guide and Green Office Guide.
- Pursuing LEED Gold and WELL Certification for the new nursing and sciences building.
- Pursuing LEED Silver for Garvey Hall dining commons.
- Maintaining the percentage of the University’s building portfolio that is LEED Certified at 13% (goal is 20% by 2025).
- Presenting at the 2021 U.S. Department of Energy Better Buildings Summit.
- Earning recognition by two organizations for sustainability best practices:
On March 30, 2022, over 1,000 colleges, universities, high schools and K-8 schools worldwide participated in a one-day teach-in on climate solutions and justice in the climate transition. Nine universities in the Washington, D.C., area joined forces to hold events on each of their campuses.
Catholic University hosted two panels composed of 16 speakers (students, faculty, and staff) representing all seven schools at the University. Each panelist spoke for five minutes on his or her work as it relates to climate justice both inside and outside the classroom. Following the on-campus panels, senior Holly Thompson represented Catholic University at the George Washington University’s D.C.-area Climate Teach-in with all nine schools. In addition, Brooks Zitzmann, assistant professor with the National Catholic School of Social Service (NCSSS) spoke at the D.C.-Area Climate Teach-in Celebration at Howard University. The celebration included two keynote speakers, Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, and Kari Fulton, frontline policy coordinator at Climate Justice Alliance. Coordination for the event was led by Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies at the School of Architecture and Planning Robin Puttock.
Catholic University was recognized for its dedication to sustainability by two college-ranking websites.
Catholic University was included in the Princeton Review’s Guide to Green Colleges: 2022 Edition. Institutions were presented with Green Rating scores based on their sustainability-related policies, practices, and programs. Catholic University’s score earned it a spot on the list of 416 Green Colleges.
Indonesia’s UI World Green Metric ranked the University the 10th most sustainable campus in the U.S. and the 415th most sustainable campus in the world. This is an improvement over last year’s ranking of 19th and 557th respectively. The University earned high marks for access to quality alternative transportation, energy and climate change action, and waste management.
Pillar 3: Campus Facilities and People, Planet and Prosperity
The “triple bottom line” objectives of people, planet, and prosperity drive goals and objectives related to campus facility management and high-performance best practices. FY 2022 initiatives included:
- Reducing energy use by 15% compared to FY 2016 levels.
- Announcing the West Campus solar project and obtaining required city Zoning Commission approvals.
- Reducing water use by 6% compared to FY 2016 levels.
- Adding three filtered-water bottle filling stations.
- Implementing stormwater retention credits from the Energy Project and the Maloney Hall renovation.
- Achieving a 24% ongoing-consumables diversion rate.
- Developing new composting and recycling tools.
Health and Wellness
- Expanding the campus community garden to improve community access to healthy foods.
- Maintaining a year-round food pantry.
- Collaborating with Dining Services to promote health and wellness initiatives.
- Planting 14 trees.
- Completing a tree survey with estimates of carbon sequestration potential.
- Dedicating the new Welcome Plaza, which enhances the formal landscape qualities on campus.
Catholic University to Build Region’s Largest Urban Solar Array
The Catholic University of America announced a partnership with Standard Solar to build the Washington metropolitan region’s largest urban solar array on the University’s campus, providing locally generated, renewable energy.
This initiative will make a significant contribution to the District of Columbia’s goal of 100% renewable energy by 2032 and carbon neutrality by 2050. The solar array will save an estimated 7.115 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year. This is the equivalent of removing 1,547 cars from the roads annually or eliminating the carbon dioxide emissions from nearly 800,630 gallons of gasoline, according to the EPA Greenhouse Gas Calculator.
Construction is anticipated to take place between June 2022 and spring 2023.
In addition to the expansion of renewable energy for the region, the lease agreement with Standard Solar will provide educational opportunities. Students from grades K-12 will learn about sustainability and environmental stewardship with field trips, STEM projects, and access to real-time, web-based energy production monitoring. University students will have access to energy production data to conduct research.
The ground-mounted solar array will be installed on an undeveloped portion of the University’s 176.4-acre campus, between Harewood Rd. and North Capitol St. NE, north of Michigan Ave., an area that has been used most recently for campus operations, including a tree nursery and staging areas for infrastructure projects. Heritage trees will be protected, and a perimeter screen of trees and plantings will be installed.
Angels Unawares and Stormwater Management
In April 2022, the Angels Unawares statue was permanently installed in Welcome Plaza between Fr. O’Connell Hall and Gibbons Hall. The statue is intricately sculpted and cast in four tons of bronze by Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz and features more than 140 refugees who are tightly packed onto a 20-foot skiff.
Welcome Plaza not only shows the University’s commitment to the cause of migrants, refugees, and displaced people, but it also incorporates the University’s emphasis on environmental stewardship in its design. The new plaza features a fountain, garden, eight stormwater retention and detention facilities, and ten willow oaks which will have a spread of 40 feet at full maturity. Stormwater retention and detention facilities capture and store stormwater runoff and pass it through a filter bed of soil media composed of sand, soil, and organic matter.
To satisfy stormwater retention requirements, the design team also applied the stormwater retention credits from the recently completed work at the Power Plant and Maloney Hall. Stormwater credits allow the University to offset stormwater reduction commitments with a voluntary device elsewhere. In this case, the Power Plant and Maloney have underground cisterns which harvest stormwater for re-use in their respective buildings. The new retention facilities and trees in the Angels Unawares plaza plus the application of the credits from the Power Plant and Maloney satisfy the two-year and 15-year stormwater detention requirements.
