Gretchen Vanicor recalled a marketing professor telling her years ago that recycling, energy conservation and other sustainability initiatives would soon be critical components of any successful business.
“All these big corporations like Nike, Sony and Apple were starting to talk about corporate social responsibility. I had a marketing professor who was adamant about us knowing what sustainability really meant,” said Vanicor, who is using those lessons as she now wraps up her first year as the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s first director of sustainability.
She oversees an ever-expanding program aimed at conserving energy and moving the campus toward zero waste — recycling, of course, but also reducing the amount of waste students, faculty and staff generate.
“Part of our mission is to be better stewards of the environment and for our students to be globally responsible,” she said.
Vanicor got her bachelor’s degree in marketing from McNeese State University in 2006, a bachelor’s degree in architecture from UL-Lafayette in 2008 and a master’s degree in architecture from the school in 2010.
One of her earliest forays into the world of sustainability was as project manager for the team that designed the award-winning BeauSoleil Louisiana Solar Home on campus.
Prior to her taking the UL-Lafayette position, there were only a few sustainability initiatives at the university.
The Student Government Association began a campus recycling program in 2010. The recycling program previously was run by student workers, but as projects were added by the university, it was clear the office needed full-time staff.
The campus recycling program has continued and has expanded this year to include Cajun Field on game days, when recycling bins are set out at tailgating spots and other high-traffic areas.
Vanicor, meanwhile, has managed a wide range of other initiatives.
The university has begun installing occupancy sensors in major buildings to ensure lights are shut off when people leave; composting limbs and other green waste from campus; and using environmentally friendly cleaning products.
Soon, leftover food in the dining hall will be donated to St. Joseph Diner, Vanicor said.
And the university adopted its first formal sustainability policy in October, addressing everything from food services to transportation.
Water conservation efforts already have begun with the installation of low-flow faucets and toilets in several dorms on campus along with low-flow urinals at Cajun Field. These kind of faucets and toilets will become an automatic feature in all new campus buildings.
Vanicor also said water use has become central to landscape planning at the university.
“Our grounds manager does a good job with planting native plants that don’t require a lot of watering. Our water conservation is primarily tied to our responsible landscaping practices,” she said.
The Office of Sustainability will partner with the city-owned Lafayette Utilities System to install 10 “smart meters” around campus that will measure the electricity use of each building, to better determine how to save energy.
One of the most noticeable green initiatives is the addition of bike lanes on St. Mary Boulevard through campus.
“Our biking population has exploded in the past few years. Now, we literally have no more room for bikes on bike racks,” she said. “Part of the (university’s) master plan is adding more biker-friendly amenities to campus, like bike stations where they can work on their bikes and more bike racks throughout campus.”
The master plan also aims to make driving to campus more of an option than a necessity.
“We now have bus routes that much better serve university students,” Vanicor said. “We worked with Lafayette Consolidated Government to coordinate sites with the Lafayette Transit System so we can get students on these buses.”