Highlights of ACSPSE Accomplishments, 1997-2014


Between 1997 and 2014, ACS Programs in Sustainability and the Environment helped ACS institutions develop and support environmental sustainability in every aspect of campus life, including a) physical operations, b) student development and engagement, c) campus-community partnerships, and d) the academic realm.

Our first collaborative environmental activities occurred in 1997, when we applied for over a million dollars in support from the V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation (VKRF). Subsequently, under the leadership of Senior Program Officer Elizabeth L. MacNabb, we garnered additional support from VKRF (ending in 2003) and from the Jessie Ball DuPont Fund (2005-2006), as well as ongoing support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (2002-2014). Generous funding from these charitable organizations were the mainstays of ACS institutions’ environmental progress.

Collaboration between and among ACS institutions became the norm under Dr. MacNabb’s guidance. Evidence of our environmental success is everywhere in the consortium Throughout the course of the environmental initiative, we have attracted the most motivated and dedicated faculty, students, and staff to participate in our programs, including 25 Environmental Postdoctoral Fellows, more than 131 Faculty Fellows, 16 Facilities Fellows, 269 Student Interns, and 180 Alliance members. We have also hosted or supported 50 conferences and/or workshops, with a total of over 1200 participants. In the past 17 years, we estimate that at least 7000 ACS faculty, students, and staff, and several hundred members of the surrounding communities, have been affected by a wide variety of ACS environmental projects and activities, many of which grew out of our conferences.

As a result of participation in ACSPSE programs, our institutions continue to make permanent physical and cultural changes that emphasize environmental sustainability. One highly visible example: eleven out of sixteen ACS presidents have signed the American Colleges and Universities Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), an act which assures the rest of the world these institutions are serious about achieving “carbon neutrality” within a reasonable time period (for more information, go to www.presidentsclimatecommitment.org/). The faculty and staff members now working to carry out ACUPCC requirements for their presidents are those very same faculty and staff who attended ACS environmental conferences and workshops over the years, who acted as Faculty Fellows and Facilities Fellows, and who played a key role in ACS environmental alliance and grant activities. The testimony of ACS faculty at a 2008 Academic Deans meeting demonstrates that the highly successful ACS environmental initiative has greatly changed ACS campuses for the better.  Clearly, these eleven signatory presidents made the ACUPCC commitment because of the influence of ACS Environmental Programs in Sustainability and the Environment.

Physical Operations

Raising environmental awareness of facilities staff is a crucial step in the movement towards change, and between 2001 and the present, ACS facilities and grounds personnel have implemented sweeping campus changes while working toward large and small goals, from recycling to limiting greenhouse gas emissions. ACSPSE conferences and workshops have helped educate facilities personnel about a number of environmental issues, including ways to develop energy-efficient, environmentally-friendly, and climate-neutral buildings and grounds. In the past 17 years, ACSPSE hosted 15 conferences that included a “greening the campus” focus. At these gatherings, facilities managers and staff from all over the south discussed best practices and received encouragement and advice from experts and peers, sharing information about managing issues such as water scarcity, recycling challenges in the south, waste reduction, native and organic landscaping, energy conservation, and much more.  Great ideas are contagious: to name two examples, products and practices such as waterless urinals and integrated pest management have spread throughout the consortium after ACS facilities staff learned at our conferences how these practices were being managed at Rollins College.

Similarly, green building practices “caught on” after facilities managers attended ACS green building charettes and LEED presentations at ACS conferences, listened to Green Building Council speakers, hired LEED student interns, and the like. Today, our colleges and universities have progressed from none to fourteen campuses with LEED or LEED-like structures, and more such buildings are on the way. One of these (Furman) was the first LEED building in South Carolina, and another (Spelman) was the first LEED building at a Historically Black College/University.

In addition, the ACS “Campus as a Lab for Sustainability” inter-institutional Alliance (CLS) encouraged facilities staff to work with faculty and students to create innovative environmental projects that changed their campuses for the better. Since 2001, ACS supported more than 27 physical operations projects, from recycling, to waste reduction, to water conservation, to alternative fuels/energy, to native/organic landscaping, to composting, to green residence halls, to name only a few.

