In addition to asking staff, students and university visitors to reduce their waste, Brown is looking at internal departments to evaluate what can be done to reduce ASU’s impact on the environment.

“We recently did a waste assessment of the operations department to see what was included in the items going to the landfill,” he says. “One large contribution was HVAC filters. We were sending roughly 50,000 filters, or about 80 tons, a year to the landfill.”

With that in mind, the sustainability team calculated the labor and water costs that might come with converting from disposable filters to washable metal filters that last up to five years. They found that the costs were comparable, but the sustainable benefits to switching far outweighed the alternative.

By changing out six standard filters to the washable options, the university has reduced their contributions to the landfill by 50 percent.

“Forty tons of waste was reduced by making that one simple change,” says Brown. “And we did it without incurring any additional costs.”

Diversion is also in place with the grounds services department. Instead of disposing of leaves, grass clippings and small landscape debris collected from campus, the materials are composted and used as fertilizer for other plants. The program, reportedly, diverts an average of 14 tons of material per month.

Sustainability Beyond Campus

Programs like Zero Waste are the gateway to more sustainable initiatives, says Brown. The best way to create awareness of the possibilities is to lead by example and educate those who live in and around campus.

“Zero Waste is the means to providing a better and more sustainable environment,” he adds. “We want to provide a better quality of life for people.”

But campus is just a starting point. The hope is that the sustainable programs will be perfected on campus and evolve into a community-wide initiative.

“It would be nice if we could help divert waste from the landfill all over the city,” says Lambert. “ASU is very proactive as a leader at the forefront of sustainable practices. If we can do it here with 18 to 25 year olds, we should be able to successfully expand it into the community.”

President Crow agrees, adding in a statement that an ambitious program like this “aims to not only change the largest university in the country, but also to increasingly catalyze change in its surrounding cities, region and beyond.”

The example that ASU is setting with its sustainability portfolio is quite substantial. In addition to green cleaning, sustainable purchasing and it’s Zero Waste programs, the campus is peppered with LEED certified buildings, solar power initiatives, carbon neutrality agendas and approaches to achieve zero water waste.

“ASU is proud of the significant progress it has made to date and the leadership it has assumed in [the area of sustainability],” says President Crow in a statement. “Nevertheless, much work remains to be done, and we recognize our responsibility to maintain this positive momentum.” 

CORINNE ZUDONYI is the editor of Facility Cleaning Decisions magazine and

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