As sustainability initiatives continue to garner attention at Big Ten universities, the University remains steadfast in its efforts to build upon past improvements and reduce its energy consumption.
The University’s sustainability initiatives are currently focused on decreasing energy costs and consumption, according to Planet Blue Operations, the University organization that monitors the environmental impacts of 71 buildings across campus. The group’s primary efforts are intended to conserve utilities and increase recycling across campus, similar to other peer institutions such as Indiana University and the University of Illinois.
University Housing spokesman Peter Logan said in an interview last month that energy efficiency continues to be a priority for the University.
“Whenever we have the opportunity to invest in our facilities, whether through a major renovation or some other capital improvement, energy performance is always top of mind,” Logan said.
He added that residence halls have a significant impact on total energy consumption at the University, as students often aren’t conscious about their electricity use.
To combat this problem, the University recently renovated several residence halls and increased overall sustainability by implementing energy-efficient technology.
Robert Yurk, University director of housing planning and design, said the University is attempting to surpass energy consumption standards set forth by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers.
“Our initiative is to exceed that code by 30 percent so we’re not just meeting the minimum, but exceeding that,” Yurk said.
The newest energy conservation efforts will be implemented during renovations on East Quad and Baits II Residence Halls this summer, according to Logan.
“The work we are going to be doing at Baits II this summer is not only going to replace an old and inefficient boiler, but also to look at improving energy efficiency of the windows and the roof system,” Logan said.
Renovations to Couzens Residence Hall, which were completed in September, reused more than 95 percent of the existing building’s external structures to install low-flow shower heads, which aid in water conservation, according to the University’s Division of Student Affairs.
Outside Ann Arbor, other Big Ten universities have also made a continued effort to focus on sustainable efforts.
According to the Illinois Climate Action Plan, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is aiming to meet at least 5 percent of its electrical energy needs through renewable energy systems by 2015 and 25 percent of these needs by 2025.
U of I spokesman Timothy Andrew Blacker said Illinois has achieved over 99 percent of the school’s seven-year goal in just three years.
“These are indeed incredible results but should not be taken as an opportunity to change our focus,” Blacker said.
U of I has seen a 19-percent decrease in energy consumption in its main campus buildings in the 2010 fiscal year, as compared to the 2008 fiscal year.
Indiana University, meanwhile, is implementing similar initiatives by setting achievement goals for carbon neutrality efforts. University officials there have worked to spread behavior modification strategies to students and staff and utilize new building designs to maximize efficiency.
Benjamin Inskeep, IU’s sustainability metrics, evaluation and planning intern, said the school is attempting to control energy use despite a growing student population.
Inskeep said total energy consumption at IU increased 15.8 percent from the 2005 fiscal year to the 2010 fiscal year.
He added that between 2005 and 2010, the school’s student population increased from 37,958 to 42,347. Total building square footage and energy costs also grew during the period, which pressed the school to improve energy efficiency.
Similar to IU and the University of Illinois, the University of Michigan’s past endeavors have proven to be a success.
According to Planet Blue Operations, the University avoided $5.2 million in utility costs in 2010 through Planet Blue’s oversight. In addition, the University has reduced overall energy use by 14 percent since 2010 from the Planet Blue energy-saving program.
The Shapiro Undergraduate Library, one of the buildings working with Planet Blue Operations, has decreased energy consumption by 37 percent in the last fiscal year, which translates to approximately $360,000 saved, according to the program’s site.
The UGLi also conserved generation of 1,125 metric tons per year of carbon dioxide from 2010 to 2011, which is equivalent to removing 225 automobiles from the roads.
Despite an uptick in environmental awareness in recent years, Logan said progress cannot continue without assistance of University students, and the University plans to reduce and reallocate $120 million through energy conservation by 2017.
“We recognize the fact that energy conservation and efficiencies in a residence hall depend a great deal on student behavior,” Logan said.