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Higher Education Needs Environmental Leadership
Release Date: 2/27/2001
Contact Information: Ruth Wuenschel, (215) 814-5540
Ruth Wuenschel, (215) 814-5540
WASHINGTON – The country’s colleges and universities were reminded today that they are responsible to comply with federal and state environmental laws, just like their counterparts in business, industry, military and government.
“Too often financial resources have been diverted from existing facilities to new projects. The campus environmental health and safety office is a low priority on most college budgets,” said Rene A. Henry, director of communications and government relations for the mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
He was speaking here at The Performance Institute’s two-day conference on environmental compliance in higher education. Henry spent nearly10 years of his professional public relations career in senior level positions at colleges and universities.
“Many universities teach environmental science courses, yet the professors do not interact with the facilities management people or provide them with needed technical and management support,” Henry added. “This is unfortunate because the resources exist on campus to provide all the help needed to keep the university in compliance. It’s the job of the president or chancellor to bring the two parties together.”
He urged higher education institutions to set a good example of responsible citizenship by doing self audits and reporting any violations to EPA. Where a consent order is involved, Henry encouraged colleges and universities to do a supplemental environmental plan, or SEP, a project undertaken in lieu of paying a penalty. “Colleges and universities are ideally suited for SEPs because they have the people that can create environmental management systems, education and outreach that can be shared with others,” he continued.
“Our higher education institutions have survived, and will continue to survive, many types of crises, including athletic scandals, underreporting campus crime statistics and overcharging the government on research grants,” Henry said. “However, environmental crises will bring a completely new challenge to campuses. What if rating magazines began ranking colleges and universities based on their environmental compliance and performance? Do they practice what they preach?
“What if parents and students began asking the institution’s leadership ‘How environmentally safe is the campus?’ Or there could be questions about the safety of the drinking water and when it was last tested; or location of asbestos, PCBs and where and how hazardous materials are stored; evidence of radon; leaking underground storage tanks, among many others,” he said.
Citing the current rising cost of energy, Henry said many institutions participate in EPA Green Lights and Energy Star Building programs, and have significantly reduced their energy costs, often paying off the renovation investment in less than five years. “Being green is more than recycling paper and cans. Protecting the environment does pay,” he said.