Degrees of Sustainability: From the Institution to the Individual

A photo story of sustainability efforts within college campuses shows communities, institutions, and individuals in action.

A digital version of Degrees of Sustainability: From the Institution to the Individual.
Originally printed by Artifact Uprising on FSC certified 100% recycled paper.
Find the book & more: @megancairnsphoto

This photo book documents different environmental issues & sustainability efforts on both an institutional and individual level. I’m so excited about combining my passions for the environment and photography.

At the University of California, Santa Barbara, both the institution and the vast majority of its faculty and students have embraced sustainability. In contrast, at James Madison University in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, the institution is beginning to set the pace with its sustainability initiatives, while the students themselves are starting to become more aware of, and engaged in, sustainability. UCSB is in close proximity to the ocean and Los Padres National Forest, whereas JMU is in close proximity to Shenandoah National Park.

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Bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean at UCSB

This difference between the two schools at the individual student level is likely attributable to fact that California has been dealing with more severe environmental issues, particularly a water shortage, for a long time. Individuals raised in California are therefore more aware of the issue of sustainability and have grown up with it as an major aspect of daily life, due to the visible nature of climate change. At JMU, visible effects are slowly arising, as recent droughts have caused wildfires to spread within Shenandoah National Park.

As climate change continues to accelerate and knowledge of sustainable design and practices grows along the East Coast, there is growing evidence of efforts on a more individual scale to promote and support sustainability. 


UCSB’s campus is home to 44 Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certifications, which is more than any other college or university in the nation. UCSB’s Bren Hall for Environmental Science and Management was the nation’s first LEED ‘Double Platinum’ building.


U.C.S.B.’s “Double Platinum” LEED certified Bren School


J.M.U. LEED certified building

JMU has 1 platinum LEED building, 2 gold, and 5 silver. JMU’s Wayland Hall became the first renovated residence hall in to country to receive the LEED platinum award, the highest LEED certification status.


94% of students at UCSB bike, walk, or take a bus to campus, which offers 10,000 bike parking spaces and 10 miles of bike and skateboarding paths.

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Part of U.C.S.B.’s 10 mile network of bike paths

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Bikes clustered outside a lecture hall at U.C.S.B.

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A driveway lined with bikes, at a student household in Isla Vista

The majority of JMU students drive cars or bus to campus. In order to encourage the more sustainable option of biking, JMU spent more than $1.4 million to build the first portion of a shared-use path, to connect to Harrisonburg’s Bluestone Trail south of Campus. Plans are in place to extend the trail through campus, to connect more bike lanes on the north side of campus.


The photovoltaic solar panels at UCSB have helped the college cut their electrical usage by one-third.

JMU’s Small Wind Training and Testing Facility (SWTFF) on East Campus consists of a small wind turbine and 15 solar photovoltaic panels. Training programs for faculty and students at the SWTTF are designed to advance the workforce that will support future developments in renewable energy.

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J.M.U.’s only solar panels


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UCSB Campus Community Gardens

UCSB’s Edible Campus Program began a student and faculty farm, that allows them to learn and practice agricultural techniques that address social, economic, and environmental aspects of sustainability. At the same time, the farm supplies the Associated Students Food Bank with much-needed healthy produce.

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UCSB Campus Community Gardens

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UCSB Campus Community Gardens

Environmental and sustainability education is a priority at UCSB. 47% of academic departments offer some sort of sustainability focus in their curriculum, resulting in a total of 321 “green” courses offered. UCSB offers two primary degree programs in the discipline: a master’s and PhD in environmental science and management.

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U.C.S.B. Surfrider Chapter leads a beach cleanup at East Campus (Campus Point)

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Recycled water irrigation at U.C.S.B.

THE INDIVIDUAL ~ What you can do.

Commute by bike.
Reduce household emissions, traffic, noise & air pollution, save forests, & keep land free for nature.

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Personalized student bike at U.C.S.B.

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Biking is the primary mode of transportation for students at U.C.S.B.

Grow your own food.

By planting your own organic vegetable garden, you will help to:
~ Reduce the demands put on our land by organic agriculture
~ Reduce the energy used to put food on your plate (25-30% of all greenhouse gases are from agricultural production.)
~ Keep our waterways clean
~ Minimize biomass depletion

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U.C.S.B. Campus Community Garden

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U.C.S.B. Campus Community Garden

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U.C.S.B. Campus Community Garden

Green Homes
My aunt designs “green” homes for MetroGreen in the D.C. area. These are net-zero energy buildings are L.E.E.D. certified and use the PassivHaus design, known world-wide as a leader in energy efficiency.

Metro Green homes are built with super-insulating building envelopes, with a passive solar system to decrease dependency on unsustainable energy sources.

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Sustainable building by Patty Shields


Sustainable building by Patty Shields

Sustainability Starts With You.


A digital version of Degrees of Sustainability: From the Institution to the Individual.
Originally printed by Artifact Uprising on FSC certified 100% recycled paper.
Find the book and more: @megancairnsphoto



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