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Emory University’s water award highlights region’s collegiate green programs

Emory WaterHub The WaterHub at Emory University mimics biological methods of filtering and cleaning water, an approach that has won another award – the Campus Sustainability Achievement Award from AASHE. Credit: news.emory.edu

By David Pendered

Emory University’s water reclamation program has won another national award for its WaterHub, a system that recovers water used to heat and cool buildings, and to flush toilets. The award is the latest recognition of efforts by Atlanta’s institutes of higher education to reduce their environmental footprint.

Emory WaterHub

The WaterHub at Emory University mimics biological methods of filtering and cleaning water, an approach that has won another award – the Campus Sustainability Achievement Award from AASHE. Credit: news.emory.edu

Many of the region’s campuses have won individual awards over time. Three were honored simultaneously in 2015 by Sierra magazine, which recognized the greenest schools in the nation and included Emory, Spelman College and University of West Georgia .

In the latest award, Emory’s WaterHub won a 2018 award from AASHE, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. The organization was formed in 2005 as the first professional higher education association in North America for campus sustainability, according to a report on its website.

AASHE named Emory as one of its three winners of a Campus Sustainability Achievement Award. The other winners were Hampshire College, in Amhert, Ma., for a living building; and Bow Valley College, in Canada’s Alberta province, for success in boosting its recycling rate from 19 percent to 76 percent in four years.

The WaterHub has won a number of awards, including a 2016 U.S. Water Prize, from the U.S. Water Alliance, for its role in providing a low-energy, highly efficient method of cleaning water by mimicking the water cleansing processes in nature. The method includes filtration, circulation through natural earth and plant bioreactors, and exposure to ultraviolent light and chlorine.

The WaterHub is able to recycle up to 400,000 gallons a day, which represents almost 40 percent of Emory’s water needs, according to a statement. The facility recently completed the recycling of a total of 200 million gallons of water.

Emory swung for the bleachers in the case study of the WaterHub it submitted in May to AASHE. In painting a word picture that placed the WaterHub into the context of the water situation in metro Atlanta and Georgia, the study observed in part:

Emory, Waterhub, filtration

Emory University’s WaterHub filters water through a wetland with fixed-film microbial ecosystems. Credit: news.wef.org/Emory University

  • “Metropolitan Atlanta has become emblematic of 21st century water issues as the largest municipality reliant on the smallest watershed in the nation, utilizing mainly surface water to supply the needs of a fast-growing region….
  • “[T]he Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued separate Consent Decrees mandating that the City of Atlanta and the DeKalb County government make improvements to the over-burdened, aging combined and sanitary sewer systems. Emory University is located within both of these municipal boundaries and has become a regional water steward by bringing the WaterHub online to treat water decentrally for non-potable purposes, relieving some of the burden on aging infrastructure and reducing its demand for potable water.”

Ciannat Howett was one of three authors of the case study. As Emory’s director of sustainability, Howett addressed the award in a statement released by Emory:

  • “AASHE is the premier organization for sustainability in higher education, and this award reflects Emory’s national leadership in sustainability innovation, resource conservation and resilience planning. … Every member of our Emory community should feel proud that they are playing a part in our university making a difference in public health, social justice and environmental protection.”

Other metro Atlanta colleges and universities have developed their own programs to address their environmental footprints. A few examples include:

SCAD sustainability

A bus shelter designed as a SCAD class project includes environmentally friendly features including a solar panel that generates power for LED lighting and a dashboard that shows the current time and expected arrival. Credit: scad.edu

  • Spelman College provides an array of green programs and opened the first LEED-certified residence hall at an historically black college or university. The Suites use 30 percent less water and 21 percent less energy than a typical counterpart, according to a report on Spelman’s website.
  • Georgia State University has a green office certification program that’s coordinated by the Office of Sustainability to focus attention on energy conservation, waste reduction, recycling communications and occupant health and comfort.
  • Morehouse College’s Institute for Sustainable Energy aims to encourage students to develop outlooks that promote sustainability by weaving sustainability through various classes and programs of community outreach.
  • Savannah College of Art and Design offers two masters degrees in design for sustainability. Both are available at the Savannah campus and past student designs include a bus shelter with lighting and other electrical devices powered by solar plexiglass.


David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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