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Though the Sierra Club ranked CU as its no. 13 coolest school in 2010 and as its no. 1 coolest school in 2009, some still question how much energy the campus is actually saving.
According to the University of Colorado at Boulder Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory, despite a 14 percent increase in campus facilities, CU’s total electricity consumption is essentially unchanged since 2005.
Dave Newport, director of the Environmental Center, said he had to check that figure a few times. He also said that, despite the facility increase, CU’s carbon emissions remained flat.
“We were at 8.5 million square feet in 2005,” Newport said. “We’re almost 10.25 million now, so we put in 1.6 million square feet of new buildings, and carbon remained flat.”
The electricity is in kilowatt-hours. Newport said CU uses many kilowatt-hours of electricity each year.
“For energy in the form of electricity, 130,000,000 kwh a year is what CU absorbs,” he said.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average amount of electricity an American home used in 2008 was 11,040 kwh. CU uses enough electricity a year to power around 11,775 of those homes.
Newport said CU buys its electricity from Xcel Energy and that 14 percent of it is renewable.
“Out of the electricity that comes out of that plug in the wall, 14 percent is a combination of hydro, wind and solar energy,” he said.
Newport said campus buildings certified by LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, save more energy than other buildings on campus. LEED is an internationally-recognized green building certification system.
“Generally speaking, the modern ‘green’ buildings are right in at about 30 to 40 percent less energy than average campus buildings, so that’s huge savings,” Newport said.
View LEED certified buildings at CU-Boulder in a larger map
Click on the leaves to see more. (CU Independent/Lauren Walter)
The LEED certified buildings on campus are the Center for Community, the UMC, the Wolf Law building, the ATLAS Building, Andrew Hall, Arnett Hall, the Visual Arts Complex and the Koelbel Business Building.
Dan Omasta, the sustainability director of CU’s student government, said LEED certified buildings will become more common on campus.
“Students led the way a few years ago when we required ATLAS and the business school and law [school] to be LEED certified if we were going to finance them,” Omasta said. “Since then, it has really become the standard on this campus, so any kind of construction is going to meet LEED requirements.”
Omasta, who is also a 22-year-old senior political science and environmental studies double major, said he has been working with CUSG to accomplish zero waste at the UMC, the Wardenberg health center and CU’s rec center.
These buildings contain zero-waste stations with three types of containers: a recycling container, a compost container and a trashcan. Newport said the goal is to have the trashcan empty and the other two containers filled.
“The worst it gets is like 78 percent is recycling,” Newport said. “The best we hit, I think, was 94 or 95 percent recycling.”
Students working at the Intermediate Processing Facility behind Folsom Field are helping CU achieve zero waste.
Forest Fisher, a 19-year-old sophomore open-option major, worked on separating trash from compostable material.
“People are just not that well-educated,” Fisher said about the public’s disposal habits.
Omasta said zero-waste stations should become more common on campus.
“By 2012, this university is committed to really achieving zero waste, so in the coming years, I’d say that we will see these kinds of bins all over,” he said.
He said CUSG is also working with CU’s administration and various campus stakeholders to support CU’s green fund.
“We’re going to go out into the public and solicit donations from alumni, students and businesses to allow them to really contribute to one of the greenest schools in the country and the projects that we’re going after,” Omasta said.
He said CUSG is looking to pursue a few other initiatives in the near future. One would ban the sale of water bottles and plastic bags on campus.
“Obviously, there are a lot of social and environmental and even economic problems with bottled water, and so, for us to be selling it here on campus in our buildings as one of the greenest schools in the country, is a little hypocritical,” Omasta said.
He said CUSG wants to put in water refill stations to help achieve this goal.
“There’s one in Libby hall, and I think they’re installing a few more in the residence halls, and we’re looking to put them in the academic buildings around campus,” Omasta said. “Obviously, drinking fountains are all over this campus, and they may not be the coldest or as cold as the refill station, but they’re still really good.
He said CUSG is also planning to work on increasing the amount of local and organic food served on campus.
In addition, the campus has been successful at implementing dual flush toilets in many of its buildings.
“It’s the norm in Europe, by the way, everywhere, and there’s something like 850 or 875 bathrooms on this campus, maybe more, and I think we got it in most,” Newport said.
He said the dual flush toilets save a lot of water.
“They use 1.6 per gallon when you press down and .8 per gallon when you lift up, so it’s 50 percent savings,” Newport said. “Some other toilets are as high as 5 gallons, really old ones, and especially residential models, but they’re 3.2 mostly.”
He said students can help to save a lot of energy at their homes also.
“Start with light bulbs,” Newport said. “Make sure that you got compact fluorescents in, instead of incandescent bulbs. Turn the thermostat down, put in a programmable thermostat and program it; it doesn’t need to be 80 degrees 24/7.”
He said it would also help to buy occupancy censors.
“I’ve seen studies that said light bulbs, 75 percent of their lives are burned in rooms that are unoccupied,” he said. “That’s ridiculous.”
For more information on what makes CU “green” and other resources, or to donate, check out the CU Environmental Center website. This story was inspired by Resolving Door, a site where CU students ask questions and get answers.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Jon Tattum at Jonathan.firstname.lastname@example.org.