David E. Shi Center—A Shining Example of Sustainability in Action

By Roberta Bolduc

The David E. Shi Center, a 3400 square foot building situated on the pristine grounds of Furman University in Greenville, has made history from its inception. The building was Southern Living magazine’s first sustainable showcase home. The Shi Center is a Leeds-certified gold structure and offers state-of-the art education in sustainability. It is also a progressive community partner and a launch pad for innovative teaching.

Named after the university’s 10th president, the Shi Center was founded in 2008, designating the study of sustainability as a distinctive priority for Furman. In 2017 the school made the list of the Top 50 Green Colleges in The Princeton Review’s Guide to 375 Green Colleges. Furman’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences offers the first, and only, Bachelor of Science degree in Sustainability Science at a liberal arts institution in the United States.

When construction was complete, Furman opened its doors to the public allowing tours of the building for one year. Afterward the home was retrofitted to its current academic function and serves as an active hub where students, educators and community leaders work together in exploring real-world sustainability concerns and generating scalable solutions.

Weston Dripps, PhD and Executive Director of the Shi Center, came to the campus in 2005. Two years ago Dripps, who is also an Associate Professor of Earth And Environmental Sciences, moved into the leadership role at the Shi Center. He points to the center’s programs as the catalyst that placed Furman at the cutting edge of sustainability in higher education at the national level. One such platform is the Student Fellows program which funds 30 students each year.

The program engages Furman undergraduate students in sustainability research, service, and internships around campus and community-based projects. These paid community projects encompass 10-week summer intensive outreach opportunities with more than 30 community partners such as the Greenville Zoo, Upstate Forever, Mill Village Farms, and others. The experience encourages students to apply sustainability in diverse ways and develop their academic credentials, along with personal character, sense of place and responsibility. The program has supported over 200 student fellows from almost every major across campus.

Dripps emphasizes the Shi Center’s effort to weave sustainability across the curriculum, focusing not only on environmental issues, but dealing with the challenges of affordable housing, social justice and other community needs. One such campus program is the Community Conservation Corp, founded in 2009, to help low-income, greater Greenville residents with home weatherization needs.

Another of the center’s multi-faceted projects is Furman’s ¼ acre organic practice farm that uses a comprehensive composting system. The composting program handles all of the pre- and post-consumer waste from the dining hall and also processes much of the university’s landscaping waste. The farm grows thirty-five different fruits and vegetables with the produce sold directly to Bon Appetit, the food service provider for Furman’s dining hall. “A Prawn Aquaponics system is also in the works,” adds Dripps.

Another opportunity for students to practice sustainability is the Greenbelt Engaged Living Community where cabins dotting Furman’s picturesque lake house twenty-two student residents. Students enroll in one class each semester, increasing their knowledge on the tenets of sustainability.

An additional piece rounding out the center’s sustainability commitment is a five-acre solar farm. Dripps notes that all the energy produced is currently being used on campus. Sheep are leased from a local farmer as an energy-free mowing method.

The David E. Shi Center has racked up a plethora of awards including the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) Campus Sustainability Achievement Award in 2016, the Organizational Donor of the Year from Habitat for Humanity in 2016 and the Clear Skies Champion Award from Upstate Forever in 2013. Furman’s all-encompassing commitment to sustainability is a beacon of hope for environmentalists everywhere.

For more information on the David E. Shi Center for Sustainability, visit Furman.edu/ShiCenter or call 864-294-3392. Furman University is located at 3300 Poinsett Hwy., Greenville.

Roberta Bolduc is the Publisher of Upstate Natural Awakenings and a contributing writer.