Photos by chris richards / arizona daily star

In Phoenix, Arizona State University President Michael Crow decreed that his campuses will be sustainable and created the nation's first School of Sustainability to focus research efforts and education on combating climate change.

It made a splash.

When Time, Newsweek, ABC News, USA Today and The New York Times covered the topic of "green" campuses, Crow and ASU were featured.

Leonardo DiCaprio screened his environmental documentary, "The 11th Hour," for scientists at ASU's Global Institute of Sustainability, created by Crow in 2004.

ASU gave away 1 million free bus rides to campus last year and built the first platinum-rated Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building in Arizona, the $78.5 million Biodesign Institute.

In Flagstaff, Northern Arizona University hosts the Center for Sustainable Environments and The New York Times recently called the Flagstaff campus "pioneering" in its drive to match its setting with its programs in resource conservation.

"NAU wants to be the greenest campus in the nation," said Tucson architect Dave Burns, who recently designed an Applied Research and Development Building on campus, with many environmentally friendly features, including a southern-facing window wall whose shades and windows adjust automatically with the seasons and the temperature.

NAU has applied for certification of the building at the platinum LEED level, and the university has officially adopted LEED certification standards for all its buildings.

In Tucson, UA President Robert Shelton was the last of Arizona's three university presidents to sign the University Presidents' Pledge to work toward sustainability last April.

The UA is now shooting for at least silver LEED certification on its new buildings, and Shelton is to announce a number of sustainability initiatives in the coming month.

A campuswide sustainability movement has been under way for some time, led by students, staff and faculty.

Where ASU's program is top-down, the UA is embracing sustainability from the bottom up. "To whatever degree it has happened so far, it is staff- and student-driven," said Grant McCormick, campus planner.

Researchers in climate change and the sustainability of water supplies say the UA is years ahead of its counterparts in areas that relate to sustainability but lags behind in the symbolism of a commitment that is reflected in certified green buildings and even the word "sustainability."

Shelton will highlight the campus's green initiatives when he announces formation of a committee to achieve "climate neutrality" on campus by the end of the month, said Andrew Comrie, UA associate vice president for research.

The UA has developed a sustainability Web site to tout its ongoing programs and its plans for research, curricula and institutional actions to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions on campus, Comrie said.

The campus is also planning speeches, conferences and actions for "Sustainability Week" in October.

The UA's next three buildings, an addition to the student recreation center on East Sixth Street and the Arizona State Museum and Science Center planned for Rio Nuevo, will register for silver-level certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, said Peter Dourlein, associate director of facilities, design and construction.

Dourlein said the architects and engineers on his staff have been employing sustainable practices for years, and seven of them are certified in LEED practices.

He pointed to the innovative use of light in the award-winning addition to the Meinel Building and an array of green features in the addition to the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture.

That building is daylit by a window wall on the north side and harvests all its roof water into cisterns that will fill the experimental ponds, streams and gardens of the landscape architecture students.

Dean Chuck Albanese is now raising money for the building's partial green roof, paired with space for experimentation with roof coatings, sun shades and solar appliances.

The green campus is becoming an important symbol, said Dourlein. "It's one of the check boxes students are starting to have when they determine where to go to school."

Student environmental groups continue to push for a greener campus. Now joined under the ECOalition banner, the groups have completed three demonstration rainwater-harvesting projects at the Visitors Center, the Meinel Building and the Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering Building.

Leona Davis, of the campus environmental group ECLIPSE, said the student push for a greener campus gained momentum when groups such as hers, which pushed solar energy, joined with others devoted to rainwater harvesting and recycling under the ECOalition banner.

They raised money and found grants for rainwater harvesting and a solar roof at the Visitors Center at Euclid Avenue and University Boulevard.

"It's students from all over campus, not just environmental studies, but anthropology, architecture, all different disciplines," Davis said.

The Visitors Center project will make the commitment visible to the community at large, she said. "The UA does do a lot," she said. "It's just not very transparent."

Lincoln Perino, president of the Soil, Water and Environmental Science student group, said the university is rightly leading the charge for a more sustainable city. He spent many hours working on the landscaping at the Visitors Center, which is irrigated with roof and parking lot runoff.

"I grew up in Tucson and all my life I'm carping about people moving in and the scarcity of water, and now I'm doing something about it," Perino said.

Faculty involved in the push for sustainability say the university needs to tout its research successes, as well as its physical steps to go green.

"Without any doubt the UA has far more horsepower in fields . . . that are necessary to ensure societal sustainability in the face of climate change and other environmental challenges," said Jonathan Overpeck, director of the Institute for the Study of Planet Earth, an interdisciplinary center created in 1994.

It's partly "a labeling issue," said Overpeck. "The important thing is that UA needs to do a better job of making everyone aware of what we do."

Groundbreaking research goes on in many areas of sustainability at UA, said Overpeck, who is known internationally as an expert on the effects of climate change.

"We have the strongest water university in the world," he said, "and an increasing reputation for research on ecosystems."

"Sustainability is where all the science and knowledge creation finds a lot of use. We're very committed to making that happen," Overpeck said.

What's green on campus?

All three Arizona universities have sustainability initiatives.

The University of Arizona:

ASU's Global Institute of Sustainability:

NAU's Center for Sustainable Environments:

A two-day package

Sunday: The push to build "green" buildings goes wide in Southern Arizona — where it actually has ancient roots.

Today: Students lead the drive to go green at the University of Arizona. Plus, the prospect for more environmentally sensitive homes.

Related stories:

● Contact reporter Tom Beal at 573-4158 or tbeal@azstarnet.com.