October 02, 2023
Students worked in the University's Community Garden on the Mother Teresa Day of Service Sept. 17. (Catholic University/Patrick G. Ryan)

Eight years ago, Pope Francis’ encyclical  Laudato Si, set the tone for how the Catholic Church would address increasing environmental issues facing the world – and their impact on people.

Catholic University became one of the first universities in the world to sign onto a groundbreaking Vatican initiative, the Laudato Si’ Action Platform, by committing to a plan for environmental sustainability in 2021. The University was recently named in Princeton Review’s Guide to Green Colleges for 2023.

"At The Catholic University of America, we're committed to Pope Francis' call for environmental responsibility. Through education and innovative operations, we're taking meaningful steps toward a more sustainable future," said Alexandra Harry Napier, director of Office of Sustainability. 

The Holy Father released a follow-up apostolic exhortation, Laudate Deum – “Praise God,” on Oct. 4 that called on people to address the increasing climate crisis and care for our common home.

In anticipation of its release, here are some ways that the community on the campus of The Catholic University of America has put Pope Francis’ words into action through a variety of efforts.

Academic Excellence

Maloney Hall is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified and home to the Busch School of Business. (Catholic University/Patrick G. Ryan)

Catholic University is one of 12 institutions of higher education worldwide, and the only Catholic university, to have a program receive the U.S. Department of Energy’s first-ever Zero Energy Design Designation (ZEDD). The designation recognizes leading sustainable building academic programs. 

The University’s School of Architecture and Planning’s Master of Science in Net Zero Design/Master of Architecture Joint Degree was honored. A net zero energy building uses the same amount of energy as is produced onsite using renewable resources, which is why they are often called “green buildings.” 

The University offers rigorous sustainability in the classroom, with two dozen majors, minors, and concentrations in:

  • the School of Architecture and Planning, the School of Arts and Sciences
  • the Busch School of Business
  • the School of Engineering
  • the Columbus School of Law
  • the Conway School of Nursing
  • the Metropolitan School of Professional Studies
  • the School of Theology and Religious Studies. 

Featured courses include Sustainable Living Independent Study, the LEED Lab, and Busch School Team Field Studies.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

  • The Cardinal Closet, a student and staff-led free thrift store, is open Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 2 - 4:30 p.m. There will also be a clothing drive and tabling at the Student Philanthropy Fair during the month.
  • The Community Garden, which provides a space for all community members to garden together and grow produce for the Cardinal Cupboard, has weekly gardening sessions on Thursdays at 9 a.m. The produce is donated to the Cardinal Cupboard, the on-campus food pantry.
  • Food Recoveries are conducted weekly on Fridays at the Pryz Food Court and ad hoc from other events on campus. If you are interested in recovering food from an event you are hosting, complete the Food Recovery Request Form

Solar-powered and green innovation

Solar panels are installed on buildings such as Gibbons Hall. (Catholic University/Patrick G. Ryan)
  • The University’s campus, the largest in Washington, D.C., comprises 50 buildings totaling about 2 million square feet. Campus facilities feature many sustainable and environmental best practices. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is one of the most prominent green building certifications in the world and the University is home to four LEED-certified buildings: The Crough Center, Opus Hall, Maloney Hall, and O’Connell Hall.
  • The campus hosts the largest solar installation in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, with a total of 2,600 solar panels on the main and North campus. Solar panels are installed on Aquinas Hall, Flather Hall, Gibbons Hall, Pangborn Hall, the DuFour Center athletic facility, the Grounds and Maintenance Building, and the O’Boyle Parking Lot. The solar panels have a combined 677 kW of installed capacity.
  • The University is building the Washington metropolitan region’s largest urban solar array on the University’s West Campus, providing locally generated, renewable energy. The 6 MW ground-mounted solar array is currently under construction.
  • All of the electricity used on campus is purchased with Green e-Certifications.

Touring Sustainability in Action

Cherry Blossom trees are among the 4,500 trees on campus,  (Catholic University/Patrick G. Ryan)

A member of the University's community can request an hourlong sustainability tour at any time during the year. They can see first-hand how Catholic University is committed to being a living laboratory for students and creating a healthy environment for the entire community.

Tour options include:

  • General Sustainability Tour: Learn about the sustainability initiatives on campus ranging from academic programs to green infrastructure to waste management and much more. 
  • Tree Tour: During this tour, you will learn about the 4,500 trees on campus, how the University manages its trees, and the benefits of a diverse and healthy ecosystem to the community.
  • Stormwater Management: Catholic University has over 80 stormwater management devices across campus. During this tour, you will visit rain gardens and a green roof and learn about Catholic University’s efforts to mitigate stormwater runoff. 
  • Solar Panels: Learn about the benefits of solar energy to the campus and the DC community, as well as the process for installing solar arrays on campus.
  • Power Plant Building: Catholic University recently completed the Energy Project, a multi-year effort to upgrade its heating and cooling systems. During this tour, visit the campus Power Plant building and learn about the upgrades as well as how heating and cooling are distributed across campus.
  • LEED Building Tour: Maloney Hall: During this tour of Maloney Hall, learn about the LEED certification process, the LEED Lab course, and the features in buildings that helped them qualify for LEED certification.

Check out the many opportunities for students, staff, and faculty to get involved in sustainability at Catholic University as well as guides to sustainable living on and off campus.