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Sustainability Office

“To waste, to destroy our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it so as to increase its usefulness, will result in an undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them amplified and developed.”
- Theodore Roosevelt
Environmental and social responsibility is an important part of Mercyhurst University's mission. We're committed to educating our students and our community about living more green lifestyles to ensure a sustainable future. We encourage ongoing participation in recycling and energy conservation, offer a Sustainability Studies minor and major and provide the Mercyhurst community with multiple ways to get involved in sustainability projects and activities.

There’s a lot of talk about sustainability–but what is it really? The concept of sustainability emerged in the 1970s, but was first used in the context of global resource conservation in the 1987 United Nations report titled, “Our Common Future," in which sustainable development is defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”


Study Sustainability

Sustainability Studies Undergraduate Program

Currently, Mercyhurst offers a Sustainability Minor and Major, a Sustainability Studies Concentration within the Chemistry and Biology departments. In addition, Introduction to Sustainability Studies is a course open to all students. 

Looking for the Graduate Sustainability Concentration, click here!


Student Sustainability Fund

During the 2006-07 academic year, student Green Team members successfully campaigned for the passage of a Student Green Energy Fee. Through petitions (with over 1,000 students signing) and a 2-1 student referendum vote, *students overwhelmingly approved a $5 per student, per term fee that allows Mercyhurst University to strengthen an already impressive commitment to renewable green energy.* 

In the spring of 2008, the Green Energy Fund approved the first two projects: purchase of a solar safety-emergency lighting system, and increasing the percentage of campus electricity coming from wind farms from 10 percent to 30 percent.

The fund is administered by a Review Board consisting of students, staff, and faculty. The review board meets periodically to review proposals, which may be submitted by any Erie Campus member.

Additional projects that have been funded include partial funding of the Green Roof located on Zurn Hall, an educational Kiosk for the Green Roof, the increase in our wind offset purchase to 100% of the Erie Campus electricity consumption and continued annual purchase, plastic reusable To-Go meal containers for Egan Dining Hall replacing the disposable containers two years in a row, purchase of two Earth Tub composters, the move of the Erie Campus solar panels to the West County farm property, and the purchase of a carbon accounting software that will assist with maintenance of the campus Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory.


Presidents Climate Commitment

In October 2007, Mercyhurst University President Thomas Gamble joined several hundred college and university presidents in signing the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment. Driven by the international scientific consensus that addressing the worst impacts of global warming necessitates a minimum goal of reducing greenhouse gases by 80% by 2050, the Climate Commitment obligates all signatories to a goal of carbon neutrality for their institutions. It immediately compels each institution to conduct a comprehensive inventory of greenhouse gases emitted, by the institution itself and by their employees and students. It further requires each college or university to develop a thorough, methodical and incremental plan for reducing greenhouse gases.

Mercyhurst’s greenhouse gas emissions study has been completed, with Dr. Michael Campbell, professor of biology, leading his field ecology students in this project.

Mercyhurst's Climate Action Plan has been approved!

To view the President's Climate Commitment website, click here.


Sustainable Energy


Geothermal heating and cooling systems rely on the fact that the earth’s temperature just below the surface remains relatively constant independent of the air temperature above the surface. This means that during the winter the earth’s temperature is warmer than the air temperature and during the summer it is cooler. This is a type of renewable energy and so is more sustainable than burning fossil fuels for heating or cooling. However, a geothermal system requires electricity to run, so, although more energy efficient, the system itself is not completely sustainable.

The Geothermal system uses a fluid, like water, to help with heat exchange. The water flows from the building through pipes into the ground, where the heat exchange occurs and then flows back into the building. When the building needs cooled, the water is already warm from the building’s temperature; it flows into the ground where the heat from the water is lost to the cooler surrounding surfaces. The water flows back into the building where the mechanical part of the system uses the temperature from the cooler water and using an air circulating system cools the building. During cooler months, the water is cooler and pulls heat from the surrounding warmer surfaces as it is pumped through the ground and back into the building. The warmer water is then used to heat the building with the air circulation system.

Since the mid-1990s, for example, Mercyhurst has been a regional pioneer in demonstrating the environmental and financial benefits of geothermal heating and cooling, which uses the constant temperature of the earth as a renewable energy source and then uses electricity to distribute the temperature by air throughout a building to either heat or cool. This form of geothermal heat exchange produces an average of 50-70% fewer carbon emissions.



In 2006, the Mercyhurst Green Team received a $15,000 grant through the Solar Scholars program to install a 3-kilowatt solar panel system on campus. The funding was provided by the Sustainable Energy Fund of Central Eastern Pennsylvania. During the summer of 2006, Dr. Ron Brown, associate professor of chemistry, along with two of his students, traveled to Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., to receive training on the installation and monitoring of the panels. With assistance from the physical plant staff of Mercyhurst University and North Coast Energy Systems (a local company with expertise in alternative energy installations), the panels were installed in November 2007. From the time of their installation through July 2008 the panels produced over 2,400 kWh of energy for the university and have reduced Mercyhurst University carbon dioxide emissions by over 5,000 pounds. The solar panels also save the university about $1,200 annually in electricity costs and are used for special projects in classes and student research.

As of the summer 2011, this solar panel system has been moved out to the Mercyhurst Farm, located in Girard, PA due to the construction of the CAE building at the front of campus.

"I'd put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don't have to wait 'til oil and coal run out before we tackle that."
- Thomas Edison



Starting in 2003, the university began purchasing 10% of the electricity consumption as wind energy through Community Energy, Inc. which is verified by a third party, Green-e.

In 2008, with help from the Green Team and funding from the Green Energy Fund, the percentage of our wind purchase was increased from 10% to 30%.

