Liz Davey, director of the Office of Sustainability stands with trees near Dinwiddie Hall

Green Impact

Liz Davey, director of the Office of Sustainability, has worked closely with students and administrators for 20 years on recycling efforts, energy efficiency and sustainable construction to get to this point, but there’s still more to do.

Above photo: Liz Davey, director of the Office of Sustainability (Photo by  Paula Burch-Celentano)


“I just love seeing people out riding their bikes. It’s so many more people than ever before riding their bikes, and [now we have] better accommodations for bicyclists,” said Liz Davey, director of Tulane’s Office of Sustainability. 

Throughout Davey’s two decades at Tulane, she has contributed to many “wonderfully successful” projects involving students, including the New Orleans regional bicycle master plan for which her office was awarded a grant in the early 2000s.

“Our students were involved from the ground up,” said Davey.

That a number of Tulane alumni, as city employees and advocates, are still involved with maintaining and expanding the city’s bicycle infrastructure is “so rewarding,” she said.

The word rewarding can easily describe Davey’s 20-year career as director in the sustainability office. She has been an innovator in making the Tulane campus more sustainable and environmentally conscious, serving as a resource to campus partners, usually students, to push Tulane toward becoming a model green university. 

In 2015, Tulane adopted a Climate Action Plan that Davey is working to implement. This road map includes ways in which the university can reduce its environmental impact in its daily operations. There is a short-term goal of reducing the campus’s greenhouse gas emissions by 15% by the end of 2020 and a long-term goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2050. 

“In addressing climate change, our energy use is our biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, so we want to shrink that as much as possible and eliminate the dumb waste of energy,” Davey said. “I often say, if people could somehow see the wasted energy in the same way that we can see trash, people would be much more outraged about it.” 

Tulane President Mike Fitts enthusiastically backs the Climate Action Plan. During his State of the University address on Sept. 6, he announced that the university is on track to meet the short-term goal and remains committed to the long-term goal. Tulane is also continuing to ensure that new buildings are constructed to receive Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification — the U.S. Green Building Council standard for green building design and operations.

“One of the top priorities of my administration is reducing the environmental impact of our operations and supporting sustainability efforts across the Tulane community,” Fitts said. 

“If people could somehow see the wasted energy in the same way that we can see trash, people would be much more outraged about it.” 

Liz Davey, director of the Office of Sustainability


Growing up in Madison, Wisconsin, Davey’s passion for sustainability issues and sustainability research took root.  

“My inspiration for the things I’ve worked on come from my hometown,” Davey said. “Madison has a lot of parks and bicycling facilities.”

Besides her parents, she had great mentors as an environmental studies undergraduate at Dartmouth College. They impressed upon her the seriousness of addressing climate change.

“Some of the individuals in my life as a young person were dedicated both to protecting the natural world and to creating communities that were healthy and beautiful for everybody.”

Davey said she aims to leave that same lasting impression on Tulane students. She’s been in her role at Tulane since 1999, when her position was created as a result of student activism — and at a time when sustainability on university campuses was still considered a new idea. 

In 1996, an undergraduate environmental sociology class conducted an environmental report card of Tulane. One student in the class, Aaron Allen, became interested in universities as laboratories for learning about sustainability and wrote his honors thesis, “Greening the Campus: Institutional Environmental Change at Tulane University,” on how to institutionalize greening at Tulane. He concluded the university needed to hire someone dedicated to leading sustainability work. 

He then lobbied the university administration to create the position that Davey has held since. 

“(At the beginning) I would partner with anyone who wanted to add an environmental dimension to their program,” she said. Recycling programs, however, have always been the core of student projects. She remembers students showing her how they collected discarded cardboard boxes as people moved into their residence halls. 

“We do that every single year now. It’s a huge part of the recycling program and what we do.”




The Office of Sustainability conducted its first Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory in 2002, one of the first in the country.  Its author, then a student, now assistant director of the ByWater Institute, Shelley Meaux, updated and expanded it in 2008.  Each year since a senior student collects new data and updates the report. 

After Katrina, the university stepped up its efforts to implement greener practices.

In 2008, Tulane signed the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitment, pledging to engage in creating a more sustainable future and to address climate change.

That same year, the university began its first LEED project: Dinwiddie Hall. 

The renovation of that historic 1923 building, home of the Department of Anthropology and the Middle American Research Institute, stands out to Davey. 

“The idea was, in the scope of this renovation, we will all learn about the LEED green building system together,” she said. 

 The renovation preserved more than half of the original interior surfaces. Green versions of drywall, floor tile and metal framing and stairs with a high recycled content are strategically incorporated throughout the building, according to the building’s LEED case study. Low-flow fixtures to reduce water use, daylight sensors that dim the overhead electric lighting when rooms receive enough natural light and occupancy sensors to turn off the lights when rooms are empty lessen the environmental impact as well. A shower is even available for bike commuters, and several bike racks line the building outside to support bike use. 

