A view through the glass windows of the Emory WaterHub

A stream of sustainability achievements

When Emory held a grand opening for its innovative new WaterHub wastewater facility two years ago, it announced a goal of sharply reducing campus water consumption and costs by reclaiming and recycling campus wastewater.

Since then, the award-winning facility has done just that — reducing potable water use on campus by more than 100 million gallons since its 2015 grand opening — a landmark achievement realized well ahead of schedule.

The first system of its kind in the United States, the WaterHub has drawn international attention for an innovative approach to dramatically displacing external water demand.

The water processing facility utilizes eco-engineering processes to clean campus wastewater for nonpotable uses, such as heating, cooling, and toilet flushing. With the capability of cleaning and recycling up to 400,000 gallons of wastewater per day, it has the capacity to displace nearly 40 percent of Emory’s total campus water needs, thus reducing demand on Atlanta’s stressed watershed.

It’s also proven an important intersection for academic and community interests, including hands-on faculty and student research. “The WaterHub helps fulfill Emory’s vision to use the campus as a living laboratory and marries our operational and academic work in innovative ways,” says Ciannat Howett, director of sustainability initiatives at Emory.

It’s only one of a steady stream of sustainability achievements at Emory this year. 

In fact, Emory was recognized for its commitment to energy and water conservation by the city of Atlanta as the only college or university in the metro region to receive the 2016–2017 MVP Award in the Atlanta Better Buildings Challenge.

Conserving, creating energy

Yet Emory wasn’t just conserving resources. It was also creating energy.

In other campus developments, the university expanded its role into power production through the installation of a compact, one-megawatt steam turbine generator within its boiler system — a self-generating source of clean energy that helps reduce greenhouse gas, says Matthew Early, vice president for Campus Services.

The energy-producing technology joins a series of solar panels located around campus and, with the construction of Emory’s new Campus Life Center, the university’s first foray into the realm of geothermal energy. “We’re drilling wells in McDonough Field that essentially use the Earth as a heat sink to help cool and heat buildings,” Early explains.

It all is helping Emory make good progress toward its goal of reducing campus energy consumption per square foot by 50 percent and that energy use by 25 percent, as outlined in Emory’s Sustainability Vision and Strategic Plan.

“We’re tracking ahead of where we need to be, which is very good,” says Early. “We’re also looking at reducing our total domestic water usage by 50 percent, which we feel is achievable.”

Engagement, innovation 

In 2017, Emory deepened its commitment to sustainability by adopting an ambitious new waste management policy designed to engage the entire campus community in heightened recycling efforts.

Emory’s 2025 Sustainability Vision commits the university to diverting 95 percent of waste from municipal landfills — effectively a zero-waste policy.

To achieve that, Emory’s Office of Sustainability and Division of Campus Services partnered to install more standardized, color-coded recycling stations in all major university buildings throughout campus. Outdoor bins were changed to collect compost and recycling but not landfill waste.

And Emory faculty and staff were enlisted to help by sorting and emptying their own deskside waste and recycling bins. The changes are being phased in across all university-owned facilities served by Emory Facilities Management on the Atlanta, Oxford College, and Emory/Grady campuses. Emory Healthcare will develop waste management policies for health care–related facilities. 

“Emory’s commitment to sustainability is really made manifest when we pursue these kinds of changes,” says Howett. “This is all about walking the talk of ethical behavior and creating a sustainable future.”

When it comes to sustainability, the pathway toward progress at Emory is paved with innovative ideas. This past year, for example, saw a student-led effort to revive and expand campus “green roofs” — vegetative roof coverings that help disperse summer heat and absorb stormwater runoff.

Rainfall that hits rooftop plants, porous pebbles, and soil tends to linger. The plants also help mitigate solar heat that bounces off rooftop surfaces and assist resident bee populations by providing pollinators with a pit stop.

The movement was spearheaded in part by former Emory student Rebecca Park 17C, who found support through a Sustainability Incentives Fund grant from Emory’s Office of Sustainability to revitalize a green roof project on the Math and Science Center. 

Originally installed in October 2008, the project was part of a student-led pilot study exploring the benefits of green roofs. But nearly a decade later, the low-maintenance project had languished.

With a budding interest in green infrastructures, Park was interested in seeing it brought back to life. Today, visitors stepping off the elevator on the fifth floor of the Math and Science Center see more than 500 drought-tolerant plants in low, flat trays covering 420 square feet of rooftop. 

That dedicated greenspace is now part of a growing trend at Emory. From residence halls and campus maintenance buildings to pedestrian plazas and, now, a vegetable garden atop Emory University Hospital Midtown’s Woodruff Building, green roofs are playing a functional — and vibrant — role in helping meet Emory’s sustainability goals.

Annual Report