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Drake's Blue is Green Initiative

April 13, 2010
Drake University President David Maxwell is one of the charter signatories to the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment. As a result, in 2007, Drake renewed its environmental sustainability commitment by launching the Blue is Green initiative and establishing a Sustainability Committee.

The Blue is Green initiative, which takes its name from Drake's signature color, enhances sustainability efforts while engaging the campus community in responsible best practices for the environment. Drake has completed an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions as the first step toward carbon neutrality. After establishing a baseline of emissions data, Drake is developing an action plan with interim targets for reducing emissions below that baseline.


Recycling programs grow dramatically

Drake is proud to be the first college or university in Des Moines to adopt single-stream recycling. After years of preparation and negotiation, Drake began single-stream recycling on Aug. 20, 2009. The University's philosophy is that recycling is most effective when it is made easy and convenient.

Drake recycled approximately 30 tons of cardboard and paper in 2008. After implementing single-stream recycling last August, the volume of materials recycled the rest of the year soared to 71 tons (including plastics, glass and other recyclables. Single-stream recycling takes place in the residence halls, offices and across campus.

The University has been recycling fluorescent bulbs and high-intensity-discharge lamps since 1996. In 2009, Drake recycled 6,891 of these items, which otherwise would have gone to the landfill. The University has recycled e-waste since 2006, when 251 CRTs, 30 CPUs, 56 printers or copiers and two microwaves were recycled -- keeping many hazardous materials out of the landfill. To reduce the amount of Freon released into the atmosphere, Drake also recycles old refrigerators, air conditioners and other appliances. In 2009, Drake recycled 39 appliances, which ranged from air conditioners to water fountains.

Promoting sustainable living in Des Moines

Drake University and the city of Des Moines partnered to present the inaugural Drake Sustainability Fair on Feb. 28, 2010, to raise awareness among community members about how to live a sustainable life. Students organized the event with support from President Maxwell, the Drake community and Mayor Frank Cownie. At the fair, representatives from nonprofit organizations, government agencies and private companies showed local residents how living more sustainably can improve their quality of life, save money and improve the environment.

Sustainable campus construction

Drake has dedicated itself to achieving at least a LEED Silver certification in all new construction done on campus. Drake will complete its first LEED certified project, the remodeling of Hubbell North Dining Hall, by August 2010.

Instead of demolishing outdated residence halls and constructing new ones, Drake elected to renovate the buildings to minimize the environmental impact of the project and to promote sustainability. During the most recent renovation, which involved the four residence halls in the Quad designed by renowned architect Eero Saarinen, all demolition materials were sorted and recycled off site.

During the 2008-09 academic year, Drake removed a former city street and installed a sustainable plaza in its place. The plaza's landscaping and porous segments along the street help retain water to prevent flooding and runoff. Most of the water that washes over 28th Street is now returned directly to the soil. In addition, the plaza includes bike racks to encourage alternative transportation. Also, all of the benches and trash containers installed on the plaza are made from recycled plastics and metals.

Transportation initiatives



In December 2007, Drake became the first college or university to join the Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority's Unlimited Access Program. This program enables employees and students to receive unlimited, free transportation on DART buses. Students, faculty and staff have embraced the program, reducing the number of vehicles clogging local streets and highways. In the last six months of 2009, Drake ridership on DART buses totaled 27,386.

To reduce energy consumption, campus operations such as security, facilities and dining services now use more golf carts instead of cars or trucks. All lawn mowers used on campus are powered by biodiesel fuel.

Raising awareness through academics

To create an atmosphere of sustainability, it is important to reach out to students. The Environmental Science and Policy (ENSP) Department takes an interdisciplinary approach to solving environmental problems. Students are taught to see the connection between science, policy, economics and society to find the best solutions for a more sustainable world.

ENSP students participate in several research projects with professors on habitat restoration, land management and water quality. Students also have restored a large campus prairie area and gained experience as interns at the Des Moines Environmental Law and Policy Center.

Drake’s Agricultural Law Center educates students about a variety of issues surrounding agriculture, including soil and water conservation, renewable energy, land management and organic farming. The center also is heavily involved with the Buy Fresh, Buy Local campaign, which is a network of Iowa farms, businesses and consumers committed to increasing the amount of local, Iowa-grown products in the Des Moines area.

The MBA program offers a sustainability-focused curriculum. Drake also offers a travel seminar to Uganda -- now in its fourth year -- that gives undergraduates the opportunity to gain firsthand knowledge of sustainability issues in a developing country. In addition, journalism students have launched THINK, an environmentally friendly news magazine focusing on topics of interest to socially conscious "20-something" Iowans.

Student activism grows

The Drake Environmental Action League (DEAL) has been a part of the campus community for several years, growing from six students to more than 50. DEAL helped launch Drake's 5,000 Acts of Green campaign, which challenged the Drake community to pledge 5,000 green acts, one act at a time. The 2009 initiative resulted in 4,155 green acts pledged by students, faculty and staff to help the environment. During Earth Week 2009, Drake hosted its own farmers’ market with vendors from the downtown market, invited various conservation groups to campus and held an outdoor screening of "Planet Earth."


Tray-less dining proves popular

Drake and its dining partner, Sodexo, have committed to finding ways to make the food and dining service more sustainable – most notably through the tray-less initiative. Trays encourage students to take more food than what they can consume, and when returned, these trays have to be washed, forcing an unnecessary use of water and cleaning chemicals.

Since Hubbell Dining Hall limited the use of trays to returning used dishes to the kitchen, both tray usage and food waste dropped drastically. The renovation of Hubbell North includes a new conveyer belt for returning dishes that will eliminate any need for trays. Drake's food service also participates in the Buy Fresh Buy Local campaign. The entire community benefits when food is purchased from area farmers and businesses, plus transportation costs and pollution are reduced.

Energy management a priority



Energy management is one of the best ways for institutions to take control of their sustainability efforts. Drake has made energy conservation a top priority by installing motion sensors on all lights in academic and administrative buildings. This helps to conserve energy by turning off lights in unoccupied rooms. Furthermore, all of the lights managed by Drake Facilities use Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) bulbs, which use 75 percent less energy and last 10 times longer than regular incandescent bulbs.

Drake also is committed to Energy Star certified appliances, which use 10 percent to 50 percent less energy and water than regular appliances. All of the appliances that Drake purchases are Energy Star certified, allowing Drake to cut costs and reduce its impact on the environment.

Drake’s Energy Management System is set up to shut off fans and lights when buildings are not in use. This allows Drake to reduce energy usage when the University is closed or when buildings are not in use at nights and on weekends.


Paperless Initiative

Drake aims to be a paperless institution by the year 2015 and has begun to reduce the amount of paper used in departments across campus. Drake Athletics has converted to electronic schedules, itineraries and media guides, which saves 692,640 sheets of paper annually. In addition, Drake's dining facilities recently gained new LCD screens for menus, advertisements and announcements. Plus, the Office of Residence Life has switched to electronic ballots and evaluations instead of using paper copies. Also, many professors now post handouts online, eliminating the need for hard copies.

Drake University is committed to environmental sustainability, as evident in campus life, academic programming, facility management and maintenance. Through the Blue is Green initiative, the University continuously engages the campus community in responsible best practices that support human well being, environmental compatibility and a healthy earth for future generations.