Some example project titles supported by CLS include Alternative Fuel Vehicles (Richmond), Solar Shingles (Rollins), Sustainable Landscaping (Southwestern), Grey Water Recovery (Trinity), Biodiesel Production (Furman), and Green Bikes (Rhodes). One very exciting project ACS helped initiate is Washington and Lee University’s cafeteria waste composting endeavor. ACSPSE provided a few thousand dollars for composting tubs, and put the major players in touch with composters across the consortium. WLU’s passionate staff, faculty, and students then created such a successful program that the university got involved, assigning part-time, then full time staff to the project, and finally purchasing upgraded equipment. That one little compost operation now recycles up to 19,000 pounds of “prep food” waste annually. A visit to WLU to learn about its composting operations encouraged and inspired the Trinity facilities manager to purchase TWO composting tubs and begin the process at that campus as well, and other ACS institutions have followed suit.

Student Development and Engagement

Between 1998 and 2006, the ACS Programs in Sustainability and the Environment brought students together from all over the south for 11 workshops and conferences, educating them and providing an opportunity to share information and network about environmental research, career options, leadership, internships, and ways to change their campus culture.

Through an ACS collaborative workshop, for example, ACS spread the practice of creating an environmental residents program, adding a “green” student to each housing facility on several campuses. The most striking success was Sewanee, which dedicated an entire program to the ERs, as they are called, with a special residence hall, green materials library, an ECO-Cup challenge, and various programs like the Green Graduation Pledge (see http://ers. sewanee.edu/). Other campuses that have replicated aspects of Sewanee’s ER program include Hendrix, Rhodes, Rollins, Millsaps, and Furman.

Because of ACS conferences, and with support from the “Student Development and Engagement” Alliance (SDE), ACS students developed more than 89 on- and off-campus projects from 2001-2007. To name a few projects ACS supported during those years: student-advocated pedestrian and bicycle alternatives to automobiles (Sewanee and Southwestern); tire pressure check events (Rhodes); paper flier elimination drives (Morehouse); food waste limits (Richmond); fair trade and organic/local meals in cafeterias (Furman); environmental film festivals (Trinity); and lake-, river-, and ocean-clean ups (Furman, Centre, Rollins). Some other representative projects include Stomp Out Styrofoam (BSC), GeoCorps internship at Denali National Park (Sewanee), Permaculture Feasibility Study (Millsaps), Green to the Last Drop coffee (BSC), and Carolinas Clean Air Coalition internship (Davidson).

The SDE supported student environmental research as well, including creating conference venues at which student research could be presented. One particularly interesting research subject was a senior thesis by a Davidson interdisciplinary studies major (environmental concentration). She compared green facilities management at ACS campuses, using interviews with the managers (whom she met at an ACS Green Campus conference), as well as statistics and other information provided by those managers. Another study supported by SDE was a multi-campus hybrid car demonstration by a Rollins student. He drove throughout the 12 ACS states in a Toyota Prius, giving campus demonstrations and test drives to students and faculty (this project was undertaken soon after the Prius first came out). The student then compared his mileage statistics with average driving stats for students at the campuses he visited.

Both the Undergraduate Environmental Research and Faculty Development Conference at Spelman (2004) and the Environmental Summit at Morehouse (2005) devoted considerable tracks to student papers and posters. The ACS Student Environmental Leadership workshop, which met at the Southeast Student Renewable Energy Conference (UNC Chapel Hill, 2004), also provided opportunities for students to share research with an even larger audience.

Campus-Community Partnerships

Between 1998 and 2008, ACS hosted 10 conferences and workshops that focused on, or had tracks involving, campus-community partnerships. Since 2001, ACSPSE has encouraged students, faculty, and staff to reach out to the non-academic communities in our states, in the region, and across the world. Via the “Campus-Community Partnerships” Alliance (CCP), we helped to create more than 39 partnerships to conserve wetlands, create ecoscapes, plant community gardens, implement urban planning and storm water management, monitor and improve water quality, and enhance trails and bird blinds at wildlife refuges, among myriad other activities.

A few representative titles supported by CCP include Native Gardens in Winter Park (Rollins), Shenandoah Land Conservation (Sewanee), and Brown Springs Ecoscape (BSC). One project, “Service Learning and Water Purification in the Dominican Republic” (http://tars.rollins.edu/int-programs/water.html), became an ongoing, annual community partnership that was replicated in South Africa, via a consortial partnership with FOTIM (Foundation of Tertiary Institutions of the Northern Metropolis of South Africa). In addition, plans were made to take this project to Haiti, to help survivors of the devastating earthquake in 2010.

