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New Way to Explore Campus Sustainability

Written by Office of Sustainability Student Associate, Julia Feller, Class of 2022

This month, WashU is launching the Danforth Campus Sustainability Map, the one-stop shop for navigating all things sustainability at the university. The map is the end product of four different Office of Sustainability interns spanning nearly five years, providing each an opportunity to apply GIS course work to a real-life application.  

The map has dozens of data sets covering everything from transportation resources to landscape data. Whether you’re looking for shuttle and bus stops, where to recycle clothing and electronics, or where to fill your water bottle, the Sustainability Map can help you find the place. In addition, it can help new or returning members of the WashU community navigate the wide array of sustainability points of interest on campus. 

Here are a few more possible uses for the Sustainability Map: 

  • New students can discover interesting sustainability attractions on campus. 
  • Cyclists can find bike parking or places where they can perform a quick DIY adjustment on their bikes.
  • Visitors can find public electric vehicle charging stations; commuters can verify if there are charging stations in their parking zone.
  • Students can identify which dining halls offer Eco2Go takeout boxes and where to return them.
  • Faculty can quickly identify areas of campus that have native and performative landscapes to incorporate into relevant classes.

One exciting application of the map is making this information easily accessible for students taking Geographic Information Systems (GIS) courses. When students have the opportunity to choose their own data to research a spatial issue, WashU offers unique resources and access to a large data repository, which now includes these campus sustainability data sets. For example, students can use the Sustainability Map to understand how many community members are serviced by our sustainable transportation resources or which buildings would be ideal for the placement of new solar panels.  

The map also helps the Office of Sustainability produce annual reporting in several key performance indicators (KPIs). Each year, we calculate the total share of all types of landscape, the total area of white roofs, the percentage of turf versus performative landscapes, and numerous other measures to help track and archive our progress. Additionally, every few years, we participate in reporting for the AASHE Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) program, for which we have received a Gold rating in the past. We are currently working on our 2022 report, and the Sustainability Map continues to help us track sustainability data consistently and transparently.  

To navigate the map and choose your own data to display, expand the five categories on the right to select individual layers to turn on. Most data points have more information if you click on the corresponding symbol on the map, including LEED status on buildings and charging level for electric vehicle parking. To view the legend for data layers that are turned on, click the list icon in the top right corner. You can also view your current location on the map using the circle icon on the left side of the screen.  

This screen capture demonstrates how to navigate the map.

The Office of Sustainability collaborated with many offices and departments to bring together and daylight the work of partners across the university. We work closely with colleagues within Facilities Planning & Management, who manage the GIS data used to build the map and the Data Services team within WashU Libraries. They have been a huge help throughout the evolution of this project, assisting with everything from orienting new GIS interns, providing data verification, and troubleshooting functionality issues. We also worked with Focal Pointe for landscaping data, Parking & Transportation for sustainable transportation information, and Dining Services for compost locations, among others. Additionally, the Office of Sustainability, often assisted by interns and student volunteers, compiled several data sets manually, by walking around campus to verify locations of features such as bike racks and drinking fountains to update information year-to-year.  

With this undertaking, the university aims to both inform our community about sustainability efforts and display the hard work of everyone dedicated to improving WashU’s environmental impact. We hope the WashU community will take advantage of this tool to build a greater understanding of how wide we cast the net with regards to sustainability and follow how we are making progress in real time.  

You can also view Campus Sustainability Tours of both the Danforth and School of Medicine campuses that are formatted as “Story Maps,” which rely on the same GIS database to take readers through a virtual experience, providing visualization and spatial understanding in a unique experience.