How green is USF?

Saving money while saving the planet is a feasible option for the USF community, a recent study proposes. It reports that although USF may not be a national leader in the world of green campuses, it is on the path to a more eco-friendly future, as it has received local and national awards for present and past initiatives.

The study, called the USF Campus Sustainability Report, conducted by The Sustainable Enterprise MBA class of the 2006 Spring semester and authored under the direction of Dr. Sharon Hanna-West, Exide distinguished lecturer of ethics and sustainability, to make the case for the creation of an office of sustainability on the campus.

Hanna-West said that, despite USF’s green accolades, many do not know about its efforts to build an increasingly eco-conscious campus.

“I think that people would be surprised to know how much progress USF has made with green initiatives,” she said. “The campus is probably more sustainable than people realize because it is not something that is highly publicized.”

The study reports on various aspects of the campus’ programs and designs intended to create a greener campus, including the Green Lights Program – an energy conservation initiative – and new energy technologies. Also included in the report are prescribed improvements as well as how USF measures up with other universities.

“It’s time for the USF campus to look seriously into the economic benefits of increasing environmental sustainability,” said Sara Hendricks of the Center for Urban Transportation Research. “We need to learn from the experiences of other schools, such as the administrative leadership that can be found at the University of Florida.”

Below are some of the findings of the study.

The Green Lights ProgramUSF established the Green Lights Program in the late 1990s as part of a voluntary initiative started by the Environmental Protection Agency aimed at reducing energy consumption through the use of more efficient lighting systems, but it has since been dissolved, and there are no plans to revitalize or replace it.

Even though the Green Lights Program is no longer active, it still saves the University an estimated $1 million per year because many of the initiatives, such as upgrading to more efficient lighting systems, are still in place.

The pilot project for the Green Lights Program on campus was renovating the lighting systems in the Life Science Facility (LSF) in an attempt to increase efficiency and reduce waste, according to the Campus Sustainability Report. The project successfully reduced energy consumption at LSF by 250,585 kilowatt hours (kWh), saving the University more than $20,000 per year.

While it did not expressly advocate reinstating the program, the study did imply that the University was missing an opportunity to save money by not starting a similar initiative.

The Green Lights Program also funded the costs necessary to revamp USF’s heating and cooling systems. Rather than using electrical power for air conditioning, the University relies on a distributed energy system. In short, the system works by heating or cooling water, then sending it through a 10-mile network of underground piping. The water then reaches all of the buildings on campus except for the Alumni Center. When the water arrives at its destination, condensers convert the thermal energy from the water to cool or heat the air. This method is 40 percent more efficient than using standard electricity for the air conditioning process.

The Study’s SuggestionsThe Campus Sustainability Report proposes that the University further investigate other means to make USF a greener campus. If all of the stoplights were replaced with LED (light emitting diode) lights, the University could decrease energy usage by 90 percent.

LED lights are “illuminated by the movement of electrons in a semiconductor material,” according to the study. There is no filament, they do not heat up like conventional bulbs and they are brighter and have greater longevity than halogen bulbs.

According to the study, USF has about 200 traffic lights and eight signals per intersection, each consuming 2.4 kWh of electricity per day.

The Florida Department of Transportation has already converted all of the red lights in the state to LED lights and is considering the logistics of changing the remaining green and yellow lights as well.

Alternative Energy SourcesThe campus has recognized the need to research alternative energy sources, according to the study. Considerations submitted by the Physical Plant include installing a cogeneration system – which reduces energy waste by combining heat and power production at one station – on campus by partnering with TECO. Because the heat that is usually released into the atmosphere as a byproduct is being used as a power source, the process is more efficient than when the systems are kept separate.

The impact a cogeneration system could have on the campus and the environment is substantial. The energy saved with the program could save money and alleviate some of the pressures of budget cuts, as well as reduce the campus’ overall carbon footprint.

There is a cogeneration system at USF, but it is used solely for research.

The study advocates further research into receiving grants and implementing technologies like cogeneration systems.

Campus Recycling ProgramsThe Campus Sustainability Report claims that USF’s recycling program is limited in scope, with only four major components. The University collects and recycles mixed paper and aluminum cans, comprising two parts of the program. The other two include the housing of the Sycamore Drive recycling site and the recycling of mixed metals at the Physical Plant.

“USF has won many awards from Hillsborough County for our recycling program in the years of 1994-1997, as well as 2000,” said Gullette.

Distinguished or otherwise, USF lags when it comes to university recycling programs around the country, according to the study.

Sustainable DesignThe U.S. Green Building Council sponsors Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), a program that certifies buildings with different levels of merit in sustainable construction based on a sweeping list of criteria, from the type of materials used to the way in which they are disposed after completion.

The study reports that USF has about 240 existing buildings and has plans to add 1 million square feet by the year 2010.

The number of LEED buildings on campus? Zero.

There is a drawback for LEED building in the world of higher education, however: The high-dollar cost of getting certified.

“Even though the new Marshall Center has met many of the requirements that would allow it to be LEED certified, it costs thousands of dollars to do so,” said USF spokesman Ken Gullette. “It’s important enough to us that we have made many strides in efficiency with the building, including water and efficient landscaping.”

But the hefty price tag hasn’t stopped UF from seeking certification. According to the study, the institution requires that all new buildings and major renovations be LEED certified. UF was recognized in Architecture Week for achieving a “gold” rating for Rinker Hall, which uses rainwater to flush low-flow toilets and has waterless urinals, low-flow sinks, skylights and motion and daylight sensors in the classroom.

Stetson University was the first university to have a LEED certified building in the state – the Lynn Business Center. This institution received its certification based more on the type of resources used than any particularly innovative designs. These included low volatile organic compound (VOC) emitting materials – paint, plywood, adhesives and glass are all low-VOC compliant – and native drought-resistant plants were used for landscaping.

Solar EnergySolar energy is the most expensive way to provide electricity and heating, because the technology required for a successful system is so costly. While USF pays 8 cents per kWh of energy, the average cost of solar energy is 28 cents per kWh. However, the Physical Plant has expressed interest in research grants for solar cell technology. The four options up for consideration are concentrating solar power, photovoltaics, solar heating and solar lighting. According to the study, each has different benefits. Concentrating solar power is “the most cost-effective solar option for large-scale electricity generation.” Photovoltaics are in highest demand and are used on college campuses, and solar heating reduces the need for water heaters to run by conventional means. Also, solar lighting can reduce the need for electricity to power indoor lighting by 50 percent.

Two other universities in the state are much more advanced than USF in the area of solar energy. UF boasts the Solar Energy and Energy Conversion Lab, which has been recognized by the U.S. Dept. of State and the United Nations for “global accomplishments in training and innovation,” according to the study. UCF has the “largest and most active state-supported renewable energy and energy efficiency research, training, testing and certification institute in the United State,” according to the Solar Energy Center.

USF should look into grants for solar energy projects, the study stated.