Birmingham-Southern’s (BSC) special environmental focus has always been partnering with the community, whether through service learning or via its own Southern Environmental Center (www.bsc.edu/sec/). The Center is the largest educational facility of its kind in Alabama and can handle groups of up to 200 visitors at a time. In addition to its award-winning Interactive Museum and EcoScape Gardens, the SEC has initiated a number of model partnerships targeting water quality, smog, and urban sprawl. Many of its activities were supported by grants from the Campus-Community Partnership Alliance. Another helpful partnership is Davidson’s ongoing Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Outreach (http://www.bio.davidson.edu/people/midorcas/herpconservation/herpcons_home.htm), which identifies our scaly animal friends for North Carolinians, educating them to value and help protect the animals. This partnership was first conceived via a grant from the CCP.

Academic Realm

From 1998 to 2014, ACS hosted or supported 29 conferences and workshops involving environmental teaching, curriculum, and research, including two conferences specifically designed to assist campuses in creating an environmental studies major, minor, program or concentration. In 2001, only three of our institutions had an environmental studies program. With ACSPSE encouragement, over the years that number has risen steadily. Today, all 16 ACS schools have at least one academic program focusing on the environment, and some have multiple programs.

Between 2001 and 2008, the “Curriculum and Faculty Development” Alliance (CFD) supported more than 77 curriculum and/or faculty development projects, motivating professors to bring the environment not only to their science courses but to those in the humanities and social sciences as well, via curricular and co-curricular programs in the U.S. and abroad.

A few interesting titles of courses created with CFD support include African Ecology (Morehouse), Green Physics (Trinity), Religion and Animals (Hendrix), Indigenous Perspectives (Rhodes), The Art of Civic Design (Rollins), Island Biogeography and Species Conservation: Science and Literature (WLU), and Russian Environmental Politics (Centre). ACS also supported numerous international courses. The most visible and long-lived example (2000-2006) was Rollins’ inter-institutional, interdisciplinary summer course, Sustainable Development in Costa Rica, team taught by professors from several different ACS institutions, and attended over the years by students from almost every ACS school.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation board awarded ACS $3.5 million to support two flights of Post-Doctoral Fellows in environmental studies at ACS institutions between late 2008 and 2013. The program was unique in that no other Fellowships from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation have been awarded to a consortium to support exclusively one interdisciplinary academic field. The program provided a strong boost to environmental initiatives on the campuses and in the consortium. Environmental Fellows not only taught more than 100 new and regular courses for ACS colleges and universities, they also created co-curricular projects, collaborated in undergraduate research, sponsored Earth Day and Earth Week activities, gave presentations, assisted with departmental issues, and much more. The Fellowship Program helped prepare new PhDs for successful careers as interdisciplinary teachers and scholars in environmental fields. Fellows received a rich, productive introduction to teaching and research in topnotch small college settings with high teacher-student ratios, mentored by some of the best liberal arts professors in the country. A total of twenty-five Fellows taught at ACS campuses between fall 2009 and spring 2013. ACS campuses benefitted enormously from the energy, enthusiasm and expertise of these new PhDs, who added breadth and diversity to environmental studies curricula, expanded course offerings and increased interdisciplinarity at our campuses.

ACSEI becomes ACSPSE: 2009-2013

In 2008, we re-named the program formerly known as the ACS Environmental Initiative (ACSEI). We felt that ACS Programs in Sustainability and the Environment (ACSPSE) reflected changes in the global environmental movement, which had begun to focus on sustainability while building upon environmental conservation and concerns. The new name also reflected our intent to double down on efforts to encourage and support the full range of environmental efforts on ACS campuses (including infrastructure, student development and engagement, and curriculum and faculty development), despite the fact that our latest round of funding had sharpened our focus on the academic realm.

With support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation ACSPSE inaugurated the Environmental Post-Doctoral Fellowship Program, which placed 25 new PhDs in two-year positions at ACS member institutions between 2009 and 2013.

Featuring a reduced teaching load, supported research, faculty mentoring, and consortial workshops, the Environmental Fellowship Program introduced new faculty to the rewards and challenges of teaching, scholarship, and professional development at private liberal arts colleges and universities in the south. In this way, the Program aimed to create a strong cadre of environmentally-trained teacher-scholars ready to enter careers that strengthen and support consortial collaboration while embracing the larger aims of liberal arts education. At the same time, the Environmental Fellowship Program enhanced the curriculum with cutting edge environmental research in a wide variety of scholarly disciplines, and brought to ACS institutions fresh approaches to growing worldwide environmental concerns.

