Cal Poly’s approach toward energy efficiency has resulted in many interactive student programs and the certification of eco-friendly buildings and campus maintenance procedures — all while its staff searches for ways to cut costs.
This reduction in utility expenses is not accomplished by cutting corners, assistant director of Energy, Utilities and Sustainability for Facility Services Dennis Elliot said. In the long run, funds can be saved when money is spent on up-to-date conservation technologies.
“It takes a lot of money,” Elliot said. “In the last two years I’ve spent $6 million on energy efficient projects to reduce our energy consumption. Those typically pay for themselves in savings. When we reduce our utility bills those savings get reinvested back into paying for more projects.”
Balancing the utility budget is a never-ending challenge because of all of the innovations, operations and upgrades, Elliot said.
Statewide budget cuts have greatly affected the way Cal Poly operates, but the university sets an example for other colleges in California by meeting energy efficiency goals set down by the Chancellor’s Office, Elliot said.
“Each five years they set a new goal for the campuses to reduce their energy by 15 percent,” Elliot said. “We’ve reduced our energy usage, on a per-square-foot basis, by approximately two-thirds since 1973.”
One of the ways Cal Poly accomplished this was through building certification from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a voluntary certification program conducted by the USGBC for energy efficient buildings. Applicants can qualify as a new building, an existing building or tenant improvement, and are rated on a point system based on five different categories: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality. Those that qualify can receive silver, gold or platinum certification.
“Faculty Offices East was certified in 2008 under LEED for existing buildings, it got a silver,” Elliot said. “Poly Canyon Village was certified under LEED for new construction in 2009, and it got LEED gold. It became the largest LEED certified project in the entire (California State University system).”
In order to maintain its certification, Cal Poly’s staff looks for ways to improve the foundation it has already laid out.
As years go by it has become more difficult to reduce spending. Between 1970 and 2000, significant cuts were made because of upgrades in technology, but the last decade has seen much smaller, incremental improvements, Elliot said.
Cal Poly’s University Housing, Residential Life, maintenance and operations, student-led organizations and other departments and individuals all work on a variety of different projects, Housing Facilities Manager Scott Bloom said.
“This summer they’re working on, throughout the whole campus, an energy lighting retrofit,” Bloom said.
Lighting in all the residence halls, and in some buildings on campus, will feature bulbs that use less wattage but appear brighter to the human eye, Bloom said.
Additionally, motion sensors and bi-level lighting, also known as A/B switching, will be added if not already installed.
Other projects currently in progress include a pool cover for Poly Canyon Village, a community garden, low-flow toilets and new shower valves and heads.
“We’re also working on a new co-gen engine for Sierra Madre,” Bloom said. “Co-gen is part of cogeneration; where you’re using one utility to produce a volume or two types of energy on one side. We’re using natural gas through an engine to create our hot water source for both heating and hot water. It produces electricity back into the electrical grid, kind of like an alternator for a car.”
The co-gen engine will replace a series of boilers that provided energy to the Sierra Madre and Yosemite residence halls. This upgrade will significantly reduce carbon exhaust by switching to natural gas, Bloom said.
Cal Poly is also working to coordinate and institute plans specifically for carbon dioxide reduction, Elliot said. In 2006, lawmakers passed Assembly Bill 32, known as the California Global Warming Solutions Act.
“Basically, AB-32 committed the state of California to reducing its carbon dioxide emissions to get us back to 1990-levels of emissions by the year 2020,” Elliot said.
A governor’s executive order went a step further, which committed California to reduce emissions to 80 percent below the 1990 levels by the year 2050, Elliot said.
While Cal Poly staff plans for the future, current students are motivated to join or contribute to a number of programs run by their peers and Residential Life.
“We really want it to be more of a student-run thing,” learning community coordinator Kara Curcio said. “We want to make sure they are excited and enthusiastic and give them ownership over all the sustainability programs we do.”
The first of those to take place during the school year is a meeting that will be held in each individual residence hall on Sept. 21. Its purpose is to explain the opportunities students will have to get involved over the course of the year.
“We have a group called ‘Eco Reps,’” Curcio said. “It’s one representative from each of our communities, so each red brick has an Eco rep, each apartment neighborhood. They come together weekly or bi-weekly and it’s mostly about sustainability education.”
The job of each Eco rep is to act as a liaison between students and staff, Curcio said. They attend council meetings with other Eco reps, resident advisers and members of Residential Life, as well as come up with their own ideas to promote sustainability within their residence hall.
Examples in past years include the implementation of an environmental awareness tower in Sierra Madre, a quarterly newsletter, sustainability fairs, zero waste meals, a sustainability spa and craft night and an event to create reusable bags out of T-shirts. One of the most heavily participated in programs is the dorm sustainability competition.
“One of our earliest projects was to work with University Housing to develop an educational outreach program to impact freshmen at Cal Poly in the dorms, and to get them involved and motivated to learn and change their behavior through this competition,” Elliot said. “We measure the electricity, the heating and cooling, energy and the amount of water that they consume.”
Results are posted weekly on a website and on Facebook.
Last year, winners of the competition received stainless steel reusable water bottles, as well as a trophy made out of recycled products.
There is another program on campus, which Elliot is the staff adviser for, that works toward accomplishing the same goals but on a campus-wide scale.
“The Green Campus Program is a group of, typically five paid student interns,” Elliot said. “Their mission is to develop and implement energy and water conservation programs, perform educational outreach to educate students, faculty and staff about energy, water, the environment and ways to live more sustainably and to try to foster the development of a more green workforce.”
Whether it is the Green Campus Program, University Housing, Residential Life, Maintenance and Operations, a group of students or even just one person, Cal Poly is working hard to make the campus as green as possible.
Elliot, who was honored as the California State University sustainability champion in 2010, said the first thing out of his mouth when he won the award was that he was sharing it with a lot of other people.
“There’s a lot of people that are very dedicated, passionate people in facilities that maintain our buildings, our systems, our plan and our campus,” he said. “There’s a lot of passionate faculty that are teaching these things in their classes to educate students; and there’s a lot of really motivated students that are involved in clubs, or community service programs or that are pursuing an education in some field that has to do with sustainability because they want that as their career.”