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Business Officer Magazine
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How Green are Your Partners?

Are your corporate partners doing their part in protecting the environment? If not, maybe it's time to reassess their commitment to sustainability...and yours.

By Margo Vanover Porter

Sustainability. What was once considered a tree hugger’s mantra has become a mainstream ideology enthusiastically endorsed by business officers on campuses around the country.

“We recognize the paradigm shift in the marketplace as it relates to the demand from customers for green products, services, and solutions,” says Ari Kobb, senior marketing manager, energy and environmental solutions, Siemens Building Technologies, Buffalo Grove, Illinois. “We are seeing increased awareness and recognition that environmental responsibility and sustainability are good business. People havea desire for clean and renewable energy solutions for energy efficiency, for emission-reduction strategies, and for more effective energy management.”

In light of this paradigm shift, Business Officer interviewed representatives of five NACUBO corporate partners—Barnes & Noble College Booksellers, Johnson Controls, Sasaki Associates, Siemens Building Technologies, and UGL Unicco. The goal: To size up their sustainability initiatives and uncover any innovations that could translate to campuses nationwide.

Architects Feel the Heat

William Massey, a principal in the Architecture Group at Sasaki Associates, Watertown, Massachusetts, believes architects are under the gun to provide environmentally friendly building solutions. “When you look at the impact of building construction on fossil fuel emissions, you realize we have a responsibility to make improvements,” he says. “Architects and engineers have been pressured industrywide, and those who haven’t responded are falling behind. Quickly.”

Instead of falling behind, Sasaki has emerged as a leader in sustainable practices. Using its office space as a laboratory, the company recently obtained the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Existing Buildings (LEED-EB) Gold status for its 150-year-old headquarters building. “LEED has played a major role in bringing sustainability to the forefront of awareness in the college and university arena,” Massey says. “Now that LEED has become mainstream, our goal is to build on the growing momentum of environmental awareness and think beyond LEED.”

To obtain LEED status at its Watertown headquarters, officials focused on numerous areas, three of which include:

Reducing water consumption.To cut water use, the company installed ultra low-flow toilets, waterless urinals, low-flow and eco-powered sensor faucets, and drip irrigation systems that are 90 percent efficient.

Taking stewardship seriously. To protect and restore the surrounding environment on the Charles River, where the headquarters building is located, the company created a plan for halting the spread of invasive plants and establishing ecologically appropriate native plantings. “We have adopted several thousand feet of that area to protect the habitat,” Massey says. “We have annual cleaning days when we all go out and pick up trash.”

Conserving energy. “We have added occupancy sensors to all our lights as well as daylight sensors to lights that are within 15 feet of windows,” Massey explains. “We changed the ballasts on all of the fixtures. They are now compact fluorescent, so they are much more efficient. We added a lighting sensor so if it is a bright, sunny day, the lights dim. If it’s a cloudy overcast day, they are brighter. It’s not something you can actually observe if you’re in the room. We also have occupancy sensors so if you leave the room, the lights go off by themselves. That alone has saved a huge amount of energy.”

Massey reports that electricity use has dropped 35 percent since adoption of these measures in 2004. He estimates that the cost of retrofitting the lights from incandescent to compact florescent fixtures, adding occupancy sensors and daylight sensors, transitioning to flat screens at all computer stations, and upgrading to Energy Star appliances in kitchens totaled about $150,000. “These measures are saving us around $90,000 a year in utility costs, so the payback was less than two years,” he adds.

A quarterly newsletter, GreenNEWS, keeps Sasaki’s 350 staff members up-to-date on innovations in sustainability. Once a year, the company sponsors GreenDAY. “Our staff members take the day off from work and go to internal workshops and seminars where experts address topics on sustainability,” Massey says. He adds that several people in the office teach sustainable design courses at local institutions.

