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The Member Spotlight celebrates our members who work tirelessly to advance sustainability at their campuses and in their surrounding communities.

Ciannat Howett transitioned her interest and 15-year legal career in social justice and sustainability to improve Emory University’s campus and the surrounding community in 2006 when she became the institution’s first Director of Sustainability Initiatives. In that role she manages the University-wide effort to ensure that Emory’s actions and policies support environmental, social and economic systems that provide a healthy, productive and meaningful life for current and future generations.

“Sustainability is largely ingrained into the culture at Emory,” Ms. Howett shared. “Much of this culture is due to the hard work of important faculty leaders such as Peggy Bartlett who worked to ensure this culture of sustainability that has top level support, but it isn’t without its challenges. There is a limit to the amount of money and time to make important sustainability advancements and our community is constantly shifting and changing,” she continued. One important tool to help overcome these challenges is AASHE membership where you can learn from others and avoid re-inventing the wheel.

Ms.Howett said that AASHE membership has been pivotal to the advancement of sustainability in higher education. “This profession is new and we all feel the urgency around the work. We don’t have the luxury of time to always create and develop new resources. A collective wisdom is needed and AASHE provides that.” Through Emory’s membership with AASHE, Ms. Howett was able to connect with peers at the University of Alberta to learn about their model for strategic planning and implemented that into Emory’s own planning process.

Money and time aren’t the only challenges that Emory University faces. Emory is located in an area where there aren’t always state policies and regulations to advance renewable energy and other sustainability practices, so Ms. Howett feels an even stronger need to advance sustainability at the campus level. The university uses surveys, townhalls and individual consultations with major departments to talk through sustainability efforts and continuously re-evaluate goals. In an effort to receive feedback from everyone on campus and promote diversity and inclusivity, Ms. Howett implemented a graffiti wall where people can express their ideas and opinions on Emory’s sustainability vision. This tactic helps the entire community take ownership around a sustainable approach to planning as Emory integrates a Climate Action Plan into its ten-year vision.

When creating a sustainability plan, Ms. Howett was able to align it with STARS standards. One project in this plan that she is particularly proud of is the WaterHub that was introduced more than a year ago.

This water reclamation system is the first of its kind in the US and recycles approximately 400,000 gallons-per-day – nearly 40% of Emory’s total campus water needs. The system reduces Emory’s draw of water from Atlanta’s municipal water supply by up to 146 million gallons of water annually. “In a metro area reliant on the smallest single drinking supply for a US city of its size and in a state battling in the Supreme Court with neighboring states over water allocation, it is exciting to have a system that reduces the University’s water footprint while saving tens of millions of dollars over time that can be used to support the institution’s core mission, student scholarships, research and more,” Ms. Howett said.

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Emory University regularly uses the WaterHub for teaching and research and to test potential applications globally in areas that are challenged with sanitation and water issues. Institutions are now coming from around the world to tour the WaterHub and learn more about its potential application in other communities. Learn more about the WaterHub.

When Ms. Howett isn’t busy at work, she takes advantage of the long vegetable growing season in Georgia or plays with her 8-year-old son, John Cullen, ranging from dressing up as cowboy to kicking the soccer ball. “Time spent outside is restorative,” said Ms. Howett.

How is sustainability a part of your institution’s culture? What does your institution do to recycle water? Tell us in the comments below!