Members of Northeastern's Green Fee Committee

News & Features

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Being green, a famous frog tells us, is not easy. Eight years ago, Northeastern Illinois University students lobbied to get funding for sustainability efforts. More recently, the faculty worked hard to win support for a new Environmental Sciences degree that will start this fall. And the Facilities Management staff has been tireless in its endeavor to retrofit buildings for energy efficiency. Whether it’s in small or large ways, elevating the green consciousness at Northeastern can be a challenge but continues to be a priority.

Northeastern deepened its commitment to environmental stewardship when it launched the Green Fee Committee in the fall of 2007 to protect the natural environment in and around all University locations through conservation and sustainable practices. In fact, a year later, sustainability was established as a key element of the University’s identity in Northeastern’s Strategic Plan; it was again formalized this year when the University refreshed its Strategic Plan.

“All of these efforts to promote a green university have shown us that this is both an individual and community activity,” Vice President for Finance and Administration Michael Pierick said. “Improving energy efficiency, conserving resources and enhancing environmental quality are just some of the ways we promote healthy living and learning environments at Northeastern.”

The University’s Green Fee is a student-driven project that is funded by the $3 fee assessed to students each semester. A committee of students, faculty and staff manage a budget of approximately $60,000 each year that is to be used toward green projects that promote renewable energy, pollution-free transportation, green buildings, recycling and other sustainability efforts.

The fee is a prime example of the power students can have in the University community. In 2007, the student environmental club Green Cycle Group first proposed this student fee, which the Student Government Association quickly endorsed and put to a referendum for the entire student body. After the referendum passed and the Board of Trustees approved the plan, the University began collecting the $3 per semester fee starting that fall.

During its monthly meeting last April, the committee—in close collaboration with Facilities Management staff—discussed new initiatives such as the installation of wind turbines on the top level of the main campus parking facility that would power a good portion of the structure with renewable energy.

“Everyone, no matter in what major they have or field they work in can bring about policy change or habitual environmentally friendly practices into their workplace by just speaking up about them and being a good role model,” said Anett Zlotorzycki, who is the chair of the Green Fee Committee as well as a member of the Green Conservation Group, a Northeastern student organization. “Attending Northeastern becomes a better experience when I know and see the environmental initiatives put into place.”

Evidence of the Green Fee Committee’s work is all over Northeastern, showing a heightened green sensibility in the University community. Recycling bins serve as the most visible example, diverting solid waste from landfills. New bike racks offer commuters a reason to keep their cars at home. Solar panels harness energy from the sun to help power buildings.

Northeastern’s new El Centro building opened in the fall of 2014 to a city that was in awe of its beauty, architecture and design. Its guts, unbeknownst to some, show it to have strong green credentials, and the building is in the process of receiving Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. Buildings have a major effect on the environment; the resources required to create and maintain them are significant and scarce. But because of strategic choices in the design, construction and operation of the building, El Centro is fast becoming known as one of the University’s most environmentally sound buildings.

“The idea of a green campus is not foreign at Northeastern, but it’s not ubiquitous either,” said Melinda Storie, assistant professor of Geography and Environmental Studies and faculty adviser to the Green Fee Committee. “We can always do more to promote a more just and sustainable society, and we must continue to explore new ways to manage the University’s environmental footprint.”

One of those ways is to encourage behaviors that mitigate the contributors to global warming. Through another student fee, students receive a U-Pass, which encourages public transit and allows unlimited bus and subway rides on the CTA. Plans for a Divvy bike-sharing station on the main campus would help solidify Northeastern as a cycle-friendly university. Retrofitting existing buildings to be more energy efficient—by installing tools such as low-flow water faucets and motion sensors that control lighting—is another green move that will save the University greenbacks in the long run.

The faculty, as well, have been involved. Those who study the environment feel a responsibility to apply what they know and influence the way the University teaches and manages sustainability.

Erick Howenstine is the chair of the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, which is focused on producing the next generation of professionals who have the knowledge, skills and values to lead sustainability efforts. “Northeastern is a microcosm of the larger community, and the way in which it conducts itself can have a positive impact in advancing sustainable communities and policies beyond campus,” he said.

Northeastern has a strong track record in research and teaching about how to care for the planet and its resources. The Environmental Studies major is one of the longest-running programs in the country, producing most of the area’s top leaders in the field. And this fall, the University will introduce an Environmental Science undergraduate degree program, which is designed to help students understand the complex relationship between the environment and its components. The program will provide students with an interdisciplinary scientific framework—drawing on courses in the departments of Biology, Chemistry, Earth Science and Physics—for understanding the environment and making rational and informed decisions through hands-on lab, field and analytical work.

“There is a lively movement right now because many students today see this as the call of their generation,” Howenstine said. “We have a great student body that comes highly motivated to protect the environment.”

Eco checklist

It’s easy to take for granted all of the things Northeastern Illinois University does to promote a green community. The student-driven Green Fee Committee has played a vital role in shaping how the University community can take part in sustainability. Here are just some of the projects that have been funded and completed by the committee.

Solar water heating system

Solar panels were installed in 2013 atop the Physical Education Building to heat its swimming pool, allowing Northeastern to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and reduce its natural gas bills.

Electric vehicle charging stations

Helping El Centro in its bid to obtain LEED certification, three electric vehicle charging stations at that location promote the adoption of pollution-free electric cars.

Water bottle filling stations

New water fountains with bottle-filling stations that dispense filtered water have been installed around the University since 2013 to reduce plastic bottle waste as well as energy and resource consumption.

Solar PV panels

Introduced by President Sharon Hahs on Earth Day 2012, these photovoltaic panels on Building B convert the sun’s energy into electricity and reduce Northeastern’s reliance on polluting energy sources. A TV monitor in a highly trafficked part of the building shows visitors its real-time and cumulative power savings.

Planting of trees and greenery

Native trees and plants benefit local wildlife as well as cut down on air pollution, recharge ground water and reduce runoff that contributes to water pollution and flooding. These aesthetic improvements also contribute to biodiversity.

Energy-saving LED lights and motion sensors

Efficient bulbs and sensors that switch off lighting when not in use save electricity and the need for maintenance with longer-lasting bulbs.

Electric maintenance vehicle

Replacing a pickup truck, this battery-powered vehicle, which is primarily used by Facilities Management, cuts down on greenhouse emissions and noise pollution.

Bike racks

By adding more bike racks on the main campus, the University increases the potential for bicycle commuting to ease driving and traffic congestion.

Recycling bins

These receptacles, located throughout the University, are some of the most visible displays of sustainability. They encourage the community to think about waste disposal and how it contributes to growing landfills.

Bird-safe windows

Bird-shaped stickers adorn select windows to prevent bird mortality.