Walking the Talk

To practice the strategies that its executives preach to their customers, Siemens Building Technologies has adopted a variety of sustainability initiatives. “In the fall of 2007,” Ari Kobb explains, “we created a cross-functional internal sustainability committee that consists of business leaders of areas throughout the company with responsibility for our environmental footprint.” After creating a mission, vision, and strategy, the team launched an inventory process that is examining emissions from the company’s fleet of vehicles, from building operations, from airline travel, and from parcel shipping.

“The largest component of our emissions footprint is obviously our fleet of vehicles,” Kobb says. “This leads us down the path of developing goals, metrics, and strategies to try to mitigate that environmental impact, which in turn will have an economic benefit for the company. The less gas we use—the fewer miles we drive—will have an environmental benefit and a bottom-line benefit.”

Keeping Cool With Geothermal Energy

When you evaluate energy-reduction strategies, focus on life-cycle returns—not first costs, advises William Massey, a principal in the Architecture Group at Sasaki Associates, Watertown, Massachusetts. “You may pay more up front, but you will get it back over time,” he says.

He gives this example: Plymouth State University (PSU) in Plymouth, New Hampshire, hired his firm in 2006 to design a new 55,000-square-foot ice arena and welcome center. “Essentially, it’s a big refrigerator,” he says.

Anticipating heavy energy consumption, PSU business officers requested a rigorous evaluation of possible energy-reduction strategies. One possibility that surfaced: using a geothermal well field to provide the refrigeration needs for the ice sheet itself, as well as continuous heating and cooling of the arena and all other program spaces, including the welcome center.

“One way to dramatically reduce the fossil fuel used to refrigerate the ice and heat and cool the building and water is to use a geothermal ground-floor heat pump system,” Massey explains. “It uses the resident temperature of the earth to heat and cool water as it comes into the building.”

Unfortunately, the project had a very tight budget and the cost of the geothermal system topped $1 million. Nevertheless, PSU business officers, encouraged by the design team, requested a life-cycle cost analysis to weigh the initial investment against utility savings over time. The resulting analysis forecast a payback in eight years.

“That is a relatively quick return considering this is a building that is expected to last at least 50 years,” Massey says. “Because of the energy-reduction benefit, PSU was able to procure the additional funding necessary from the State of New Hampshire for the geothermal well system, and it is now part of the project, expected to break ground this spring.”

Several years ago, Siemens implemented a fleet rationalization program, asking questions such as, “Based on our business needs, do we need this type of vehicle for this type of operational parameter?” Using the results of that program, the company eliminated the largest pickup trucks from its fleet and reduced the number of vehicle options available to management and salespeople. “We’vetaken steps to remove the more fuel-inefficient vehicles,” Kobb says. He admits that high gas prices helped in the decision to get rid of the Ford F250s and rightsize the fleet: “When gas is $4 a gallon, it is easier to implement strategies to increase fuel efficiency than when gas is at $1.50 a gallon.”

To cut back on its carbon footprint, Johnson Controls recently upgraded the lighting in its manufacturing facilities, installed geothermal heat pumps and solar thermal/photovoltaic systems at its corporate campus, chose hybrid vehicles for its service fleet, and began using a biomass cogeneration plant at its manufacturing facility.

“We just finished a $100 million renovation of our corporate headquarters in Glendale, Wisconsin, to make it much more energy efficient,” says Jim Simpson, director of higher education and state government markets for North America, Johnson Controls, Milwaukee. “Reducing our carbon footprint will have a positive impact on our bottom line because it reduces waste and helps us be more efficient.”

Safety prompted UGL Unicco to venture into the sustainability movement with the launch of its GreenClean program, which involves the use of certified chemicals in both corporate and client applications, as well as special tools and training. “On the cleaning side, toxins can go in the air as you are spraying, using strippers, and using heavy-duty chemicals,” says Heidi Anderson-Rhodes, senior director, facility management solutions group, UGL Unicco, Arlington, Virginia. “We wanted to ensure the air wasn’t toxic to our employees and people who are coming into the office space for 8 to 10 hours a day.”

