SISL Reunites for Green Campus Tour

By Nicole Block

Reunited for the first time this fall quarter, 15 participants from the Summer Institute for Sustainability Leadership (SISL) and their SISL Project Coordinator Marisa Arpels met near Aldrich Hall on Friday, Oct. 18, at 3:00 p.m. to embark on a tour of some of UC Irvine’s sustainable features with their guest, Richard Demerjian, director of the Office of Environmental Planning and Sustainability, as their tour guide.

SISL, a program for incoming freshman or transfer students, met this past summer for several days to learn about what sustainability means on campus and globally. In hopes of continuing their efforts, these students came together again to learn more about UCI’s campus and how they can get more involved.

“There are so many things happening beyond just what we see,” Katherine Chin, a fourth-year SISL mentor, said.

At their meeting place, Demerjian pointed out the landscaping of Aldrich Hall. Its garden was recently renovated this August with native plant species that are more appropriate to the Southern California climate than the turf that previously occupied the space. These changes reduce water use greatly and it is the intention that in a few years they will not require irrigation at all. The water that is used to irrigate this area, as well as all over campus, is reclaimed water bought back from water reclamation and sanitation plants nearby.

Demerjian also mentioned that Verano Place, the graduates’ apartment complex, features a lot of landscape design that specifically seeks to absorb and treat storm water left over by rain before it can drain to the nearby San Diego Creek.

Verano Place is one of the 10 Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum buildings on campus, meaning that it meets certain environmental standards for buildings. LEED certification means that the building encourages water and energy efficiency, promotes better indoor and outdoor air quality, uses recycled or reused materials to reduce waste, and minimizes the overall impact that is has on the ecosystem it is affecting.

Many buildings on campus were built, or are now being retrofitted, to meet these standards to different degrees: platinum being the highest ranking, then gold, silver and simply certified. The SISL tour passed by the Student Center, which is rated gold; the Humanities Gateway, platinum; Biological Sciences III, platinum; and John V. Croul Hall, silver. SISL mentor and fifth-year civil engineering major, Kenny Teeter, was assisted in Croul Hall’s recent certification as an intern for UCI Facilities Management.

When Demerjian asked the group which activity they believed was the biggest release of greenhouse gases at UCI, most members believed it to be commuter travel. However,  building energy use is the number one inefficiency, even before air travel and commuter transportation. The state of California’s Assembly Bill 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act, requires that greenhouse gas levels be cut down to 1990 levels by 2020 and the even sooner goal is to cut them down to 2000 levels by 2014. UCI is working towards this goal by creating more efficient buildings, as those are the biggest energy drain on campus.

On the rooftop of the Natural Sciences II Building, Demerjian pointed out UCI’s central plant that processes natural gas into energy. The majority of energy that supplies the campus comes from natural gas as opposed to other fossil fuels, and another fraction comes from the solar panels that lie almost unnoticeable on top of several other buildings. From this vantage point, SISL participants could see the panels on Natural Sciences II itself and a couple of the other neighboring buildings, a few out of the 13 rooftops across campus. Demerjian also stated a plan to integrate more solar panels that would cover parking structures, a project to hopefully be started on within the next couple of weeks.

In a tucked-away corner of the sciences department, students visited the National Fuel Cell Research Center, which experiments with fuel cells. In a lot that not many students would notice, the NFCRC has the largest fleet of fuel cell powered vehicles in the U.S.  Here, they experiment with hybrid and plug-in models, like Toyota Highlanders. They also offer a few vehicles to select community members, including UCI’s dean of Engineering.

At the conclusion of the tour, SISL Coordinator Marisa Arpels reiterated UCI’s goals for the program: to foster this generation of leaders to spread awareness and be empowered to make change for themselves.

“The biggest thing [I took away from SISL] is how dedicated UCI is to sustainability. UCI is looking at the bigger picture — reducing their footprint. It’s really cool how they include students in these efforts,” Robert Dunn, a first-year SISL participant, said.

In the coming quarters, SISL mentors hope to lead several projects that promote sustainability awareness in the dorms and on campus in general through flyers, tabling, multimedia and potentially student-led green tours of UCI that would highlight such features as those that the SISL participants got to see.