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November 1, 2008

CUA Makes Strides in Environmental Sustainability

By Maggie Master

 

Brian Alexander

Brian Alexander doesn’t want you to think of him as the energy conservation police — but he’d still like you to turn the lights off when you leave the room.

It’s little measures like that, along with unplugging your cell phone charger from the outlet when not in use, or not cranking up the air conditioning, that can drastically lower the university’s energy usage — and increase sustainability.

Sustainability, which is defined as meeting current needs without compromising the resources of future generations, has become a hot topic both in the news and on college campuses. It is also one of the key goals of CUA’s Office of Energy and Utilities Management.

Alexander, who directs that office, says that a staggering 25 percent of electricity consumption in households comes from “miscellaneous load” — printers, DVD players, desktop computers and televisions, not to mention the chargers that go with portable electronics such as iPods, cameras, cell phones and laptops. That charger that you leave plugged into the wall for when you need it? It’s consuming energy even if it doesn’t have an electrical device attached. Through simple practices such as pulling chargers out of the wall until they’re next needed, the CUA community could significantly reduce energy consumption.

“The simplest conservation measure is to have everyone turn stuff off,” Alexander says. “We don’t need to invest a lot of money, we just need to change our behavior.”

To that end, the Office of Energy and Utilities Management is carrying out a campuswide information campaign, including offering weekly energy conservation tips and asking students to sign a voluntary pledge listing 20 energy-sucking habits they will try to alter.

The Office of Energy and Utilities Management and the Green Club are sponsoring an eco-challenge among residence halls to see which can use the least amount of water during a two-month period.

The office is also working with CUA students’ Green Club to spread the message. The office and the club will co-sponsor an eco-challenge among residence halls to see which hall has the lowest water usage for a two-month period this fall. They plan to do a similar competition in the spring to reduce residence hall energy usage.

But beyond trying to change old habits, CUA is also taking decisive steps to create a more eco-friendly and sustainable campus at the structural, administrative and academic levels. Alexander says, for example, that all university facilities are operated in the most energy-efficient manner in compliance with standards set by the American Society for Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers.

“It’s not sexy or glamorous, but we adhere to the latest guidelines, even if they aren’t required,” he says.

Opus Hall, a new 300-bed residence hall, which will open its doors in January, is a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-compliant building, featuring water conservation, Energy Star appliances and state-of-the-art insulation. The university plans to pursue LEED certification for it. The recent interior renovation of McGivney Hall also complies with several LEED principles, boasting Energy Star appliances and new, highly insulated windows.

CUA is also making strides to help mitigate global warming and reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The university now purchases the equivalent of 30 percent of its total electrical power from green sources including wind, solar and hydro power. Through this mechanism, known as renewable energy credits, CUA is investing in renewable energy projects and helping to offset the expense of new projects, such as wind farms, that will create clean energy. By purchasing 42,955 megawatt hours — or 30 percent of CUA’s total usage — through these renewable energy credits, CUA enables clean energy sources to displace approximately 87,000 tons of carbon dioxide that would otherwise be produced somewhere in the U.S. power grid.

Alexander says that although he’d love to put up wind turbines on campus, that wouldn’t be the most efficient way to reduce CUA’s carbon footprint.

“Where can we make the quickest impact?” This question should be the university’s sustainability motto, according to Alexander. Purchasing these renewable energy certificates is the most cost-effective way to have a positive environmental impact while not drastically altering the quality of life for the CUA community, he says.

CUA is also looking into outfitting several campus buildings with solar roof panels in the next year. A primary candidate to go solar is the Raymond A. Dufour Center. With its flat roof and southern exposure, campus officials estimate that solar panels could supply 100 percent of the energy needed to run that building during daylight hours.
 
In further efforts to achieve maximum energy efficiency, CUA has formed a committee to review class locations across campus. The committee's goal: to fully occupy the most energy-efficient buildings and to power-down other buildings during off-peak hours. If only three classes are held after 5 p.m. in one building, for instance, those classes may be shifted to another building so that facilities staff can turn off the lights and the heat or air conditioning in the first one.

Removing chargers from electrical outlets can reduce energy consumption.

 
CUA is also striving to promote sustainability and environmental awareness through its curricula. The university is pursuing a green education for its students in a variety of disciplines: For example, the School of Architecture and Planning this year introduced a new Master of Science in Sustainable Design degree. As part of that two-semester program, students can take a variety of courses focusing on an environmental approach to architecture, such as Ethics and Scales of Sustainability, Sustainable Design Strategies, and LEEDing Green: Navigating LEED v 2.2 Into Professional Accreditation. The school has also elevated Introduction to Sustainability to a required course for all sophomore architecture students. For its part, the University Honors Program offers a series of courses in environmental studies including The Economics of Energy and the Environment, and Environmental Science and Engineering.

CUA is also striving to make gains in environmental research and policy. Its Center for the Study of Energy and Environmental Stewardship, under the direction of Associate Professor Kevin Forbes, chair of the Department of Business and Economics, is researching the relationship between energy use and the environment.

Brian Alexander foresees great things for CUA in future years when it comes to being an academic leader in sustainability and energy efficiency. He envisions preferential parking for hybrid vehicles, and places on campus where drivers can plug in their cars to recharge hydrogen fuel cells with energy created by nearby solar panels. But he also realizes that the path to sustainability starts with baby steps, and truly does begin at home — or in the residence hall. Which is why Alexander’s next project is somewhat more modest. Look for an energy conservation tip of the week to appear in each forthcoming issue of This Week @ CUA.



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Last Revised 29-Oct-08 10:58 AM.