When the GreenClean program debuted seven years ago, the company paid a price—at that time environmentally friendly cleaning products cost more than traditional products. Anderson-Rhodes currently classifies them as price-neutral. “It makes no sense not to use green cleaning products now,” she says.

Keep Construction Eco-Friendly

When it’s time to renovate or build a store, Barnes & Noble planners think green. “One of our greatest opportunities to minimize our environmental impact comes when we build or renovate stores,” says Karen DiScala, manager of corporate communications, Barnes & Noble College Booksellers, Basking Ridge, New Jersey. “We look for every opportunity to incorporate more environmentally sustainable products into our stores.”
Some of the eco-friendly products used by the company include:

  • Carpeting with an environmentally preferred product (EPP) rating. The carpet fibers must contain at least 25 percent post-industry recycled content.
  • Carpet adhesive/glue that has low volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and is solvent free.
  • Fluorescent T5 lighting. DiScala indicates that low-mercury lighting provides a 30 percent reduction in energy usage.
  • Paint products with a low percentage of VOCs and that meet or exceed Green Seal GS-11 standards.
  • Flooring products made from pre- and postconsumer recycled content. One tile product used in the stores contains 85 percent recycled content.

“We havean aggressive reclamation and reuse plan for the postconsumer products contained within the bookstore,” DiScalaexplains. “We contract with organizations that find innovative ways to reuse the older broadloom and carpet tiles and keep them from going into landfills. Furniture that will not be reused in renovated stores is typically donated to local nonprofit and charitable organizations.”

In addition, all Barnes & Noble stores now offer reusable tote bags to reduce landfill waste. “Though each one of our stores is unique in size, configuration, and structure, we nonetheless look for ways to minimize our carbon footprint at every location,” she says. “Our store managers are encouraged to work with their campus communities to support school sustainability initiatives.”

She cites the example of Harvard Business School’s bookstore, which recently joined the Campus Green Team to find ways to encourage recycling in the bookstore and all over campus. The bookstore also participated in RecycleMania, a competition among different colleges and universities to increase recycling and reduce waste.

Save Your Energy

Based on their experience, these corporate executives offer advice for business officers who want to incorporate sustainability into their business practices:

Calculate your institution’s current carbon footprint.“The importance of establishing a baseline cannot be understated,” says Steve Hoiberg, marketing manager for higher education, Siemens Building Technologies, Omaha, Nebraska. “A baseline allows you to develop a specific strategy based on your institution, because the solution for a Michigan State might be different from the solution for Lakeland Community College.” Kobb agrees that business officers must have access to current energy-consumption details and patterns to make knowledgeable decisions. “Sustainability and data are often aligned,” he says. “If you don’t understand where you are, you will never get to where you want to be or need to be.”

Implement programs that encourage the use of public transportation by students, faculty, and staff. For example, Sasaki provides covered storage for bicycles, allocates dedicated parking for low-emission and fuel-efficient vehicles, partners with a hybrid taxi service, and keeps on-site Zipcarsfor employees who want to dash out on their lunch hours to run errands. Another incentive: Employees who carpool or take public transportation to work are reimbursed. “Whatever their transportations costs are, whether $20 or $100 monthly, our firm will pay for them,” Massey says.

How to Downsize Your Footprint

To mitigate carbon emissions, Jim Simpson, director of higher education and state government markets for North America, Johnson Controls, Milwaukee, recommends that business officers seek energy efficiency in both new construction and existing buildings. “This is a huge opportunity for saving,” he says. “The vast majority of the time, we find a 20 to 25 percent savings off an institution’s energy bill.”

He indicates that by enhancing your institution’s central plant, putting in more energy-efficient air-handling equipment with variable frequency drives, new control systems, and new lighting systems, you may be able to recoup your initial investment in 10 to 20 years. “Are there items that will pay for themselves in two years? Yes, but you’re usually looking at a longer payback.”

