MIT to Develop `Virtual Campus' to Assist Colleges, Universities with EPA Compliance

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MIT to Develop `Virtual Campus' to Assist Colleges, Universities with EPA Compliance

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently agreed to settle a federal environmental case for a total of $550,000 in an action that may provide low-cost pollution control solutions and free anti-pollution guidance to resource-strapped colleges and universities.

While the $150,000 fine is not the largest on record for a college environmental case, the other part of the case -$400,000 for a state-of-the-art Web site -- is the answer for small schools that need to cope with the increased antipollution vigilance of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Once it is installed on MIT's Internet site, the still-to-be-named page will be similar to a "Dungeons and Dragons" game, but instead of rescuing maidens or battling dragons, the Internet suffer will roam a virtual campus, complete with environmental land mines. With a click of the mouse, the user can open up one of the hazardous waste hot spots and be told how to handle it.

As part of the agreement, MIT will develop a computer-based virtual campus compliance assistance tool intended to help universities and colleges across the nation comply with environmental laws. The virtual campus will address compliance in eight featured areas, including a laboratory, auto and grounds maintenance department, and a 90-day hazardous waste storage area. The Campus Consortium for Environmental Excellence, a not-for-profit group of New England colleges and universities that focuses on ways of mitigating the environmental impacts of campus laboratory research activities, will host the virtual campus on its Web site, .

MIT officials view the novel approach as a way of sharing their expertise with other institutions.

"Rather than taking a Band-Aid approach that would only temporarily address legal compliance, MIT has designed an environmental, health and safety management system that uses automation technology and a systems integration approach to provide information to the environmental service and oversight groups at the Institute, while preserving the independence of research in labs and centers," says Jamie Keith, MIT's managing director for environmental programs and risk management and senior counsel.

RAISING ENVIRONMENTAL CONSCIOUSNESS

Currently, when a school is found to be out of compliance with federal rules, the outcome is usually a stiff fine and an expensive remediation program. If a school can discover its problems ahead of the EPA inspector, the outcome can be cheaper, less troublesome and less of a public relations headache.

Many campuses are working to redesign these systems and improve their environmental performance, but progress and trends are difficult to define. Up until now there has not been a tool to measure environmental performance in higher education, according to the preamble to the National Wildlife Federation's landmark study on the relationship of the nation's colleges and universities to environmentalism. …