August 30, 2014  

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Southern Miss Strives to Lessen Environmental Impact

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Office of Sustainability staffers, from left to right: Christina Foreman, Haley McMinn and Leslee Davenport. (Photo by Nikki Smith)

As part of the Office of Sustainability’s Climate Action Plan, The University of Southern Mississippi is working toward climate neutrality -- a net zero carbon footprint by 2050. The goal is to have zero impact on the environment from campus operations.

According to Haley McMinn, assistant director of sustainability at Southern Miss, the vast majority of carbon emissions on campus come from building operations, large square footage and transportation.  

“It is an important and necessary goal that our institution and our office takes very seriously,” McMinn said. “In an environmental and economic climate where things are beginning to change, resources are getting more expensive and budgets are getting tighter, it is imperative that we succeed to remain viable as an institution for decades to come.”  

“As an institution we must operate as good stewards of the environment, of our people and of our use of resources across the board.  It's both the right and smart thing to do.”

Some of the efforts that have helped to achieve this goal include:

  • The implementation of widespread lighting retrofit projects
  • The installation of variable frequency drives
  • Upgraded power plants and boilers
  • The installation of building automated controls.  

“Perhaps most importantly, we work to educate faculty, staff, students and community members about living sustainably,” McMinn said. “It is this education that ensures the success of operational changes and extends our reach and impact beyond our institution's walls.”

Earlier this spring, Southern Miss reported to the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment an updated Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory showing a baseline comparison decrease in overall carbon dioxide equivalent of 28,748 metric tons, meeting the 2015 25% reduction goal early

“This is a huge success for our institution and with hard work and support from all over campus we have reached this milestone goal two years early,” McMinn said.

Because of the University’s extensive recycling program, Southern Miss keeps an average of 37,000 pounds of recyclable material from ending up in a landfill each month. Southern Miss ranks in the top 36 percent of 365 schools nationwide for collecting the highest gross weight of recyclables.

The six-year-old recycling program is described by the Office of Sustainability as universal, comprehensive, single-stream and desk-side. Every office, classroom and residence hall room is equipped with blue cans for faculty, staff and students to place all allowable recyclable materials. The collected material is then taken to a local recycling facility, Sumrall Recycling, where it is weighed, sorted and processed to sell to manufacturers.

Nearly 437,414 pounds of recyclables have been collected this fiscal year alone. The program is steadily growing and the numbers increase each year. The materials collected on campus are paper, plastic, cardboard, aluminum and tin. The most recycled items on campus are paper and cardboard.

Along with the recycling program, the Office of Sustainability is working to roll out the Sustainability Pledge and a Green Office Certification program, in addition to other events designed to spark campus-wide involvement.

The Green Office Certification program will provide training to all interested employees or offices on how to “green” their operations, provide a "green rating" to offices and departments who submit a certification report and assist with onsite visits in which Sustainability staff can provide feedback and guidance.  

“I believe this program has the potential to generate some additional buy-in to the Southern Miss Green Initiative and allows us the opportunity to give hands-on help to campus constituents that want to do more,” McMinn said.

Recyclethon, a four-week recycling competition held on campus among all the departments, brought in a total of 41,752 pounds of recyclable material. The Physical Plant Planet Protectors won the competition with a total of 16,146 pounds of recyclables.

For a detailed list of accepted materials, pick-up schedule or other events and programs please visit www.usm.edu/green/.