Solutions to environmental challenges require faculty from all disciplines who communicate with one another, contributing knowledge and skills that can only be developed in an interdisciplinary context. Therefore, another aim of the Environmental Fellowship Program was to enhance interdisciplinarity throughout the ACS curriculum, disseminating environmental studies (ES) courses as widely as possible, and “ramping up” ES departments and programs across the consortium so that they might better meet the urgent need for graduates equipped to tackle environmental challenges which, by definition, are interdisciplinary in nature.

ACSEI, 1998-2008

While many ACS institutions were already deeply involved in environmental efforts of various sorts by 1997, the ACS Environmental Initiative (ACSEI) officially began in 1997 with a multi-million dollar grant from the V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation (VKRF), which allowed us to expand those efforts and to begin the vital process of inter-institutional collaboration. Between 1998 and 2008, ACSEI evolved through four distinct phases of programming. These will be described below.


To change the way people think about the natural world by enhancing the curriculum and academic programs at its member institutions.
To have a profound impact on the lives of students, faculty and staff in our institutions, transforming them into effective environmental citizens.
To foster environmentally sensitive attitudes and practices at our member institutions and to model these changes for other colleges, universities and consortia.
To influence constructively the broader society by increasing environmental awareness and by attacking and solving preeminent environmental problems.
In order to attain these objectives, our goals for ACSEI included making environmental concerns an integral part of campus life and learning; playing a leadership role in American higher education in terms of advancing environmental causes and sustainable development; creating a model for environmental collaboration by demonstrating the transformative effect such projects can have on institutions and individuals; establishing partnerships with other non-profit groups, corporations and government agencies to support and expand our efforts; playing a role in clarifying and confronting a number of specific environmental challenges and problems identified by the consortium and having a positive impact on those challenges; and last but not least, becoming a leading regional and national center for the investigation and consideration of environmental matters, disseminating lessons from our experiences to other institutions. Although our methods of outreach changed in 2008, we remain committed to these goals.

ACSEI Phase I. Employing a three-pronged approach to encouraging environmental citizenship at our institutions, we appointed faculty fellows and student interns on each campus, and hosted workshops and conferences to bring these and other members of the consortium together. ACSEI’s first funding phase ran from 1997 to 2001; our second phase from 2001 to 2003; third phase was 2003-2005. These were primarily funded by grants from VKRF. From 2005-2008, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation helped ACS continue its work as ACSEI.

Faculty Fellows. The cornerstone of our work in the ACSEI was the appointment of a faculty member at each campus to act as liaison for environmental issues. These faculty were catalysts who stimulated environmental and sustainable development activity. They were information disseminators of environmental news from ACS and elsewhere; cheerleaders for ACSEI programs; they mentored students who acted as environmental interns; hosted environmental speakers; and they developed/ maintained networks of faculty, staff, and students interested in environmental progress. In addition, from 1998 onward, faculty fellows were key actors in the consortial move from only a handful of academic programs in environmental studies to 16 campuses that now support either a concentration, a program, a major or a minor in that field.

Moreover, faculty fellows engaged in individual projects such as creating environmental improv troupes; fostering campus ecological preserves and information booths on conservation of indigenous plants and animals for their communities; sponsoring and supporting residential eco-houses and eco-resident assistant programs; maintaining green campus planning cooperatives; supporting outdoor events and clubs; and organizing campus speakers, panel presentations, discussions and readings. More recently, some of our faculty fellows converted their campuses to using all recycled paper; created campus-community partnerships over water quality monitoring; acted on local parks signs and trails committees; persuaded security police to use bicycles rather than cars on campus; designed environmental pages for websites; and instituted “Green Pledge” programs among graduating seniors.

Student Interns. A second foundational aspect of ACSEI programs was the student environmental intern. Two or three students per campus assisted the faculty fellow in bringing environmental projects and activities to the attention of various groups on campus, with an emphasis on increasing participation by the student population at large. Student interns also took on an independent leadership role by developing individual environmental projects. Some recent student activities included organizing and implementation of Earth Day, Earth Week, and Earth Month celebrations; green websites; carpooling; environmental book clubs; campus newspaper columns on environmental issues; first-year student orientation programs on recycling and other recycling programs; waste audits; student environmental film festivals; refillable mugs for cafeterias; composting; organic gardening; vegetarian/organic and locally grown food options in campus cafeterias; establishing environmental materials libraries; fair trade coffee at campus coffee shops; elimination/decrease of paper memos/ads; campus and/or community clean-ups; researching health status of local rivers; and end-of-year clothing/furniture drives to prevent waste stream overload.