This demonstrates the Facilities Planning and Management division’s creative solutions to common design challenges. The District of Columbia Department of Energy and the Environment was instrumental in helping the division overcome this design hurdle. Currently, the University’s unique stormwater approach is being used as a model for other District landowners and design firms.
In FY 2022, the University conducted a tree survey to assess and develop a plan for ongoing management of all trees on the campus. A total of 4,616 trees were measured and assessed for current condition, overall health, and their approximate locations (latitude/ longitude). The survey also calculated the annual carbon sequestration potential of the trees on campus as 91,836 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2), resulting in a $238,388 total annual economic benefit. A GIS tool will be available later this summer to allow users to see the carbon impact of each tree on campus.
Washington, D.C., classifies trees of significance by their diameter. Special trees have a diameter of 14 to 32 inches and heritage trees have a diameter greater than 32 inches. The survey identified 1,514 special trees and 140 heritage trees. These trees represent some of the oldest trees on campus. The most common trees on the main campus include crepe myrtles, honey locusts, London planetree, northern red oak, and willow oak. The species are all native or adaptive to the metropolitan area.
The survey concluded with a thorough management plan that includes best practices for maintenance and management of the University’s tree canopy.
Pillar 4: Engagement
Aligning with the Sustainability Plan’s Vision Statement, engagement initiatives involve all Catholic University stakeholders including, but not limited to, students, faculty, staff, and the greater community, and empower everyone to take steps to reduce their carbon footprint. FY 2022 initiatives included:
- Creating the Office of Campus Sustainability.
- Creating the Sustainable Living Office independent study.
- Hiring a sustainability manager to join the Office of Campus Sustainability.
- Instructing 2 independent studies in partnership with the School of Architecture and Planning.
- Collaborating with 6 classes within the Schools of Architecture and Planning, Engineering, and the Busch School of Business.
- Partnering with Fitness and Recreation to host a Wednesday Wellness Walk Tree Tour.
- Students led 11 events for Earth Day.
- Students led 1 campus clean-up day.
- Students led 2 campus sustainability tours.
- Community garden donated 8 pounds of produce to Cardinal Cupboard.
Sustainable Living Office
Inspired by Senior Holly Thompson’s fall 2021 independent study on creating new engagement opportunities for students interested in sustainability, the School of Architecture and Planning and the Office of Campus Sustainability designed an independent study to formally introduce the Sustainable Living Office to campus. The Spring 2022 independent study enabled students interested in campus sustainability to engage the campus community in the University’s sustainability initiatives and help the community live more sustainably on a daily basis. Five students participated:
Junior psychology major Juliana Walsh hosted a clothing drive on campus to provide the inputs for an on-campus resource exchange, called Cardinal Closet, opening in Gibbons B17 in Fall 2022. Juliana’s goal is for the resource exchange to be an inclusive space for all members of the campus community to exchange items they no longer need for items they do need in order to promote the benefits of slow fashion and the sharing economy.
Senior architecture and civil engineering dual major Allie Lajeunesse worked with Campus Ministry, Dining Services, and Event and Conference Services to educate students about composting, set up a food recovery service opportunity, and set up a system wherein any member of the campus community can opt in to alerts when extra food is available on campus after catered events. Allie’s goal is to both combat food waste and food insecurity.
Senior environmental studies major Holly Thompson coordinated a networking fair held during the Climate Change and the Future of Work Conference on April 22. The fair provided students with an opportunity to speak directly with two dozen organizations working in a variety of fields to grow their networks and learn how the organizations are adapting to the realities of climate change.
Senior architecture major Julianna Okupski helped the Office of Campus Sustainability communicate sustainability through a blog post and sustainability tours. Julianna’s long-term goal is to establish a series of sustainability tours for professors to offer their students so that students can learn the extent to which Catholic University can serve as a living laboratory for their studies and specific academic area through the lens of sustainability.
Senior environmental studies major Nolan Brockmeyer worked to identify ways to engage athletics students in sustainability on campus. Nolan worked on raising awareness of proper waste-sorting strategies in athletics facilities, fostering conversations about ways to reduce waste specific to student athletes, and finding opportunities for student athletes to volunteer in the outdoor spaces where they practice and compete.
The Sustainability Plan FY 2021-2025 challenges the University to achieve five-year outcomes. The 2016 fiscal year is used as the baseline as this was the last full year of data before the University began construction on the Energy Project. Metrics are tracked on at least a quarterly basis through utility bill analysis, sub-metering, platforms, and other data outputs. Below is a summary of the latest environmental key performance indicators.
FY 2023: Look Ahead
Catholic University has made great strides on a number of sustainability initiatives. In Fiscal Year 2023, new initiatives and actions will focus on:
- Constructing the West Campus solar array.
- Implementing facility management best practices focused on water and energy efficiency during residence hall turnovers.
- Codifying a sustainable design standard for new construction and major renovation.
- Developing a green move-out program.
- Creating five-year plans for energy and zero waste.
- Achieving an AASHE STARS rating.
- Continuing to work with students through the Sustainable Living Office to identify opportunities for student-led projects and initiatives focused on campus sustainability.
- Opening a student-run resource exchange.
- Developing a suite of university-based best practice plans focused on hardscape management and integrated pest management plans.
- Establishing new touch points between faculty, staff, and students on the Church’s teachings on environmental stewardship.
- Increasing the campus waste diversion rate through new initiatives to raise awareness of and compliance with waste sorting practices on campus.
- Integrating native and adaptive plants into the campus landscape.
- Raising awareness of sustainability initiatives among staff, alumni, and prospective students.