Adams State runs with sustainability efforts

(04-14-2014)

Adams State University is celebrating Earth Week, but the "Green and White" has been "thinking green" for some time and is engaged in many efforts to reduce the campus' carbon footprint.

Increasingly, "green" has come to signify environmental consciousness, or the quest to achieve sustainability in energy use and impact, thereby reducing humanity's "carbon footprint." Near-term, failure to "think green" can cost more of that other green - money. Adams State University is coordinating a variety of sustainability efforts under a new committee dedicated to the American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment (ACUPCC). In 2008, President David Svaldi signed the commitment, and by virtue of alphabetical order, Adams State tops the list of 679 higher education signatories.

"We further believe that colleges and universities that exert leadership in addressing climate change will stabilize and reduce their long-term energy costs, attract excellent students and faculty, attract new sources of funding, and increase the support of alumni and local communities."
- American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment

Adams State EARTH has spearheaded recycling on campus.

With a shared concern for the "unprecedented scale and speed of global warming and its potential for large-scale, adverse health, social, economic and ecological effects," the institutions commit to developing comprehensive plans to achieve climate neutrality and to take immediate action to reduce greenhouse gases. Kat Olance, now retired, coordinated ASU's initial reporting for the ACUPCC, which outlines the university's goals and tracks progress.

The ACUPCC committee is coordinating efforts and creating momentum for more progress. Headed by Mary Hoffman, executive director of ASU Community Partnerships, the committee includes representatives from Facilities Services, Business Affairs, and ASU EARTH (Environmental Action for Resources, Transportation, Health).

"We have always had support from the administration, but now the buy-in is even more significant, which means our efforts can progress more rapidly," said Dr. Marty Jones, emeritus professor of chemistry, who remains active with EARTH, which he initiated in 2007 with several other faculty, staff, and students. "We certainly have the capability to reduce our footprint further. We need more education to raise awareness and action among all campus citizens."

Campus sustainability efforts range from trayless dining in the cafeteria (which reduces food and water waste) to meeting LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) standards in new construction.

Adams State University produces six percent of its electricity through a $1.4 million solar photovoltaic system, installed on the rooftops of Plachy Hall four years ago.

Obviously, climate consciousness did not just arrive on campus overnight. For some time, the State of Colorado has encouraged green practices regarding transportation and use of recycled paper. Online and electronic communication has enabled the Admissions Office and the Business Office to reduce their paper use by 80 percent, which in turn cut postage costs, CO2 emissions, and printing expenses. The campus print shop began recycling paper many years ago.

More efficient irrigation and heating systems have been installed over the years, and the synthetic turf on playing fields saves millions of gallons of water. The old grass football field, replaced with turf five years ago, soaked up two million gallons of water per year.

Stomping utility costs

Adams State's utility bills - for natural gas, electricity, water, and waste removal - exceed $1.3 million annually; electricity accounts for almost half the total. But two recent green energy projects are helping ASU make longer strides toward sustainability.

Six percent of the university's electricity is now generated by a $1.4 million solar photovoltaic system, installed on the rooftops of Plachy Hall four years ago. Since 2008, campus electricity use has remained stable, despite a 35-percent increase in total facility square footage and 40 percent growth in the on-campus student body.

Beginning in 2009, Adams State engaged the energy service company, TRANE, to audit campus facilities and implement energy efficiency measures. Valued at $2.7 million, the energy performance contract entailed installation of more efficient plumbing fixtures, light fixtures and motion sensor switches, energy-efficient HVAC systems and controls, and enhanced building "envelopes," which include insulation and seals on window and doors. The improvements are calculated to pay for themselves over 20 years; TRANE guarantees to pay the difference if that does not occur.

The campus uses 39 million gallons of water a year, according to Scott Travis, director of Facilities Services, who noted Adams State's artesian well is being repaired to once again supply non-potable water for irrigation.

Adams State will use a free, web-based tool provided by the EPA's Energy Star program to accurately calculate energy use and savings on a building-by-building basis.

Walking the talk

Environmental advocacy has been one of ASU Community Partnerships' priorities since its inception. Their work has included a Solar Expo, assisting the EPA's pilot study of community sustainability, and green construction workshops. It's now working with SEED Park, International, to plan a green business park that will serve as a national model for clean, rural business development.

Once EARTH became active, Community Partnerships teamed with the group to sell reusable shopping bags, using the theme, "Plastic or Planet."

EARTH includes community members, as well as faculty, staff, and students working to promote sustainability. One early project, the Green Bikes program, which lends cruiser bikes at no charge, is now managed by the Adams State Adventure Program (ASAP).

EARTH organizes activities for Earth Week, which last year drew 230 participants. It is now creating community garden plots at the East Campus (formerly Evans School).

It was EARTH that initiated organized recycling on campus, partnering with Habitat for Humanity and the City of Alamosa. Habitat provided recycling containers in exchange for the cans. The city picks up, empties, and returns to the campus a trailer they made for ASU's recycled materials.

EARTH work study students do the leg and arm work of collecting and sorting recyclables around campus, which amount to about fourteen 40-gallon bags of plastics, and six of cans, weekly. The group raises awareness during America Recycles Day, held each November, and has become active in Recyclemania. This year, Adams State placed first in Colorado and 12th in the nation for the amount of recyclables collected during the Game Day Recycling Challenge.

Senior geology major and student trustee, Benjamin Evans, earned a scholarship last summer to attend the Colorado Association for Recycling conference, where he presented on EARTH's recycling efforts. "It was fantastic to share what we are doing with essentially no budget," he said, adding, "I am really excited about our pilot building recycling project."

With additional funding from a private donor, the ASU Foundation, and Community Partnerships, staff in Porter Hall and the Nielsen Library are using their department budgets to implement building-wide recycling, coordinated by the ACUPCC committee. Designated bins throughout the buildings will promote recycling and ease sorting.

Two other recent developments should also help cut Adams State's contributions to the landfill, which now total 2.6 million lbs. a year, at a cost of $60,000. The city and its Rickey Recycling Center donated a large trailer now adjacent to the Student Union Building to facilitate cardboard recycling by Sodexo, the university's food service.

"We've seen a huge increase. Cardboard recycling at the SUB is now 5-7,000 lbs. a week," Travis said.

In addition, EARTH established a glass recycling location available to campus members, in cooperation with Recycle Creede, which transports the glass.

"More of the pieces are coming together," said Associate Professor of Earth Science, Dr. Jared Beeton, who now chairs EARTH. "These sustainability efforts are important for the environment and for the future of ASU. College students want this, and over time, it will increase recruitment and retention."

Make Adams State even greener

Adams State's ACUPCC committee seeks donations to support sustainability on campus. The following projects need immediate support:

• Recycling bins for every campus building: $2,500 each

• Large trike with "cage" for transporting recyclables: $3,000

• Deer fencing for garden beds at East Campus: $10,000

• Solar electric vehicle for transporting recyclables: $12,000

• Commercial composter: $25,000

To contribute to these sustainability efforts, please contact: Tammy Lopez, Executive Director, Adams State University Foundation, 719-587-7122.

By Julie Waechter