Publication Date


Degree Program

Department of Biology

Degree Type

Master of Science


Institutions of higher learning are in a pivotal position to address the environmental problems that global society faces now, but response to this challenge requires transformation in priorities and practices. Recognizing the impacts that universities have on the environment and the social and economic costs associated with these impacts, institutions of higher learning are changing policies and management to become more sustainable. Sustainability is defined by the World Commission on Environment and Development as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" (1987). To evaluate the environmental impacts and level of sustainability at Western Kentucky University, ten indicators were assessed: Building Design, Energy, Water, Land, Air, Solid Waste, Purchasing, Transportation, Food and Dining, and Environmental Literacy. Average annual energy consumption for each campus community member is 4,139 kWh of electricity, 527 pounds of coal, 3,600 cf of natural gas, totaling over 22 million Btus, costing $317 and emitting 3.34 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, 14,244 gallons of water are used, and 248 pounds of solid waste are generated per campus community member annually. WKU's physical growth provides opportunities to incorporate elements of energy efficiency and sustainable design into new buildings and renovations that provide permanent savings in energy and water. University energy costs and carbon footprint can be reduced through initiatives including physical and policy change and education campaigns that engage students, faculty, and staff. Sustainable building design and construction and energy conservation have indirect positive impacts, reducing water use, blending with the natural landscape, and reducing water and air pollutants. Less than 4% of WKU's solid waste is recycled. Investment in recycling infrastructure can make recycling economically self-supported through revenue and avoided landfill fees. WKU has no policy for environmentally responsible purchasing. A "green purchasing" guide could promote the use of recycled content paper, and energy efficient appliances. University shuttles are decreasing carbon emissions by using 5% biodiesel, and plan to increase the blend. Campus-community initiatives such as bike lending and expanding shuttle service are progress toward sustainability. Further steps could include purchase of university fleet hybrid cars and a ride-share program for commuters. According to Worldwatch Institute, food transportation is the biggest, fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. WKU food services could decrease the university's carbon footprint while supporting the local economy by using food produced locally, and reduce environmental impacts and landfill fees by composting food waste. A survey sent to WKU faculty requesting submissions of courses including sustainability as a concept resulted in 42 courses from within four main campus Colleges. Ecological literacy is essential in preparing students to be productive and engaged citizens of a global society. Efforts toward sustainability reduce the university ecological footprint and have far-reaching positive impacts in reduced operating costs, improved quality of services to students and faculty, and providing a model for local communities. Universities invested in sustainability also give their graduates critical knowledge and skills to find creative solutions to challenges facing society.


Earth Sciences | Environmental Health and Protection | Medical Sciences