Webster Groves Chamber of Commerce CEO Rebecca Now said there was no competition against Webster University for the Green Initiative Award.
“There was a long list of accomplishments, around 20 if I can recall,” Now said.
In recognition of the school’s sustainability efforts, the Green Initiative Award was given to Webster on Feb. 6 at the “Heart of the Community” awards dinner, which honors citizens and businesses in the Webster Groves, Shrewsbury and Rock Hill area. The second recipient was Straub’s Markets.
Sustainability Coordinator Lindsey LaFore said projects start from someone’s passion and that a project’s success comes from students wanting to have pride in their university.
“Someone who really cares about Webster University as a whole wants the university to succeed and for its students to always have something they’re passionate about on campus,” LaFore said. “They want to be able to tell their future children, ‘Hey, you know what? I put that there. You are able to enjoy it because I worked hard to have a sustainable lifestyle.’”
Vice President & Chief Financial Officer Greg Gunderson said Webster’s sustainability success has to do with its global footprint. When Gunderson visited Webster’s Geneva campus, he noticed the lights in the dorm room could only be turned on by placing one’s ID card in a slot in the wall. The lights would turn off when the student left the room.
“In Europe, sustainability has been a demand for a long time, I think in part because their energy costs are significantly higher than ours,” Gunderson said. “As our students have traveled abroad, I think they brought some of that passion back.”
Gunderson thinks of sustainability like a pearl.
“A pearl starts as a piece of grit, and it grows over time,” Gunderson said. “It becomes beautiful in the end because of all the layers that you pile up over and over to get to that final product. I think sustainability for me is that kind of experience.”
Director of Public Relations Patrick Giblin said he believes students around the St. Louis area, especially in the past 10 to 15 years, have demanded their institutions become sustainable.
“This is an industry-wide trend,” Giblin said. “Other universities in the country are having students asking during tours if they have a recycling program or if they use solar panels. If we didn’t have this, we could potentially see it affecting enrollment.”
Giblin said they are moving to encourage sustainability in lifestyle choices, such as with the Enterprise CarShare program and giving students free Metro passes.
“We’re trying to get people to think about if they need to own a car full time,” Giblin said. “These are the ideas we’re trying to think of beyond just collecting papers and aluminum cans.”
Giblin said technological and sociological changes will determine where sustainability goes in the future. One tactic now in place is the installation of electrical recharge stations in the parking garage.
“Five years ago, if someone suggested putting an electrical recharge station in the garage for electrical cars, everyone would’ve thought we were crazy,” Giblin said. “Now, we see people driving their electrical cars around.”
Sustainability Coordinator Lindsey LaFore said Webster works to get students involved in their efforts. For her, many projects start with passion.
“Students have the ability to apply for a grant for a project,” LaFore said. “They can be in the Business School, they can be in the Conservatory and still have a say in what happens for sustainability and still have a passion for it.”
Webster’s sustainability efforts have included the installation of solar panels throughout the university, the first EnGo mobile device charging station installed in the U.S., a campus-wide recycling program where recycling bins are spread around campus, and a gold certification by Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) for the East Academic Building. LEED is a green building certification system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.