Less is More

HOW USD HELPS PROTECT THE PLANET

Social sustainability is just one facet of USD’s commitment to preserving resources and protecting the planet. From energy-producing solar panels to a tram system fueled by recycled vegetable oil, Alcalá Park is abuzz with innovative programs that feed a heightened sense of environmental awareness.

“Sustainability is not just environmental protection, it’s not just renewable energy, it encompasses resources, people, processes,” says Vice President of Business Services and Administration Leendert “Len” Hering. “As a society, we need to change our policies and practices. We’re not just waiting for that to happen here at USD, we’re making it happen.”

One example is the work USD is doing in concert with AMSOLAR Corp. of Solana Beach, Calif. to develop a 1.23-megawatt solar power system, the eighth-largest solar energy facility on a college campus in the United States, and largest installation on a private campus. More than 5,000 photovoltaic panels have been placed atop 10 buildings across campus, generating up to 15 percent of the university’s power needs. As part of this groundbreaking agreement, AMSOLAR will sell the generated electricity back to USD at lower than current rates for the next 25 years.

“One of the immediate benefits of the agreement with AMSOLAR is its cost-effectiveness to the university,” explains Hering. “Part of the agreement is supported by federal stimulus package funding, which means that USD did not invest a large amount of capital to purchase the system.”

Additionally, in partnership with energy industry leader Siemens, USD’s facilities department has initiated a series of energy conservation projects across campus, including the replacement of inefficient lighting fixtures and occupancy sensors with upgraded systems that will save the university over $1 million annually and cut 20 percent of its total energy usage. The university has also received a grant from SDG&E that provides $600,000 each year through 2012 to promote education and outreach on the topic of energy conservation.

While the commitment to going solar is certainly a step in the right direction, Assistant Vice President of Facilities Management Roger Manion points out that managing our water supply is an equally essential component to a successful sustainability campaign. “USD can’t have a sustainable energy supply without water,” he notes. “We need to accept the responsibility of minimizing our usage of the region’s precious resources.”

In 2008, Manion and the USD facilities management department were asked to find ways to reduce the university’s water consumption without adversely impacting its stunning beauty — not the easiest of tasks considering San Diego’s arid climate. Manion’s solution? Solve the problem at the source. “We invested $6,000 in irrigation sprinkler heads that used 20 percent less water. “The bottom line is, we saved about six million gallons of water with a $6,000 investment.”

Manion and his team have since orchestrated several water-saving projects, including the installation of a state-of-the-art sprinkler control system that automatically adjusts to prevailing weather conditions, and the introduction of low-flow showerheads and toilet fixtures in every building and residence hall on campus. All told, current university conservation projects will reduce water consumption by 25 percent, or 30 million gallons, placing usage levels to what they were in 1991 when USD’s square footage and student population were half of what they are today.

USD’s commitment to campus sustainability received a notable boost in August, as the Student Life Pavilion became the first building on campus to earn the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold certification — the highest rating that can be bestowed on a commercial building in the U.S. Among the SLP’s innovative and environmentally friendly features are a decomposition unit that breaks food waste into water, a tray-less dining system that has led to approximately $400,000 in savings on wasted food last year and a roof-top herb and vegetable garden that yields award-winning produce.

From the looks of things, the university has come a long way in a short period of time, but, according to Hering, there’s still much to be done. “My goal is that USD will be the most sustainable private college campus in America by 2025,” he says. “We’re certainly moving forward, but we need full engagement at all levels to get to where we need to be in order to reach that goal.” — Mike Sauer

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