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Sustainability: what does it mean to go green?

Sustainability: what does it mean to go green?


By Whitney Elfstrom

Reduce, reuse, recycle — a motto that we all grew up hearing. But what does it mean, and why does it matter?

For Brian Pullen, the university’s sustainability planner, it’s all about finding new tactics to ensure we reduce our environmental impact on the planet.

Think of Tesla’s mass-market electric car, which has a higher quality of life than other vehicles, and a lower environmental impact. But apply that to things like buildings and electricity. That’s where sustainability on campus comes in.  

USF St. Petersburg began a move toward sustainability 10 years ago, with the Student Green Energy Fund, which helps the university reduce energy costs through conservation and lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

To pay for the project, the school implemented a $1 per credit hour fee, which goes toward creating a green campus.

Every three years, students and the Florida Board of Governors come together to vote on continuing the organization.

But what does a green campus actually mean?

While many companies look at the bottom line, our campus is required to look at the “triple bottom line,” which means the decision makers on campus look at the bigger picture, and how our decisions affect people, the planet and profit.  

In addition to the Green Energy Fund, the university developed a Climate Action Plan, so that it could look at how to lessen the campus’ environmental footprint. According to the plan, the university will reduce its baseline greenhouse gas emission by 50 percent by 2035 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

The university is so dedicated to sustainability that it included it in its Master Plan that all new construction projects meet the minimum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Gold standard rating.  

Sometimes students aren’t sure how they can help with sustainability efforts. According to Pullen, the best place to begin is by biking or carpooling to class. Recycling plastics, aluminum and paper can also help, but he urges students pay close attention to what they are placing in the bins.

For example, a plastic cup is recyclable but a plastic cup full of liquid is considered solid waste. When solid waste is accidentally thrown into the recycling bin, it contaminates the recyclable items and the whole bin is considered waste.

“Hands down, recycling is my struggle right now,” said Pullen. “Most students just throw away solid waste in the recycling bins or they throw away recyclables in the solid bins.”

Pullen is working on a project to help further campus green culture called the Energy Management System. The university will install sub-meters that record energy use for Residence Hall One, University Student Center, Bayboro Hall, Lynn Pippenger Hall and the parking garage. This will allow anyone on campus to monitor energy use in real-time with an interactive website.

Although installing the sub-meters won’t aid in lessening university’s emissions, Pullen said it will help the university identify energy inefficiency on campus.

Pullen said he would love more student involvement to help keep the university green.

“If anyone has ideas please, please come and see me,” said Pullen. “I am always open to suggestions.”


Contact Brain Pullen at brainpullen@mail.usf.edu to share any of your green ideas. 

Header photo courtesy of Brian Pullen


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