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Green Champions – Sustainability is foundational to Colorado State University

Green Champions – Sustainability is foundational to Colorado State University

Bonnie Palmatory, Graphic Designer and Assistant Director of Creative Communications in the Department of Housing and Dining at Colorado State University, talks about encouraging sustainable behaviour without lecturing, the importance of aiming high, and fighting the good fight.

In our “Conversations with Green Champions,” Rolland President Philip Rundle asks sustainability-minded organizations about their approach to environmental responsibility.

Bonnie Palmatory, Graphic Designer and Assistant Director of Creative Communications in the Department of Housing and Dining at Colorado State University, talks about encouraging sustainable behaviour without lecturing, the importance of aiming high, and fighting the good fight.


  • Colorado State University has 33,000 students in undergraduate and graduate programs, with 6,000 living on campus during the academic year.
  • Sustainability-related majors and minors are available at all CSU colleges: Agricultural Sciences, Business, Engineering, Health and Human Sciences, Liberal Arts, Natural Resources, Natural Sciences, and Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
  • CSU has earned many awards and accolades for its sustainability efforts: STARS Platinum, Princeton Review’s Green College Honor Roll: No. 4, BestCollege’s No. 1 Greenest College, Platinum Bike-Friendly University, Green Ribbon Schools Postsecondary Sustainability Awardand Top Ten Coolest School by Sierra Magazine.
  • Location: Fort Collins, a mountain city of 160,000 residents, an hour’s drive from Denver.

Q: How does Colorado State University define sustainability?

A: The opening lines on our sustainability website say it well: “Sustainability is foundational to who we are. As a land-grant university1, we’re compelled to steward, conserve, and protect the world around us. It’s central to everything we do – from academics, research, and operations to outreach. It’s an ongoing mission that we embrace together.”

Q: How did all eight CSU colleges come to have sustainability-related minors and majors?

A: It stems from our original classification as an agricultural college in the 1800s – agriculture and veterinary medicine remain important here. The School of Global Environmental Sustainability is very influential. It is an umbrella organization which touches all our colleges. It brings together everything to do with sustainability research and education, and builds partnerships across the spectrum.  

Q: How do you encourage environmental responsibility across your student body?

A: We focus on providing information so students learn on their own, and we try not to lecture or push out emails and posters saying, “do this, it’s sustainable!” One of the more unique ways is through Eco Leaders2, a peer educator program. Eco Leaders are generally first- or second-year students living on campus in residence or apartments who encourage environmentally-responsible behavior. It’s a personal approach and promotes change through the grapevine.

Q: How does the university maintain a green infrastructure?

A: The President’s Sustainability Committee is the most influential campus-wide body that advises on and promotes sustainability practices with renovations, new buildings, and other major initiatives. There are other committees, too, so any project is looked at through the sustainability lens. The spirit is, “since we have to renovate, let’s at least pursue a LEED certification.” 3

Q: Of CSU’s many sustainability-related awards, which stands out most?

A: STARS Platinum4 because we were the first and only institution in the world to receive this ranking in 2015. It matters in the academic community and also for the country – it puts the U.S. on the map.

STARS isn’t an easy award to achieve, so the award meant the students and staff who were involved saw the fruits of their labor. We’ve also just got word that we achieved STARS 2.1, which is even more demanding. Aiming high is good – even if we don’t get the recognition, we will still have made a lot of progress.

Q: Do you encourage your suppliers to act responsibly?

A: Yes – our second question is usually about sustainability. The first would be, “do you print T-shirts?” then we ask “do they have recycled content?” or “are they fair trade?”

The more we ask for sustainable options, the more we see them available. We asked our printer, “Do you work with Rolland? We want to use this biogas paper.” This prompted them to start supplying the paper, because when we first asked it did not seem available.

Q: How did you learn about Rolland’s use of biogas?

A: Word of mouth – a nice story to pass on. If people are not familiar with Rolland, we tell them the mill uses biogas as an alternative to fossil fuels and the reaction is: “Wow, you can use methane from garbage to power something?”

We asked Creative Services, the CSU vendor pool, to request Rolland EnviroPrint paper because it’s a good option. Any time you can convince another department to go with recycled paper it is a win for everybody.

Q: What role do print communications play at CSU?

A: Textbooks have mainly been digitized, much of our communications to students is digital, and we’ve implemented digital signage.

I’m a print designer and see myself as green, which is a catch 22 situation, so I make sure print projects are as sustainable as possible.

We like to use print when the first impression is important, where students hold something important in their hands. The first job we printed on Rolland paper, our Housing Guide, is a perfect example. It is included in the admission package sent to accepted students, so they receive it at an exciting time. Students flip through this brochure and figure out where they want to live and discover communities that interest them. It’s a great intro.

Q: Do you see Colorado State University as a green champion?

A: Yes, our dining centers divert 92% of food waste to compost. We have over two dozen LEED buildings on campus. But it’s not just about stats and awards, it’s the big picture.

Last year, CSU formulated a climate action plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. We also have a goal of 100% renewable electricity by 2030, not that far away, so it’s a daunting task.

Sustainability is ingrained here. All our staff and students are dedicated to doing as much as we can, because future generations depend on it. We just keep fighting the good fight.

1Land-grant universities were created by the first Morrill Act, signed into law in 1862 by President Abraham Lincoln. Under the Act, proceeds from the sale of land in each state were invested in a perpetual endowment to support colleges of agriculture and other practical subjects. The original and subsequent Acts have made a college education available to any American with the ability and motivation to earn a degree.

2Eco Leaders engage other campus residents in waste reduction, energy conservation, sustainable transportation, and recycling and composting. The Eco Leaders program also has an academic component with mandatory classes, credits for the course and a housing stipend.

3Leed (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) — is an internationally recognized rating system for design, construction, and operation of high-performing, sustainable buildings. There are four certification levels: Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum.

4STARS (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System) is a program conducted by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. It measures comprehensive sustainability efforts at more than 700 universities across the world, and is considered the most comprehensive and prestigious sustainability performance measurement program in higher education.

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