Changing to a Culture of Sustainability

When I raised the issue five years ago of focusing some of our attention on reducing our growing energy costs, one of my fellow vice presidents cautioned me and raised concerns about how faculty and others would perceive our intentions. Would they think that the college’s finances are so bad that we need to start cutting our energy costs? How bad can things be?

I’m glad to say five years later we have completed the construction of our third LEED Certified Gold building, and are completing our second major chiller plant project. Our purchasing department has taken the initiative to raise the awareness of products that are less harmful to the environment. Additionally, we have developed a wonderful grass-roots recycling program that is continuing to gain momentum throughout the college community.

When I first joined the college approximately six years ago, we were in the process of having an energy audit to see if there were areas that could be addressed. While the report provided some areas to address, they were not significant. This was inconsistent with what I was learning by benchmarking our energy utilization against our peer institutions in the State of Florida. I kept asking the question, “Isn’t there more we can do?”

We decided to go back out to get a second opinion and selected Siemens as the service provider. They did a much more thorough analysis and identified a number of areas where we could generate significant energy savings. We then began a two-phase project with Siemens to begin implementing energy management programs on two of our campuses. Each campus project consisted of a new chiller plant with energy efficient water-cooled chillers, new cooling towers and an expanded chilled water loop connected to all buildings, along with new efficient mechanical systems in some buildings, building control upgrades and transformer upgrades.

The first project focused on our West Campus, which was our original campus and therefore has some of the older buildings and systems. The campus consists of approximately 800,000 square feet of air-conditioned space. The guaranteed savings from this project was calculated to be $453,407 per year. One year after the completion of this project, we found the actual savings to be $570,482. This has exceeded our expectations by 25%.

We are nearing completion of the second project, which upgrades our East Campus. This project has guaranteed savings of $400,000. We hope that the actual savings on this project will similarly exceed the guaranteed savings. Between these two projects we expect to generate over a million dollars a year in operating savings that can be reinvested to more directly serve our students.

While these two energy-saving projects were initially proposed as performance contracts, we were able to identify capital funds to pay for the projects, thereby quickly generating savings directly to our operating budget in a time when dollars have desperately been needed.

During the last few years, we have added three buildings with a total of approximately 200,000 square feet. We have embraced LEED and have worked very closely with our architects, engineers and contractors to design and deliver very functional and energy-efficient buildings. We are proud to say that all three buildings have been certified as LEED Gold. Our most recent building includes enough solar panels on the roof to generate 103 KW, the equivalent of 25% of the building’s energy usage.

While the decision to do these large-scale energy projects and to move to LEED certified buildings were top-down decisions, the college’s recycling program has very much been a bottom-up “grass-roots” program. One of the leaders in this effort has been a custodial supervisor from one of our four campuses. He has not only helped to set up the program, but has been the lead cheerleader providing updates on our many successes and encouragement to move forward. Over the past year, we have seen significant personal involvement from all areas of the college. We have recycled more than 120 tons of cardboard, 26 tons of paper, 435 pounds of plastic bottles and 293 pounds of aluminum cans during the past year. And the numbers continue to trend upward as the program gains momentum through wider acceptance.

Also, our purchasing department has developed a philosophy of sustainability. They have worked with vendors and the various departments of the college to identify green products to reduce the negative impact on our environment. They have even hosted sustainability training conferences to bring in speakers and vendors to better educate the college community on what others are doing and have challenged us to be greener in our thinking and actions.

In a five-year window, we have moved from concerns about how these actions would be perceived to a new way of thinking throughout the college. In fact, our president, Dr. Sandy Shugart, has signed the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. We are currently in the process of completing our comprehensive inventory of all greenhouse gas emissions. Based on our recent successes and the momentum we have generated, it will be interesting to see how well we do in the coming years.

Through these efforts, we have not only generated significant operating savings, but we have developed a new feeling of involvement and camaraderie among employees and students as we jointly strive to be more sustainable.

(Reprinted from The Bottom Line, the Community College Business Officers Online Newsletter.)


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