Workshops and Conferences. The third foundational aspect of ACSEI programs was our workshops and conferences. From 1998 -2008, the ACS Environmental Initiative hosted or supported 42 workshops, conferences, and symposia, with a total of nearly 1000 consortial participants, addressing various aspects of environmental citizenship. At little or no cost to the individual or to the campuses, these workshops gave ACS faculty, students and staff an opportunity to learn about, be engaged in, and be motivated by their peers’ environmental courses and research, by co-curricular environmental programs, and by the many environmental partnerships and projects that were created, implemented, and strengthened due to ACS alliance grants. Our 2005 ACSEI Summit at Morehouse College was the biggest environmental conference ever hosted by ACS. One hundred fifty-six people registered, and 15 of our 16 institutions were represented. For more information on our workshops, please see our Past Workshops/ Conferences page.

By 2001, ACSEI had numerous successes under its belt. For example, the number of students enrolled in Environmental Studies programs throughout the consortium more than doubled, while courses with an environmental focus increased by more than fifty percent, and seventy new courses with an environmental component were added to the curriculum. In addition, four ACS institutions approved new environmental studies majors, minors or concentrations, and four consortium-wide workshops on the environment and the curriculum were held. In those four years, students participated in twenty-two new programs that, among other outcomes, encouraged them to pursue environmental careers; student activism in environmental clubs more than tripled. Institutionally, fifty-seven new energy saving programs were put into place, and nine environmental audits were conducted. Further examples of our institutional commitment to the environment and sustainability include the addition of twenty-three new programs ranging from new positions and committees to declarations of environmental responsibility in mission statements.

ACSEI Phase II. In September 2001, ACS began a new and expanded phase of its program in environmental citizenship. Thanks to a second round of funding from the V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation, and matching funds from ACS institutions, the consortium established a new organizational structure of inter-institutional alliances that brought together the most interested and committed institutions to achieve a common goal.

Alliances: a new way to collaborate. From 2001-2003, ACSEI supported six inter-institutional alliances: Curriculum & Faculty Development; Student Development & Engagement; Campus as Lab for Sustainability; Sustainability, Humanities, & the Environment; Sustainable Development in the Global Community; and Campus-Community Partnerships. Lead alliance institutions had a historical commitment to the programmatic focus of the Alliances, and they extended Alliance activities to include other ACS institutions, making our endeavors consortium-wide enterprises. Lead institutions also assisted with a comprehensive assessment of Alliance activities, responding to elaborate and lengthy questionnaires so that we could compile information about each school.

Facilities fellows: new team members. Added to our team in 2001, facilities fellows were generally highly placed members of the physical plant or campus operations staff. Facilities fellows collaborated with faculty fellows and student interns to devise strategies for achieving best management practices in sustainability wherever possible, helping the campus move toward a physical embodiment of sustainable development. Some facilities fellow projects included installation of waterless urinals and water-conserving shower heads; conversion of campuses to biking/walking rather than cars; working with students to create organic gardens and xeriscaped plots; conversion of work carts from gas to propane; assisting in developing LEED certified buildings and buildings that are “LEED-like”; establishing a sustainable practices officer; and assisting in recycling and composting efforts, land reclamation work, and native plant nurseries.

ACSEI Phase III. From 2003 to 2005, the ACS Environmental Initiative accommodated funding changes by streamlining our programs. Maintaining our faculty fellows and student intern programs, we pared down our alliances to three, all of which continued to offer grants to faculty, students, and staff: Curriculum & Faculty Development; Student Development & Engagement; and Campus as Lab for Sustainability. Facilities fellows became active members of the latter alliance, while continuing to team up with faculty fellows and student interns for various projects.

Mellon Foundation Programming, 2005-2008: Phase IV. In the spring of 2005, the Associated Colleges of the South Environmental Initiative was awarded $300,000 by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support new and existing programs through spring of 2008. This funding also made it possible for us to accept a $50,000 matching grant from the Jessie Ball DuPont Fund. With this support, ACSEI continued to maintain key personnel on each campus (faculty fellows and student interns), to host at least one conference per year, and to support three somewhat re-configured inter-institutional alliances. The re-configured Alliances had familiar names: Student Development and Engagement (SDE), Curriculum and Faculty Development (CFD), and Campus-Community Partnerships (CCP). These inter-institutional Alliances focused on developing student leadership in environmental internships and student teaching assistantships, expanding academic environmental offerings, opening new international opportunities in environmental teaching and research overseas, and promoting partnerships between institutions and the surrounding communities.