Facilities updates highlight sustainability

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Facilities Management increased its sustainability efforts following the reinstitution of Occidental’s sustainability committee last semester. With projects that range from solar panel experiments to water and energy conservation, the committee is working closely with Sustainability Coordinator Emma Sorrell ’13 and Facilities Management to oversee all of the college’s sustainability plans.

According to Sorrell, one of the sustainability committee’s most ambitious projects currently underway involves renovating the campus’s entire plumbing system to reduce overall water consumption. The plan comes at a time when water conservation is becoming an increasingly important issue for the state of California.

On Jan. 17, California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency for the state. Professor of economics Bevin Ashenmiller hopes Brown’s declaration will spur action on water conservation.

“We live in Southern California—the biggest issue we need to be thinking about is water,” Ashenmiller said. “Hopefully, the drought will create incentive for us to really focus on water efficiency. If we have another bad year, it could be really catastrophic.”

Occidental has already taken steps to curb water consumption. In line with Occidental’s yearlong academic theme of water issues, Facilities staff members conducted research about the amount of water used on campus, surveying 1,778 different water fixtures around campus. The next phase of the project is retrofitting each fixture to lower flow options, which would reduce water consumption by 15 to 20 percent. Facilities had not set a hard deadline for the completion of the project at press time.

Facilities also recently upgraded the water shutoff system in response to an event last October in which a ruptured pipe caused a flood on upper campus. The upgrade makes it possible for Facilities to target more specific segments of the water system should another such issue occur, according to Director of Facilities Thomas Polansky.

To address the excessive use of water for irrigation purposes, Facilities is working with a sustainability-minded landscape architect to draft a new campus landscape master plan.

The sustainability committee is also hard at work on reducing the college’s power consumption. One way they are doing this is by putting the college through a greenhouse gas emission survey—the first of its kind in Occidental history. Results from the survey are expected to arrive in the coming weeks.

Johnson Hall will likely receive its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification this semester, a rating that indicates resource efficiency. This would make it the second LEED-certified building on campus after Swan Hall earned Gold Level certification last fall. Facilities officials hope the new building will earn at least Silver Level certification.

Facilities is not tackling all of issues single-handedly. According to Sorrell, members of the physics department are working with Facilities to increase the efficiency of Occidental’s 1-megawatt solar array.

“The research projects designed by the physics department will help Facilities determine the optimal time to clean the solar panels, therefore maximizing our clean energy production, and will explore methods for preventing dust and debris build up that reduces the array’s efficiency,” Sorrell said via email.

As Sorrell notes, the benefits of these projects extend beyond their potential economic and environmental payoffs.

“This collaboration between Facilities and academic departments enriches learning experiences by allowing students to not only learn on campus but also learn from the campus,” Sorrell said.

Besides the solar array, Facilities is working on incorporating more energy-saving technology around campus. They are replacing old light fixtures with longer-lasting LEDs in buildings across campus and have added an automatic hand dryer in Pauley Hall. Depending on student feedback, these automatic hand dryers could potentially replace all paper towel dispensers in campus residence halls.

Other sustainability projects on the horizon include the renovation of the bathrooms in Chilcott Hall, a collaboration with Information Technology Services (ITS) to reduce printing and paper waste and the attainment of LEED certification for the proposed redesign of the Academic Commons.

More information on each of these projects will be available in a forthcoming sustainability newsletter from Sorrell.