Universities Think Cleaner and Greener with Keep Louisiana Beautiful

Interest in sustainability is growing rapidly at the university level, with students, faculty, and administration seeing the cruciality of changing the spiraling trajectory we have chosen for our planet toward one that is cleaner and greener. To support our rising leaders’ quest for achieving improved ecological health, in 2021, Keep Louisiana Beautiful (KLB) and University of Louisiana at Lafayette secured a five-year EPA Gulf of Mexico Trash-Free Waters Grant to create and launch the KLB University Affiliate Program, develop a litter assessment app, implement educational training for campus communities, and fund grant opportunities for University Affiliates. Subsequently founded in 2021 was the University Sustainability Coalition – a one-of-a-kind network that offers members a forum to connect, learn, and collaborate. 


KLB’s University Affiliate Program is one of only two that exist in the U.S., and while new, it has the largest number of university partners. Officially becoming affiliates in May 2022 are Grambling State University, Louisiana State University, Nicholls State University, Tulane University, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, University of New Orleans, and Xavier University of Louisiana. KLB will welcome new applicants for the 2022-23 academic year this summer. 


“We couldn’t be more impressed with our first class of university applicants,” says Cabell Mouton, Affiliate and Grant Director for KLB. “Our goal was to onboard three universities our first year, and the fact that we have seven speaks to the energy and dedication universities are directing toward sustainability, waste reduction, and litter prevention.” 


“Our partnership with Keep Louisiana Beautiful as a University Affiliate applicant is greatly valued,” says Dr. Ellen Smiley, Dean of Honors College at Grambling State University. “It helps us create and maintain a more beautiful and cleaner environment that reflects the splendor that can only be experienced in our beloved state, Louisiana.”  


The KLB University Affiliate Program welcomes two- and four-year colleges committed to continual improvement in sustainability and environmental issues, the promotion of student environmental stewardship and engagement, and strategic outcome measurement. The program engages college students to think critically about non-point sources of pollution while gaining skills in ArcGIS, policy analysis, strategic planning, and community service. 


To become an affiliate, a university should take the readiness assessment to self-determine candidate viability before applying and going through the certification process. Applicants must appoint a department to house the affiliate, identify an affiliate coordinator, and develop a steering advisory committee. With the affiliate coordinator, the advisory committee creates a workplan based on a Litter Survey, Waste Audit, and other site-based research. 


It is important for universities to use the Litter Survey to establish a baseline for litter conditions on campus. Using Likert scale, the schools can understand where they stand and start to develop strategies to reduce litter and change behaviors. A litter tracker app currently in development at University of Louisiana at Lafayette will help schools complete their litter assessments.  


The Waste Audit performed by the universities helps to characterize the material type, quantities, and origins of waste. Auditors determine the quantity of paper, metal, organic material, glass, single-use and other plastic, and mixed material. 


“Once you fully understand your landscape and the key contributors to litter on campus, you can start to plan and strategize how to tackle the issue,” says Susan Russell, Executive Director of KLB. 


As affiliates, universities benefit from KLB staff support, access to KLB tools and resources, use of data collection processes, and educational trainings. University Affiliates also have the option to apply for grant programs to support sustainability initiatives, the reduction of single use disposables, and litter prevention. In accordance with the EPA Gulf of Mexico Trash-Free Waters Grant guidelines, over the course of four years, KLB will award 34 grants to its University Affiliates, totaling $170,000. 


In working together, KLB and its university partners quickly realized our state’s higher education institutions lacked a forum to discuss their sustainability goals and efforts. To open lines of communication and initiate a network between the state’s colleges and universities, the University Sustainability Coalition was established in 2021, with Dr. Jerrod Penn, Assistant Professor with the Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness at LSU, as chair. The group of 12 universities meets virtually monthly during the school year, covering topics such as transportation, professional development, landscaping, networking, and campus dining.  


“Improving the sustainability and resiliency of our great state of Louisiana will require all stakeholders, institutions, agencies, and industries to do their part,” says Gretchen LaCombe Vanicor, Director of Sustainability at University of Louisiana at Lafayette. “Universities are in the unique position of having an education and research mission, while operating at the scale of a city, complete with dining, housing, transportation, athletic, and business administration functions. The Sustainability Coalition has been an important step forward for Louisiana universities to share challenges and solutions with each other. In doing so, we are collectively reducing our negative environmental impacts and bringing sustainability and resiliency issues to the forefront of Louisiana higher education.”


The University Sustainability Coalition includes representation from Dillard University, Fletcher Technical Community College, Grambling University, Louisiana State University, Louisiana Tech, Loyola University, McNeese State University, Nicholls State University, Northwestern State University, River Parishes Community College, Tulane University, University of Louisiana Lafayette, University of Louisiana Monroe, University of New Orleans, and Xavier University of Louisiana. University Affiliate status is not required to join the coalition. 


“None of this would be possible without Keep Louisiana Beautiful’s partnership with University of Louisiana at Lafayette and the funding provided by the EPA Gulf of Mexico Trash-Free Waters Grant,” says Russell. “We look forward to watching this program grow and using the data collected through our University Affiliates to track our effectiveness in engaging the campus communities and reducing litter.”  


This fall, University Affiliates and University Sustainability Coalition members will be invited to participate in KLB’s fall conference. The event will give the universities the opportunity to meet in person, networks, and discuss their preliminary findings.