The $12 million project was completed in 2010 and received LEED’s Gold Certification for Major Construction and Renovation. 

“The university architect’s office, the contractor, the local architect; we basically all had this attitude like, ‘we’re all doing this for the first time,’ and it turned out to be a beautiful building. I think it shows how sustainability and historic preservation go together,” Davey said. 

Native cypress trees — which are also scattered across campus — were planted in front of the building and help reduce the sunlight absorbed by the sidewalk, also known as the “heat island effect.”

“That row of cypress in front of Dinwiddie is extra special,” Davey said. “They add to the large existing cypress that is tucked up against the building.”

Other LEED projects on campus now include two residence halls, Weatherhead Hall and Barbara Greenbaum House; the Hertz Center, home to Tulane’s volleyball and men’s and women’s basketball teams; the Donna and Paul Flower Hall for Research and Innovation; Yulman Stadium; the addition to the Goldring/Woldenberg Complex, home of Tulane’s A.B. Freeman School of Business; new lab spaces in the J. Bennett Johnston Health and Environmental Research Building on Tulane Avenue; and the School of Social Work space within Elk Place. Davey played a significant role in planning the green features in spaces within the buildings or added to the buildings. 

Liz Davey with eight students and staff members
Liz Davey, center, relies on students and staff members to help her run the Office of Sustainability. Front row, left to right: Sam Hinerfeld, Darrah Bach, Liz Davey, Hannah Cohen, Ella Cat Strahan. Back row, left to right: Nick Pellegrini, Juwan Magee, Jordan Stewart, Lee Lowery

Davey’s Mark 

  • Tulane’s campus recycling program is the longest running and largest in the city besides New Orleans municipal curbside collection.
  • Water bottle–filling stations are available on the uptown campus in over 20 locations, with current students now surveying buildings to identify additional locations.
  • With the implementation of a 15-cent charge for single-use plastic bags at all dining and bookstore locations, the Barnes and Noble bookstore on campus ordered 60% fewer plastic bags in fall 2019.
  • Tulane Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory reports were first conducted in 2002, and have been done every year since 2006.
  • Eight buildings/facilities on the uptown campus and two on the downtown campus are LEED-certified. The Tulane River and Coastal Center is also LEED-certified.
  • The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education presented Liz Davey with a Campus Sustainability Research Award in 2018.



When Davey isn’t assisting in planning campus LEED building projects, she is often meeting and working with students, and her collaborations have blossomed into practical, on-the-ground initiatives.

During the past few years, the Office of Sustainability has spearheaded the university’s Climate Action Week, held every spring. The week includes panels, lectures, workshops, and a campus and community organization fair to connect students with groups involved in environmental projects. 

The promotion of waste reduction and the development of reusable items has also lately played a key role in the efforts of the sustainability office. 

With Davey’s guidance, the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) Sustainability Committee was able to organize the installation of water bottle–filling stations on campus in an effort to reduce single-use plastic water bottle waste. After USG passed a resolution to university administrators to charge 15 cents for single-use plastic bags at all dining and bookstore locations, Davey helped them implement the policy in early 2019. For the fall semester, the Barnes and Noble bookstore on campus ordered 60% fewer plastic bags.  

“They (students) come up with their ideas for projects. I do an awful lot of telling students some of the roadblocks they may encounter with some of their ideas, helping them connect with people who can help them or answer their questions to move their project proposals along,” Davey said. 

The Office of Sustainability is also home to a group of student volunteers called the Waste Warriors, who work on campaigns and events focused on reducing and reusing campus waste. They help promote reusable mugs, utensils and a reusable dining container available at certain dining locations on campus.  

“Students are involved in very real ways in doing the work of this office,” she said.


Although students are major team players, Davey remains at the helm of it all, and she has garnered national recognition for her work. In 2018, she received the Campus Sustainability Research Award from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. The award is presented to individuals or organizations whose research leads and inspires the advancement of sustainability in higher education.  

She received the honor after authoring an article, “Recapturing the Learning Opportunities of University Sustainability Indicators” in the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences (2017). The article explains how the university and its students can measure, evaluate and address sustainability in the university community. 

Even though Davey’s contributions have paved the way for Tulane’s green path, more work is ahead. Tulane is tapped into the best practices of what other universities are doing nationwide, but now is an important time to scale up the efforts. 

“It’s such a privilege to have a job like this; that you can work with students, working in education. It’s very rewarding,” she said. “But it also is a responsibility, and I feel like everyone in my spot has to ramp it up.

“If you think about being a sustainable community, it’s not just the environmental impact, it’s also our impact on the larger community. Are we helping to create a more just community, a more equal community? That’s part of having a healthy, sustainable community in the long term.”