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We Look at the Big Picture
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The Future Starts Today

Michael Burns, an assistant professor of English, cycles to work.

WCU assistant professor of English Michael Burns bikes to campus each day. A member of the University’s Sustainability Advisory Council, he’s active in bike awareness and ridership programs, such as a Bike Check clinic presented on Earth Day and at other campus events, and “Fix-it Fridays,” workshops that provide an overview of basic bike repair.

Sustainability is one of the major themes in the Building on Excellence strategic plan. WCU has adopted a broad definition of sustainability that emphasizes the importance of appropriate growth and development and that integrates environmental, social and economic opportunities. Burns and other many other members of the University community are doing their part to promote sustainability at WCU, and one way to do that is by being a responsible commuter.

About 25% of WCU’s greenhouse gas emissions are associated with student, faculty, and staff commuting, according to the most recent statistics available, from 2010. The University is supporting a variety of transportation initiatives to mitigate the impact of commuting, which have the added benefit of reducing congestion and parking difficulties on campus. Programs underway include:

Exton Shuttle

One of the highlights of the work of the Sustainability Advisory Council's Transportation Subcommittee is the Exton Train Station bus shuttle. Launched in 2012, the shuttle runs between campus and the Exton Train Station at times convenient to the morning and evening train schedules. The shuttle is funded through the Office of the President via the External Operations division and is operated by Facilities.

Motor Pool Initiatives

A compressed natural gas refueling center was installed at WCU 18 years ago. As of fall 2015, WCU maintains 28 fleet vehicles capable of running on compressed natural gas, which produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants than gasoline. This represents 33% of the fleet. WCU also has fleet vehicles that run on biodiesel.

Electric Vehicle Charging Stations

In 2015, two electric vehicle charging stations were installed in the Sharpless Parking Garage.

RideShare and Otto Programs

Employees and students can connect with other drivers and/or riders as potential carpool partners at WCU Rideshare. Rideshare allows participants to enter their route online and then negotiate with whomever contacts them about sharing a ride. Otto is an app for both iPhone and Android that allows participants to connect with other people studying or working at WCU to create their own carpool.


Zipcar is the world’s largest car sharing and club car service, offering cars for rent by the hour or longer. There are two Zipcars cars at West Chester University, parked in D Lot near Lawrence Hall.

Transportation projects are just the start. The University’s sustainability initiatives encompass energy efficiency, food and dining; purchasing; waste reduction; water usage; biodiversity and landscaping; as well as curriculum. Highlights from each area include:

Energy Efficiency

In October 2010, West Chester University signed the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment, which commits the University to make a good faith effort to achieve a carbon neutral environment by 2025. In the six years since that signing, WCU has made significant gains in addressing our obligations to the environment. One of the most exciting areas of progress has been in energy efficiency.

WCU has worked aggressively to transition to non-polluting energy sources. We have radically expanded our district wide geo-exchange field, which is currently the nation’s second largest geo-exchange field in use. In 2014, we formally decommissioned our 50-year-old, coal-fired power plant. Today, we heat and cool 50 percent of our buildings with geothermal energy and 50 percent by high-efficiency natural gas boilers. By transitioning to these new energy sources, the University is reducing its annual carbon foot print by more than 16,000 tons of CO2 emissions yearly.

Beyond geothermal initiatives, all WCU building projects are designed with environmental sustainability in mind. The University has installed several green roofs and green walls that act to reduce cooling demands in the summer. There are currently three “green buildings” on campus that meet or aspire to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification: 25 University Avenue, the Student Recreation Center and Swope Music Building. The Business & Public Affairs Center, which is scheduled to open in 2017, also is being built to LEED standards.

Food and Dining

WCU contracts with Aramark Higher Education for dining services. Aramark employs a full-time sustainability coordinator at WCU. Aramark has instituted sustainable practices including local purchasing, waste oil reduction, reusable plastic plates and utensils, and composting.


The Environmentally Preferred Purchasing Program links the procurement process to other sustainability efforts on campus, and helps institutionalize more sustainable purchasing practices throughout WCU. It adds environmental considerations to the price and performance criteria the university uses to make purchasing decisions.

