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It's easy being green

Built around a broad base of sustainability research and an overarching commitment to creating a “greener” campus, Northeastern University this week marked the first Sustainability Week with programs, lectures and a prestigious award for the Dockser Hall renovation.

The University has been making strong strides in this area: Last summer, Northeastern was one of 15 educational institutions out of 697 to earn a place on the 2010 Green Rating Honor Roll compiled by Princeton Review.

This week’s effort, designed to accelerate the momentum and increase awareness of sustainability issues, got under way Monday with information sessions around campus. Organizers will be highlighting the large and small efforts that people can make to create a greener lifestyle.

On Tuesday, trees on Forsyth Street were retrofitted with permeable asphalt bases to help mitigate storm-water runoff, a major environmental issue in urban areas.

Eighteen Zelkova trees and recently planted red maples in Forsyth Circle had their bases covered with material comprised of recycled tires and stone, a permeable material that allows rain water to penetrate and sink into the ground, rather than being wasted as runoff, explained Chuck Doughty, director of landscape services.

“Instead of winding up in the sewer system, the rainwater can soak through and recharge the groundwater,” he said.

In the research realm, Northeastern faculty are engaged in a variety of sponsored projects: multidisciplinary research aimed at developing alternative fuels and improving energy storage and use; designing more efficient health-care systems; developing lower-cost methods for cleaning polluted bodies of water; and shepherding marine resources.

The week also offered a timely backdrop for the recognition of the Dockser Hall renovation as an award-winning “green” project.

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) of the U.S. Green Building Council recently announced the extensive renovation received a “gold star” honor for water and energy efficiency, air-quality standards, and materials use.

Frank Mahoney, director of special projects for facilities, explained that innovations like low-flow lavatories and a new irrigation were incorporated into the project, which ran from July 2008 to August 2009. He noted that 96 percent of the waste generated by the project was sent to recycling plants.

“The University has been committed to sustainable construction on previous projects,” Mahoney said. Northeastern has furthered this effort with a commitment to pursue LEED certification on all new capital projects, he added. The University’s newest building, International Village, is in the midst of the LEED certification process.

Northeastern’s commitment to becoming a greener institution was recognized in 2007 by the Sustainable Endowments Institute, which tracks environmentally friendly policies and practices on U.S. and Canadian campuses. The organization lauded Northeastern as one of five schools showing the most improvement in environmental practices and polices over a year.

President Joseph Aoun signed the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment, a nationwide initiative to neutralize greenhouse gas emissions among institutions of higher learning.

Events this week include a “green business” networking event at the Cabral Center on Wednesday, and a keynote by Howard Lyman, a so-called vegan cowboy who authored “Mad Cowboy: Plain Truth from the Cattle Rancher Who Won’t Eat Meat” and “No More Bull: The Mad Cowboy Targets America’s Worst Enemy — Our Diet.” Lyman will speak from 7 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday at the Raytheon Amphitheater.

For a complete list of events, please visit

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