University organizations, students and private companies showcased their efforts for a more sustainable campus and a greener world at the Sustainability Fair in the Illini Union on Wednesday.
Although the fair was part of the activities of Sustainability Week, the University was not just going green for one week. Over the past months, the University has taken a front seat to what is becoming the newest race amongst private and public corporations, universities and businesses to become the most eco-friendly and sustainable institution.
The fair was simple to look at, only a few rows of tables set up in the middle of the Courtyard Café in the Union. But, the information and ingenuity that was on those tables and in the minds of the speakers would hopefully propel the University of Illinois to one of the foremost green universities in the United States.
The University has already taken many little, but necessary steps in an effort to become more sustainable and produce less waste such as implementing occupancy sensors and dual-flush toilet systems in buildings and using the Sustainable Student Farm to provide produce for the dining halls.
David Guth, a representative from the Illini Union, said the Sustainability Fair was “a group of different organizations in the community and campus promoting sustainable transportation, energy and water consumption.”
Guth also described how the Union itself is making an effort to reduce waste and be more green. The “furniture, hotel bedding, flat screen TVs and carpeting” include either recycled materials or are more energy efficient. Even the cleaning supplies are becoming green, with the Union utilizing about “95 percent specifically sustainable” products, Guth said. There are also campus wide goals that the university needs to meet in the next five years such as reducing steam, chilled water and electricity usage for buildings and increasing recycling containers for users, Guth explained.
Mitch Litchford, member of the Sustainable Operations Task Force and a coordinator at Campus Recreation, described the numerous efforts the Campus Recreation facilities are taking to become greener and reduce costs. Litchford explained the Green Hours at the Activities and Recreation Center, or the ARC, from 6:30 am to 4 pm daily, which “reprogrammed lighting hours and reduced lighting by about 60 percent.” The incorporation of Green Hours has also saved Campus Recreation nearly $12,000 a year.
The ARC also installed new bathroom fixtures, sensor faucets, dual flush toilets and pint flow urinals in the majority of restrooms in Campus Recreation facilities. Dual flush toilets have the ability to save nearly a gallon of water with every flush Litchford said. “When you flush down, it runs about 2.6 gallons of water through the system, if you flush up, it runs about 1.8,” Litchford explained. These new washroom accessories have helped to save $15,845 a year, 6.5 million gallons of water and reduce water usage by about 22 percent.
He also mentioned the change of lighting all over the ARC. There was a full light retrofit in the indoor pool and racquetball courts, and the exterior, accent and sconce lighting were reprogrammed to be on sensors Litchford said.
Although the ARC has made significant changes in becoming a more sustainable building, Litchford said they are not yet pursuing a LEED certification, because campus recreation utilizes student money instead of state funding. LEED certification, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is an internationally recognized rating system for green buildings. According to the United States Green Building Council, LEED certifications provide “third-party verification that a building or community was designed and built using strategies aimed at improving performance across all the metrics that matter most: energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impact.”
The money used to become a LEED certified building could be used instead to implement new lighting that would save campus recreation hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years, Litchford said. Instead, the ARC and possibly Campus Recreation Center East, or CRCE, want to look into solar thermal installation to help mitigate their steam usage, and solar panels, Litchford said. They also want to paint the roof with a “soybean green paint” that will reflect sunlight and reduce “heat bloom effects,” Litchford added.
The University already has one LEED certified building on campus, the Business Instructional Facility, or BIF. BIF is the only platinum rated, the highest level of certification, building at a public university in the world. There are also other plans for more LEED certified buildings on campus, like the Bardeen Building that is to be built on the engineering quad.
Stephanie Lage, Assistant to the Director in the Office of Sustainability, explained how a university gets rated in terms of “greenness” with the Green Report Card, which gave the university a ‘B’ this year. The surveys are released by the Sustainable Endowments Institute and are based on various surveys from students, dining, and endowment practices. “We’re making good progress,” Lage said. Last year, the University received a ‘B-‘.
“A ‘B’ puts us in the middle among other Big Ten schools,” Lage said. We “fail all the time” in endowment practices because the university is “not very open with endowment funds,” Lage added.
The grades are given out in several criteria: administration, how sustainable the commitments and policies a university has made are, climate change and energy, how energy efficient a university is and how it manipulates renewable energy, food and recycling, how dining facilities deal with food, including composting, green building, how green current buildings are and surveys design for new buildings, student involvement, how much students participate in sustainable activities and how much their administrations support them, transportation, the types of alternative transportation are available, endowment transparency, how accessible endowment information is, investment priorities, how much is being invested into “renewable energy funds” and in community development, and shareholder engagement, voting practices.
The University has a long way to go with becoming an ‘A’ school, but has come a long way and will continue to move forward in the green race.