Willamette University is getting a new face and its colors are brick and green.

Once it is complete, Willamette University’s new Ford Hall will be among the greenest in the nation with passive solar and thermal technology and the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification.

However, it is only one part of the university’s efforts to become carbon neutral with help from Willamette’s Sustainability Council led by students, faculty and administrators.

“We really wanted to institutionalize Willamette’s commitment to sustainability,” said Nathan Boyce, a Willamette associate professor sustainability council president. “We wanted to affect a culture change.”

The university has made its commitment both visible and invisible. In 2006, the Kaneko Commons student residence completed a $17 million remodel that included rainwater reclamation for use in toilets, water source heat pumps and solar panels that heat all of the water for the rooms and dining hall and provide electricity and shade for residents.

The university’s large open grass spaces aren’t treated chemically, but use tealeaves to treat for pests and fertilize. Weeds are pulled by hand instead of being chemically treated.

“The Council really focuses on the best practices and works to create community awareness,” Boyce said. “We are providing ourselves as an example.”

It hasn’t always been this way. When the University’s Maintenance and Operations Manager, Gary Grimm, started with the university during the early 1980s, sustainability wasn’t part of the overall maintenance plan.

“I can’t think of one sustainable practice we did,” he said. “The need for economic savings led us down that path.”

His interest in maintenance and sustainable practices began with low flow showerheads and computerizing building climate controls.

“There’s always something new coming down the road,” Grimm said. “We employed a lot of high tech, high maintenance and high cost practices to make (Kaneko) a LEED Gold certified building. With Ford Hall, we employed a lot of passive technology that won’t require the same level of maintenance.”

In addition to building greener, the university is gradually replacing much of its fleet of vehicles with hybrids and electric technology. Free bus passes are given to students and staff and ride-share/car-share programs are highly encouraged.

The Sustainability Council has worked to encourage student led projects through mini-grants. Students can present ideas and a proposed budget for sustainable projects and receive money to fund them. One example is funding for the Campus Bike Shop where students can borrow bikes to use around campus or Salem for free.

“This has been a really popular alternative to automobile transportation,” Boyce said. “We’ve also used grant funds to restart the campus community garden.”

The Sustainability Council is currently working on a Climate Action Plan although no time line has been announced. This will include an objective date for the university to reach carbon neutral status and reduce its energy usage. It’s something Boyce wants to see happen soon because he said the planet is simply running out of time.

“I think the window of opportunity is closing on what we can do about climate change,” he said. “We can be a model for what it takes for the United States and the world to get there.”

For additional information about Willamette University’s sustainability efforts, visit http://www.willamette.edu/about/sustainability.