In July 2010, Mercyhurst University finally increased this purchase to cover 100% of our electricity consumption. This purchase yields a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions due to electricity used on campus. With electricity being the highest cause of greenhouse gas emissions on campus. With electricity being the highest cause of greenhouse gas emissions on campus, this is a very important step to reaching carbon neutrality.

The university offsets about 7000 Metric Tons of carbon emissions due to our electricity consumption on the Erie Campus through a wind power purchase. This offset purchase supports national wind projects.

As a purchaser of green power, Mercyhurst University has joined other colleges, universities and other businesses as an EPA Green Power Partner.


Recycling at Mercyhurst

Follow these guidelines and suggestions for recycling to start making a difference today!

  • Recycling saves energy, resources, and waste, and it reduces pollution.
  • Although we have retained separate bins in hallways of academic buildings, all recyclable materials may now be mixed into single containers for disposal. This is especially important in student housing and in offices, where we have only a single bin for recyclables.
  • Students are required to collect their recyclable materials in the single bin provided to them and deposit them in nearby recycling dumpsters marked “RECYCLING ONLY.”

Students :: see your RA / HD / AD if you need a recycling bin.

Employees :: call Maintenance x2273 if you need a recycling bin.
The following materials are recyclable:
  • Glass Bottles and Jars: clear, brown, and green, rinsed and unbroken (DO NOT include window glass, drinking glasses or light bulbs)
  • Metal Food or Beverage Cans: all types, rinsed, crushed or uncrushed
  • Plastics: numbers 1 through 7 (look on the bottom), including lids. Rinse thoroughly, crushed or uncrushed (NO styrofoam)
  • Newspapers and Magazines
  • Cardboard
  • Paperboard: cereal and food boxes, beverage cartons, egg cartons and paper bags (NO wax coated boxes or pizza boxes)
  • Paper: all grades and colors, such as junk mail, envelopes, writing, typing, wrapping and computer paper (NO paper towels or napkins)
  • Ink Jet Cartridges: separate boxes are located in the following areas: Preston Mailroom, Hermann Student Union, Hammermill Library, Zurn 1st Floor, Hirt second floor. The Green Team earns up to $4 for each ink jet cartridge that is recycled!
  • Phone Books: November-January. Separate bins provided. Feel free to bring your phone books from home. This is a great project, as it earns money for the Second Harvest Food Bank. In addition, Erie Energy Products converts the phone books into home insulating material.

Employees :: Whenever possible, use Blackboard, email and Library Electronic Reserve as a means of reducing paper use.

Students :: Contact us if you would like to volunteer or if you have ideas on how we can strengthen the recycling program at Mercyhurst.



Carbon Footprint Calculator 
Calculate your impact using the Footprint Network’s carbon footprint calculator.

Tips to Reduce your Footprint

  • Walk, bike, or take public transit whenever possible. 
  • Share a ride with at least one other person.
  • Keep your thermostat relatively low in winter and ease up on the air conditioning in the summer.
  • Add energy-saving features to your home.
  • Unplug your electronics when not in use.
  • Eat more local, organic, and in-season foods.
  • Reduce the amount of animal products you currently eat by one less meal per week.
  • Choose foods with less packaging to reduce waste.
  • Use biodegradable, non-toxic cleaning products.
  • Buy less! Replace items only when you need to.
  • Use washable plates, silverware and cups during get-togethers.

Meatless Mondays
Eating less meat has numerous health benefits in addition to environmental benefits. Reducing your meat consumption can help fight diabetes, reduce risk of cancer and reduce your carbon footprint.  By cutting out meat one day a week, you can make a difference. Click here for more information and recipe ideas.

Eating Local
By eating local, you are able to get fresh, quality produce that came from nearby, instead of produce that has been trucked across the country. You are also supporting local farmers and reducing your environmental impact. If you want to eat locally, start with Local Harvest. This site will help you find farmers’ markets, restaurants using local ingredients, meat processors and more.

Energy & Water Conservation

Tips for Saving Money on Your Energy Bill

  • Check air filters in your heating and cooling units monthly. Dirty air filters make it harder for air to come through your system, using more energy.
  • Seal your heating and cooling ducts. These ducts move air to and from your central air conditioner, furnace and heat pumps. If they are not sealed properly they can waste energy.
  • Invest in a power strip. Plug your electronics and chargers into the strip and switch it off when you are finished.
  • Use compact florescent lighting instead of incandescent bulbs. Lighting takes up a big part of the energy bill, so by replacing these lights you can save both on money and energy.
  • Make sure your fridge and freezers are full. It takes more energy to cool an emptier system.
  • Turn off your computer when finished for the day. Shutting down computers makes a huge difference when looking at energy consumption.
  • Try to buy local foods when possible. When you buy local, you know where your food is coming from. Local foods also cut down on transportation costs.
  • If you are going to be off campus or away from home for an extended period of time, make sure to unplug your appliances and electronics. This includes things like TVs, toasters, clocks, microwaves, etc.
  • In rooms with excellent natural day lighting, consider turning on less artificial/electric lighting.

Tips for Saving Money on Your Water Bill

  • Cut off two minutes from your average shower time. Taking a five minute shower only uses 10-25 gallons of water.
  • When washing clothing, make sure you use a full load of laundry. This, along with using a high efficiency washer, can save on water bills.
  • When washing clothes turn the water temperature to cold. It uses much less energy.
  • When washing dishes by hand, don't let the water run. Fill one sink with wash water and the other with rinse water.
  • Check for leaks throughout your home and be sure to fix them.

Other Resources

Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture

Grist Magazine

Low Impact Living

The New Farm