Students walk to the cafeteria across the campus of LeMoyne-Owen College in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Greg Campbell)
Students walk to the cafeteria across the campus of LeMoyne-Owen College in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Greg Campbell)

At the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s 2010 Summit,  institutions of higher education of many different kinds, sizes, backgrounds, locations, and ethnic heritages have all come to learn from one another. It is not surprising, then, that there have been some excellent ideas shared about how to promote sustainability practices at predominantly minority-serving campuses.   

In a session organized by the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) as part of their Building Green Initiative, leaders from several institutions gave insight into strategies for achieving the goals of Building Green: namely,  increasing the number of green certified buildings and college presidents who have committed to environmental action on the campuses of Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCU), Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI), and Tribal Colleges.

The campuses served by UNCF’s Building Green Initiative have unique challenges and opportunities when it comes to sustainability. Although several minority-serving institutions have long been involved in environmental action, they often face significantly different obstacles than mainstream campuses do. For the last couple of years, SEI’s Green Report Cardgave very bad grades to some of the premier HBCUs. However, after reviewing the situation, leaders at the schools and at SEI have decided that the report card didn’t necessarily capture the unique character of the institutions.  Consequently, a new focus on first understanding what sustainable success looks like on campuses of color has emerged,  along with a renewed emphasis on sharing pertinent information among minority-serving institutions to bolster the adoption of effective practices. In November, SEI will publish a special edition Minority Serving Institutions (MSI) Green Report.  

One great example of an HBCU sustainability success story is Spelman College.  Beginning three years ago, school leadership identified three spheres of sustainability that they would focus on — scholarship, society, and infrastructure —  and has been using those three concepts to direct their efforts as part of their Strategic Plan for 2015. This has involved renovating older buildings to make them greener, as well as the construction of a new LEED Silver residence hall and the creation of a student Environmental Task Force. Every new project or initiative is weighed by how much it contributes to each of the three spheres, so that the school can be sure that they are getting the most impact out of their investments.  

At the beginning of this school year, Spelman’s President Beverly Daniel Tatum, signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment.  Spelman also received a UNCF Mini-Grant of $20,000 to hire students to do a greenhouse gas inventory and help develop a longer-reaching Climate Action Plan. The key to succeeding in this venture, said Spelman’s Director of Facilities Management & Services Art Fraiser, is sharing and learning from others. The college has now launched a Sustainable Spelman webpage, and they have contributed  a case study to the Campus Green Builder website. The hope, said Frasier, is to lead by example, so that other schools will be able to benefit from the work being done at Spelman to green their own campuses, too.  

At another school — Elizabeth City State University — the track to Sustainability has followed a slightly different, more collaborative course.  In 2003, the school secured a 2 year grant to define what it means for the 21 counties in northeastern NC to participate in the green economy. This led to the founding of the Center for Green Research and Evaluation, which conducts research on energy production, energy efficiency, stormwater management, recycling and green manufacturing, sustainable agriculture and biotechnology, heritage-and-eco-tourism and green education. 

Over the last seven years, according to Henry Lancaster of the CGRE, Elizabeth City has focused on using the Center to build partnerships and work collaboratively with other institutions in the area. By establishing ECSU as the go-to nexus for sustainable development, they have been able to not only secure funding for on-campus sustainability projects, but also help their county, the towns and cities nearby, and even local non-profits to be able to become more environmentally-friendly. 

A third and final example of environmental action at  a minority-serving institution is the  College of Menominee Nation. As a tribal college, their position is very different from most of the other schools of color. Menominee’s  Sustainabile Development Institute was established at the foundation of the school, and the  college manages a much larger than average tract of land. 

Menominee’s approach to environmental action is built around tribal values of stewardship and conservation. Field trips to visit other indigenous communities and research projects, guest lectures by tribal leaders on tribal perspectives regarding climate change, and Sharing Indigenous Wisdom Conferences hosted by the school all play a significant role in their sustainability efforts. However, Menominee President Verna Fowler pointed out that Menominee also recognizes that humans are a global tribe and acknowledges the need for their participation in the global arena, not just the local and tribal ones.  Consequently, they have signed up for AASHE’s Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Reporting System to better compare how tribal environmental indicators align with Western ones. Menominee has also completed their first greenhouse gas inventory, built the school’s library to LEED Silver standards, and implemented wind power and geothermal energy projects on campus.   

Together, these three schools demonstrate only a fraction of the amazing work being done at Historically Black, Hispanic-Serving and Tribal Colleges to increase campus sustainability, combat global warming, and contribute to environmental conservation.  And the future holds even more exciting projects and initiativesin store. United Negro College Fund Director of Facilities and Infrastructure Enhancement, Felicia Davis, said that the Fund is collaborating on more publications aimed at helping HBCUs design and implement sustainability programs on campus, and that  that UNCF will also be hosting special green trainings in Georgia, Texas, California, and Michigan, among others, as well as a National Learning Institute in Atlanta early next year.