Campus landscapes can serve as living laboratories for reducing carbon footprints, conserving water and aquatic resources, supporting biodiversity, and building active, equitable social communities. Moreover, as learning landscapes, such campuses actively promote sustainable design by engaging faculty, staff, and students in the design and implementation process as a part of the pedagogy of place. This progressive focus positions universities as leaders educationally and environmentally.
The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) includes over 640 four-year institutions, reflecting the importance of these issues in the higher education community. Recently, AASHE launched the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS[R]) 1.0 program, which is designed to provide a guide for advancing sustainability in all sectors of higher education, from education and research to operations and administration [and to] enable meaningful comparisons over time and across institutions by establishing a common standard of measurement for sustainability in higher education. (AASHE n.d., [paragraph] 2)
Many of the AASHE-member institutions have identified offices of sustainability and green development. However, most institutions have focused on buildings (e.g., Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design [LEED] standards) or on waste/facility management procedures (e.g., recycling products, hybrid cars) rather than on campus landscape design. A few institutions have turned their attention to the campus landscape and its potential as a resource and tool for both sustainability practice and pedagogy. For example, in 2009 the University of Minnesota launched the Zero + Campus Design Project to address how buildings and landscapes might contribute to reducing environmental impacts and carbon footprints. Other campus master plans and a myriad of smaller precinct plans have also addressed the call to meet sustainability goals. Such projects at the University of Cincinnati (developed by Hargreaves Associates) and Yale University (developed by OLIN) suggest the potential of teams of designers, planners, and scientists engaged in careful thinking about campus expansion within the paradigm of sustainable and green design. In the process, landscape architecture, both as a profession and an academic discipline, has the opportunity to take the lead and push the boundaries of traditional campus design and planning to engage new visions of how campus landscapes look and perform.
Acknowledging the breadth of campus design across the nation and world and the diversity of sustainable design practices being implemented, this article does not prescribe an optimal approach; rather, it suggests frameworks and practices identified in four North American university case studies. This approach fits well within the sustainable design movement, which has increasingly acknowledged the need for individual site responses. (1) It responds to current calls for specificity in how sustainability is defined and sustainable practices are described and offers a grounded framework for exploring this diversity. In turn, lessons from the cases suggest arguments that might be used to persuade leaders of the critical importance of changing how we plan and design future campus landscapes.
The institutions selected for this article each engaged a landscape architect in the campus design, illustrating the opportunity for the landscape architecture community to take a lead role in the sustainable design process. In the first two studies, at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF) and the University of Washington Tacoma (UW Tacoma), professionals worked with constituents to reflect a focus on community-based design. In the second two projects, at Wellesley College (Wellesley) and the University of Washington Seattle (UW Seattle), a landscape …