California’s “Flex Your Power,” a statewide campaign that promotes energy efficiency, conservation and sustainability, presented UC Irvine with an award in the Best Overall Category on Dec. 15.
UCI and four other campuses were awarded among the 700 applicants. According to Flex Your Power, UCI demonstrated outstanding water conservation by saving 122 billion gallons, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 1.3 billion pounds, and decreasing 1.5 billion kilowatt hours of electricity, equating to about $227 million saved by the university.
Wendell Brase, administrative and business services vice chancellor, said it was a combination of the need to go green and the shortage of money within the UC system that prompted the relatively sudden reigning in of water and electricity.
“Two of the main reasons that compelled us to cut energy and water consumption were that the University of California [on all campuses] is not sufficiently funded to pay utilities costs that increased sharply in 2003 – price increases that were never funded. Thus, the university has a utilities deficit. We also have a commitment to reduce the university’s carbon footprint,” Brase said.
Brase stated that the university’s goal is to reduce the footprint to 2000 levels by 2014, to 1990 levels by 2020, and ultimately to zero. The current goal is to meet the 2014 and 2020 deadlines early and to eliminate the campus’ utilities deficit in its entirety.
Despite the fact that the reasoning for changes in energy consumption pre-date the ongoing economic crisis, experts do not deny that retrenching has helped slightly in light of the current all-around loss of money.
The $60 million budget cut that was announced on Dec. 9 worries many, and forces faculty, staff and their constituents to cut back on a wide breadth of necessary amenities. Still, with those cutbacks comes more room to reduce energy and water use.
“The economy plays a very small role in becoming more green,” UCI Media Relations Director Cathy Lawhon said. “The main thing at hand isn’t the state of the economy per se; the more vital thing is to remember that it is very important to stay environmentally conscious, especially in the fight to ward off global warming and be energy efficient. The UC system puts a high priority on saving resources and UCI has been a leader in that. It’s not only economics, it’s for the most part environmental.”
Yet, the Flex Your Power award does not signal the end of UCI’s environmental efforts, as UCI prepares to become even more environmentally sustainable by embarking on a series of projects including sustainable dining services, energy management, sustainable design of new buildings, (the Bill and Sue Gross Stem Cell Building, now under construction, will be the most energy-efficient laboratory building of its type in California,) “greener” information technology and transportation services.
Brase points out that UCI’s transportation services were recognized with the governor’s Economic and Environment Leadership Award, just one month before facilities management was recognized in the “Best Overall” category. He also claims the “greenest action” to be taken is to increase the percentage of on-campus student housing so that the number of commuters — and their cars on the road — will decrease. The new housing that is currently under construction will be named East Campus Phase 3, and will meet standards of the U.S. Green Building Council, a non-profit organization dedicated to sustainable building design and construction.
“We have been at this for a long time,” Brase concluded, “and it takes a sustained, dedicated effort to make progress on reducing the university’s carbon footprint.”