Green is good. But given steep up-front construction and retrofitting costs and sometimes-anemic funding and endowment levels, it’s not always possible to build or retrofit a building to platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards. That doesn’t mean you give up—you just have to think more strategically.
Here’s a top 10 list of smaller but significant things that a campus can do to make sure its facilities maximize efficiency and minimize environmental impacts.
1. Use the Right Lights.
If a campus facility is still using the old T-12 type of fluorescent lighting that was developed in the 1930s, try converting to the newer LED (Light Emitting Diode) or T-8 fluorescent bulbs, which last longer and operate more efficiently. Switching from T-12 to T-8 lighting, for example, can save about $30 a year in energy use per light fixture.
2. Make Facilities Power Themselves.
Campuses are teeming with small-scale platforms for generating renewable energy. Examples include solar-powered street lights, parking meters, and canopies over parking structures. These can save you money, reduce your reliance on fossil fuels, and serve as a learning opportunity for students. Up-front costs can often be defrayed by specific endowments or outside investors.
3. Think Outside the Car.
For commuter campuses in particular, transportation is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Campuses can reduce these emissions, along with overall fuel consumption and costs, by offering distance-learning options or by providing supportive bicycle infrastructure (e.g., lanes, sharing/parking systems, and repair facilities) or car-sharing/ride-sharing options.
4. Don’t Let It Go Down the Drain.
Campus irrigation systems can use reclaimed water and weather-sensor systems to maximize water efficiency throughout the year. Irrigating lawns and landscaping with reclaimed water, which contains minerals and phosphates, eliminates the need for nitrogen-containing fertilizers, reducing nitrogen emissions and preserving valuable drinking water. Campuses can take this a step further by transitioning to landscapes that require little or no irrigation. Reclaimed water can also be channeled to a campus community garden.
5. Plant That Roof.
Replacing blank space with green space can reduce energy costs, absorb carbon dioxide, and improve air quality: Lay insulating sod and plants on roofs. Instead of one large retention pond, consider installing bioswales (rocklined channels screened with native grasses). Install continuous tree pits (sidewalk trenches planted with several trees). Plant median strips with shade trees when campus streets are upgraded. All of these will keep temperatures down in summer, manage storm-water runoff, and increase habitat.
6. Make Your Buildings Accountable.
When updating your buildings, build in performance criteria for mechanical systems. The improved performance will upgrade energy efficiency and provide a high return on investment. As part of the update, or even independently, campuses can take charge of their energy costs by moderating building temperatures. Insulating buildings, replacing windows, and securing any leaks in facades will all pay dividends. So will adjusting building thermostats: Up to 1 percent of heating costs can be saved for each degree the thermostat is turned up or down, depending on the season.
7. Don’t Waste Waste.
As part of an integrated waste management plan, campuses can conserve paper by changing default printer settings to double-sided printing, selecting vendors that offer reduced-waste packaging and compostable materials, and ensuring that recycling, waste, and composting bins are easily accessible at all major facilities.
8. Make Parking Pay.
How does the cost of campus parking compare with other institutions and the surrounding area? If your campus has not increased the price of its parking in several years, it may be time to revisit the parking fee structure. Pricing is one of the most effective ways to change behavior: Raising parking prices is a good way to manage demand, encourage carpooling, and create a new funding source for alternative transportation options.
9. Heat Smarter.
Updating heating and cooling systems can cost more up front, but will also save you money over the long run. Instead of a single boiler or chiller for every building, consider using a system to convey steam or cool water to a set of buildings. Waste heat from cogeneration plants can also be used to heat campus pools. Even if money isn’t available for these bigger projects right now, you can start the planning process by identifying waste points and opportunities for efficiencies. That way, when funding becomes available, you can fast-track implementation.
10. Go Low Flow.
Save water, money, and energy by replacing taps, fixtures, and toilets with models that achieve significant flow rate reductions or that have the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) WaterSense label, indicating that they meet the EPA’s water efficiency standards.
All of these recommendations will help your campus realize substantial cost savings and boost your environmental image. But to maximize the effect, help faculty and students understand how daily activities translate into water and energy costs and greenhouse-gas emissions: Developing a sustainability course program or incorporating sustainability into a current course can help jumpstart the next generation of sustainability leaders.