Sustainability at Duke

Natural Resources

Duke's Students for Sustainable Living have created a map of Relaxation & Recreation Spaces at Duke where you can experience many of the green spaces that Duke and the surrounding area have to offer.

Grounds Management

Duke has committed significant resources, education and personnel to making the college buildings and grounds sustainable for future generations. The sustainability of the landscape requires planning at all stages of the review process, implementation of plans and a complete comprehensive management plan for maintenance.

Duke is finding new and innovative ways to maintain the landscape including using environmentally-safe equipment and processes, recycling all reusable materials, capturing water for future use and preventing unnecessary runoff, using permeable vs. non-permeable materials, all while being cognizant  of and consistent with campus planning and design objectives.        

Existing practices:

  • Composting leaves, food and restaurant waste and annual flowers
  • Recycle woodchips for use in parking lots and natural areas
  • Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
  • Collect water run-off and building condensate in cisterns
  • Campus Tree Management Plan
  • Elimination of invasive plants
  • Procure from local nurseries and businesses
  • Monitor irrigation systems


  • Develop and implement  irrigation system management plan
  • Install additional collection systems for rainwater and condensate 
  • Update current maintenance vehicles to use alternative fuels
  • Install solar panels to charge electric vehicles
  • Use organic fertilizers more
  • Continue to educate workforce 
  • Coordinate all aspects of the planning and installation process of landscape projects
  • Reuse all uncontaminated organic material generated by Duke
  • Implement tree protection policy 
  • Continue to survey and document trees and tree health throughout grounds
  • GIS all major landscape
  • Update all metrics for landscape sites

Forest Management

"Duke is a university in the forest."
- 4th Principle of Duke's Master Plan

As the steward of more than 9,000 acres in the heart of the Triangle, a rapidly growing metropolitan area, Duke takes great care to preserve the natural environment while practicing infill development that helps to protect existing green spaces.  This commitment can be seen in a number of Duke's land use initiatives.

Duke collaborated with NC State University and the NC Division of Forest Resources to achieve sustainable forestry certifications for 55,000 acres of forest in North Carolina.  The land, including the Duke Forest, was certified under both of the leading certification systems to reveal lessons about the costs, feasibility and value of sustainable forestry certification. 

Wetland Restoration - As part of a larger stormwater management strategy, Duke has re-constructed an 8-acre wetland just south of campus to catch and filter runoff from campus.

Master Plan

Duke is committed to conserving green space on campus.  In the 2000 Master Plan, "conservation zones" were designated for protection on campus.  Assets to be conserved include forested areas, fragile ecological areas, riparian corridors, the Sarah P. Duke Gardens and central open spaces such as the historic quadrangles.

The plan also envisions the role for Duke as an integral part of the surrounding region’s economy, environment and community fabric.  In fulfilling this commitment to conserving green spaces on campus, Duke has supported downtown revitalization efforts through strategic redevelopment of historic buildings.  Since 2004, the University has moved over 1,000 staff into the restored Smith Warehouse, the American Tobacco District and the Fuller Street Powerhouse Building.

Natural Heritage Areas Registry - Duke University has signed an agreement with the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to place 1,220 acres of Duke Forest in the Registry of Natural Heritage Areas, setting it aside from development and invasive research.

Duke Gardens

The Sarah P. Duke Gardens sits on 55 acres, in a peaceful ravine once filled with construction debris. The gardens are laced with five miles of allées, walkways, and pathways that establish meaningful connections between nature and people.  The Gardens were established in the 1930's by Medical School Faculty member Dr. Frederic M. Hanes, whose vision originated from the natural beauty of his favorite flower, the iris.  An appreciation of the lessons nature holds continues to shape the gardens’ efforts to model stewardship of the natural world through conservation, research, and sustainable environmental practices.  A Sustainability Committee identifies and implements strategies to minimize the environmental impact of internal practices, while educational programming and activities serve the Duke Community and gardening enthusiasts across the county.