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More than Just the Grass is 'Greener' at UC

New sustainability efforts at UC include electric vehicle-charging stations, dining center composting and research on making biodiesel from used coffee grounds.

Date: 4/21/2014 8:07:00 AM
By: Tom Robinette
Phone: (513) 556-1825
Photos By: Dottie Stover, UC Creative Services; video by Ben Gardner, UC Creative Services

UC ingot   The many sustainability initiatives in place or on the way show that "green" is growing at the University of Cincinnati.

UC’s Sustainability Office features eight categories of campus sustainability initiatives; opportunities to get involved with sustainability at UC; a carbon inventory and climate action plan; programs integrating sustainability into academics and research; and other useful resources.

Here's a look at several new efforts joining the established sustainability-influenced programs on campus:


Engineering researchers at UC are trying to turn yesterday's coffee grounds into tomorrow's energy source. The team of researchers is developing a process of extracting and filtering oil from used coffee grounds and converting it into biodiesel, a more environmentally friendly alternative to petroleum. When the filtering is complete, the remaining waste coffee grounds can then be turned into solid fuel pellets for use as a coal alternative in utility boilers.

Similar research is exploring the possibility of extracting fats, oils and greases from municipal wastewater and converting those substances into biodiesel feedstock.

Both research efforts have attracted national and international acclaim.

Parking Services installed UC's first electric vehicle-charging station in Lot 13 by the west façade of Wherry Hall on the medical campus. UC students, faculty and staff who have purchased parking permits are welcome to pull their electric cars alongside the station, plug in and charge up for free. The station can charge two cars simultaneously at 240 volts per unit and completely charge a vehicle within eight hours.
Car uses charging station
A car is plugged in and charging at the recent unveiling of UC's first charging station.

That station isn't just convenient, it's pretty too. Environmental Studies capstone students collaborated with UC's Planning + Design + Construction on a project to develop the adjacent green space with sustainable landscaping.

Electricity for the station will be provided and paid for by Parking Services, and an additional charging station is planned for West Campus.

Lisa Bunkley-Boyd, interim director of Parking Services, says adding charging stations is an important addition to the university's sustainability efforts.

"Electric cars are becoming popular, and we have people using them here," Bunkley-Boyd says. "On-campus electric vehicle-charging stations are another option for people to be economical and environmentally friendly."

News of the on-campus vehicle chargers might be of interest to one UC alum in particular. Duane Leffel, Eng '81, set a Guinness World Record for longest journey by electric vehicle last summer. Leffel's record-setting, cross-country road trip on the Ride the Future Tour was chronicled in the documentary "Kick Gas," which premieres online on Earth Day, April 22. The public can watch in exchange for a $5 donation.
UC students at a charging station
A UC capstone class works with Len Thomas to prepare space for the Lot 13 electric vehicle-charging station.


The Office of Sustainability's Claire Sweigart reports that UC's "green" efforts have led to a silver rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s (AASHE) Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS). UC was one of 159 of the 308 reporting institutions to be rated silver. Areas where UC scored highly included its co-curricular education; coordination and planning; and diversity and affordability.

AASHE provides resources, professional development and a network of support related to campus sustainability topics for member institutions. STARS offers colleges and universities a means to measure their progress toward sustainability through the self-assessment and rating system.

"The STARS system was created by universities for universities, and it allows us to establish a clear benchmark, assess progress and set goals," Sweigart says.  "STARS is more comprehensive than any other tool we have used. It is also in a format that is easy for others to understand and allows for comparison with peer institutions."


In March, the university installed four sustainable water bottle-filling stations near existing water fountains in Tangeman University Center, the Campus Recreation Center, the 800 level of Rhodes Hall and the UCIT lab in Langsam Library. When a bottle is filled, the station logs the amount in 12-ounce increments to calculate how many plastic water bottles have been saved.

Sweigart says a group of students from Leaders for Environmental Awareness & Protection advocated for the stations and presented ideas to the President's Advisory Council on Environment & Sustainability. From there, Planning + Design + Construction along with Project Services planned and installed the stations.


A pilot composting program started at MarketPointe@Siddall dining center in fall 2013 has helped make every pizza crust and apple core count toward the university's recycling goals. UC's Office of Sustainability, Facilities Management and Food Services used a $15,000 grant from the Ohio EPA through Hamilton County to jump-start the program. All food waste from MarketPointe and coffee grounds from campus cafés and Starbucks locations are composted. Food Services reports that through this program more than 38,000 pounds of organic waste was collected and composted in fall semester.

Food Services also replaced the Styrofoam takeout boxes in use at Stadium View Cafe with reusable containers last fall. The multi-use containers were used for nearly 1,500 meals in fall semester, eliminating Styrofoam waste that would have been sent to landfills.

The reusable container and composting programs are being reviewed by Food Services for possible expansion.


These sustainability efforts not only align with the Academic Master Plan goal to create a deliberate and responsible approach to our environment and to UC's resources and operations, but they are a few more examples of what it means to be Cincinnati Smart. The university recognizes its role as a leader in sustainable practice, research and education. UC seeks to consider the environmental, social and economic impacts of its decisions and is committed to incorporating the concept of sustainability into its academic and research programs; the design, operation and maintenance of its buildings and landscapes; and its organizational structure and management.


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