Other possibilities to consider:

  • Use E30 (a mix of 30 percent ethanol and 70 percent gasoline) and biodiesel in your institution’s vehicles. Encourage students, faculty, and staff to adopt this measure as well.
  • Install a wood waste gasification–fueled combined heat and power (CHP) plant, a natural gas-fired CHP central plant, individual building-scale biomass gasification–fueled CHPs, natural gas-fired microturbine CHP systems, an anaerobic digester to convert food waste into biogas for use as fuel, or a biogas-fueled fuel cell CHP system.
  • Invest endowment funds in an off-site landfill gas project, wind power project, or waste-fueled power project.
  • Close the remaining emissions gap with the purchase of carbon offsets and renewable energy certificates.

“If you employ renewable energy, it will also give you another energy source, which frankly has to be a good thing,” Simpson concludes. “It just makes sense to diversify energy consumption and sources of energy.”

Examine the practices of your suppliers.DiScala makes no secret of the role that sustainability plays in determining Barnes & Noble partners. “One of the ways we contribute to reducing greenhouse gases has to do with the selection of our vendor partners,” she says. “When we determine who we will be partnering with, a company’s commitment to sustainability is a huge factor.”

Siemens Building Technologies recently rolled out a survey of its suppliers’ sustainability efforts. “We developed the survey to understand what they are doing about sustainability so we can start greening our supply chain,” Kobb explains. He expects to conduct the survey annually.
Listen to your students. “These are highly innovative and motivated citizens who really want to push the green envelope,” DiScala says. “I would suggest that universities reach out to their students, who have amazing ideas. They see ways of changing basic practices that can have a huge impact. Our next generation really is leading the way on green.”

Karen Sweeney, director of store operations for Barnes & Noble College Booksellers, adds that students prefer to purchase green products. To meet customer demand, her stores now highlight such options with signs and shelf tags. “Students migrate to them,” she says. “They want to recycle. They want sustainable products across all categories, from school supplies to apparel to snacks and food in the convenience center. They are unbelievably aware.”

Take advantage of technology. “If you have the technology and information available to you, it enables you to put in good practices and processes and identify the buildings that should be attacked first to get costs down and reduce energy consumption,” Jim Simpson says. He is currently working on a project for the State of Missouri to implement an enterprise sustainability platform. “We have put in multiple pieces of technology that integrate all of the buildings,” he says. “They have information—such as energy per square foot on every single building and operating costs per square foot on every single building—that they have never had access to before.”

Establish sustainability committees. “These committees could be tasked with evaluating current space use, preparing carbon and energy audits, and evaluating waste, water use, and purchasing techniques,” says Massey, who is a member of Sasaki’s internal committee, Space Green, which focuses on ways to expand knowledge within the firm about sustainable practices. For example, members of Space Green might ask an expert on geothermal design or wind power to make a presentation to the firm.

Sign the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment,a program that encourages business officers to model ways to eliminate global warming emissions and to provide the knowledge to achieve climate neutrality. (To read more about what ACUPCC signatories are doing on their campuses, see “Vow to Reverse Global Warming” at www.nacubo.org/x1805.xml) “Follow through on the short- and long-term steps necessary to achieve a carbon-neutral campus,” Massey says. “Find opportunities to partner with peer institutions to share experiences and strategies for achieving sustainable measures on the respective campuses. Part of this process could include the development of knowledge centers that provide information not only to each other but also to institutions that are not as far along and are looking to learn from the successes and failures of schools on the institutional front line of the environmental movement.”

Right now, Kobb admits that it can be a challenge to find a way to meet the sustainability challenge within budget. “Especially in higher ed, there is such an enthusiasm for people to find creative, practical, innovative solutions to address environmental issues,” he says. “Yet, at the same time, we’re all feeling the budget and financial crunch. That’s a big challenge, to find innovations to solve environmental commitments while meeting financial and fiduciary responsibilities."

MARGO VANOVER PORTER, Locust Grove, Virginia, covers higher education business issues for Business Officer.