Waste Reduction

WCU has single-stream recycling, which means that all recycling bins on campus are suitable for clean paper, cardboard, glass, plastic, aluminum, and food cans. Additionally, the University sells hundreds of surplus items annually on an auction website. These items get a second life rather than being discarded in a landfill.

Water Usage

Green roofs have been installed on Francis Harvey Green Library and Merion Hall. Green roofs are planted with drought tolerant plant species and serve to conserve water and reduce run off. More green roofs are planned at WCU. Green walls serve a similar function. Currently, the most developed green wall on campus is in the Outdoor Classroom & Demonstration Garden next to Schmucker Hall. A number of green wall trellises are in development for the Student Recreation Center and other buildings.

University Student Housing (USH) has installed water bottle filling stations around campus to help reduce litter and plastic waste while further conserving water.

Student and faculty research and service are an integral part of WCU’s sustainability initiatives. Many of WCU’s water-related projects focus on Plum Run, a tributary of Brandywine Creek that begins from an underground source on campus. Its east branch flows through South Campus and the Robert B. Gordon Natural Area for Environmental Studies. Plum Run is the focus of research and service activities in departments including environmental health, biology, geology & astronomy, and geography & planning.

Biodiversity & Landscaping

The Robert B. Gordon Natural Area for Environmental Studies encompasses 73 acres of land on South Campus. Its mission is to preserve a natural ecosystem and to minimize human disturbance so as to allow the habitat to serve as a laboratory for environmental studies. The area was designated a Wild Plant Sanctuary by the Commonwealth and conducts research in conjunction with the USDA Forest Service. Research on natural succession, carbon storage and sequestration, and invasive plant management are some of the many ongoing studies.

The University also maintains an Outdoor Classroom and Demonstration Garden; the South Campus Community Garden; and several rain gardens; which are located at the Poetry Center, Outdoor Classroom & Demonstration Garden, and Human Resources on Carter Drive.

Whenever possible, WCU uses sustainable landscaping alternatives and reduces its use of traditional landscaping practices such as monoculture lawns, non-native plantings, and the use of chemical herbicides and pesticides. Sustainable landscaping improves water quality and helps to reduce storm-water runoff.

Fiscal, Financial, and Human Resources Management Sustainability Programs

Financial and budgeting actions focus on the ongoing need to provide funding and support to the critical academic and infrastructure missions of the University. The University has strengthened the link among planning, assessment and resource allocation to provide more flexibility to move resources across divisions. In 2015, the University launched a newly designed and structured University Budget Review Committee to play a key role in strategic resource and budgetary decisions. Despite significant challenges, the University manages its fiscal house with great efficiency and flexibility to ensure a sustainable future.

Resource stewardship at West Chester University is being met through a variety of initiatives, robust fundraising, and efficient and sustainable operations. Over the past five years, giving to WCU has been growing at twice the rate as for all Pennsylvania State System institutions. With WCU seeking to diversify its resources, the Becoming More capital campaign was launched in 2013 by the West Chester University Foundation. The University is actively working to realize the campaign goal of $50 million; currently we have surpassed 60% of the target. This campaign is the largest in WCU’s history and features such projects as the Business and Public Affairs Center, expansion of space for the health sciences, and new program development. The University’s endowment has more than doubled from $16 million in 2010 to more than $33 million in 2015.

The Building on Excellence strategic plan set a goal of increasing the number of formal partnerships with the local community, including school districts, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, higher education institutions and other entities to advance environmental sustainability within the community. In 2015, the University developed 896 partnerships with business, government, and nonprofits that address critical sustainability issues.

In the area of human resources, and as part of the development of a comprehensive workforce succession planning program, the University has secured software that will help to coordinate performance and talent management. This software should improve organizational stability and reduce replacement costs. It is designed to reduce the number and length of interim appointments; enable quality internal employees to be cross-trained to fill critical vacancies; close learning/skill gaps; and increase the number of internal promotions. In 2015, in-house employee development programs increased 29%.