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The University of La Verne embraces environmentally conscious practices

 Kyle Lynch from the facilities maintenance department compresses a bale of cardboard for storage. As the pressure from the machine is released, Lynch stresses the importance of making the wire ties loose to prevent them from snapping as the cardboard begins to compress. / photo by Jerri White

Kyle Lynch from the facilities maintenance department compresses a bale of cardboard for storage. As the pressure from the machine is released, Lynch stresses the importance of making the wire ties loose to prevent them from snapping as the cardboard begins to compress. / photo by Jerri White

by Alison Rodriguez
photography by Jerri White

A slight breeze moves through the air as the smell of fresh cut grass wafts up to her nose. Cassidy Furnari strolls idly down the sidewalk, watching as a large group of students gathers together at Sneaky Park in front of the Abraham Campus Center at the University of La Verne, all bustling about with their booths and games, promoting sustainability and environmental awareness.

As the president of the Gardening Club, Cassidy is grateful that so many people have come out on Earth Day to learn more about what they can do to minimize their carbon footprint. Just as she is about to go out onto the grass, she notices a group of students swarming one of the booths, bent on taking advantage of the free merchandise that the Earth Day committees provide. They then carry their plunder and gorge themselves on the sustenance supplied by the school. Cassidy sighs as the students walked away without even glancing at the posters and decorations she and her team had put up for their benefit. However, she puts a smile on her face and strides over to her booth determined to spread awareness.

Within the first week of attending the University of La Verne, freshmen are introduced to the four core values that make up the campus community. One of these values includes a philosophy of life that “actively supports peace with justice…the health of the planet and its people.” One of the ways that ULV seeks to promote this is by implementing sustainable buildings and resources on campus.

Sustainability is defined by the Environmental Protection Agency as creating and maintaining the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations. Sustainability has not only become a growing trend in today’s spotlight, being featured in political debates and social issues across the nation, but it also has become more prevalent in the everyday lives of La Verne students.

Over the past two years, ULV has implemented 12 different green projects to promote a sustainable campus, some of which include replacing all of the lights in the gymnasium with LED fixtures and replacing sections of sprinklers on campus with drip irrigation. From saving water in a California drought to saving energy in an environment where electricity is everything, the University is trying to make its campus more environmentally friendly for future generations.

One of the main factions that discuss the projects that ULV undertakes is the Sustainable Campus Consortium. “The consortium came about as a way to get students, faculty and staff interested in La Verne and finding ways to move sustainable issues forward into initiatives,” Co-Chairman and Vice President for Facilities and Technology Clive Houston-Brown says. Part of the consortium’s contribution to the school was having the University sign on to the “Billion Dollar Green Challenge,” becoming the second school in the state of California to do so, the other being the California Institute of Technology. This means that the University pledges to establish a green revolving fund, which will be used to fund sustainable projects that will reduce the school’s carbon footprint. “We made the commitment for $400,000 for the Green Revolving Fund,” Clive says. “Now we didn’t actually have that money at the time, so what we did was we took it out of our facilities budgets. We pay for our projects out of facilities budgets, and the savings go into the green revolving fund.”

Breaking down the savings

Initially, the school began with five small projects. The projects were changing out the bulbs in parking lots D and E with LED fixtures, retrofitting the gymnasium lights, changing all the faucets on campus to low-flow faucets and changing all of the exterior building lights to LED fixtures. These endeavors cost $173,677, but racked up $8,826 in savings according to the economic summary of green projects completed. By the second year, they more than doubled the savings, bringing them up to $18,594 per year. The projects are expected to maintain the same level of savings every year, increasing the money that is in the green revolving fund, which will be used for future endeavors. “We are trying to find projects that pay back in 10 years or less,” Senior Director of Physical Plant Operations and Services Robert Beebe says. “Part of the Billion Dollar Green Challenge is that you are required to do an audit of 10 percent square footage of your buildings, so I picked Hoover, Mainiero and Founders Hall because those are three pretty big energy users. Based on the findings of the audit, we identified seven different projects that we believe will pay back within that time period.” Those projects cost $233,000, but the savings are estimated to come back after the second year as $13,789 per year. Not only is the school saving money with these projects, but they are also saving tons of energy and water. In the past two years alone, the University has saved 182,686 kWh of energy and 2,256,259 gallons of water from the small projects like introducing low flow faucets, toilets, drip irrigation and converting the turf in front of Brandt and Stu-Han dormitories to water-friendly landscapes.

Biology professors Jeffrey Burkhart and Jay Jones discuss the recent addition of California native plants on the University campus. The sustainable garden, located between the Brandt resident hall and the Hoover building, contains drought tolerant plants as a part of an effort to conserve water. The garden includes plants such as the California flannel bush, black sage and white sage. / photo by Jerri White

Biology professors Jeffrey Burkhart and Jay Jones discuss the recent addition of California native plants on the University campus. The sustainable garden, located between the Brandt resident hall and the Hoover building, contains drought tolerant plants as a part of an effort to conserve water. The garden includes plants such as the California flannel bush, black sage and white sage. / photo by Jerri White

One of the most successful projects that the University has taken on is retrofitting the gymnasium lights, Robert says. Twenty light fixtures that were using incandescent light bulbs were replaced by all LED fixtures, which cut down energy usage by 80 percent. In response the building became three times more efficient than it was before. By replacing the bulbs, ULV spends less on energy, and that money that it would have spent goes into the green revolving fund to be used for future projects. Currently, the gym lights alone bring in $4,973 of savings a year.

Along with all the small things ULV has done, the school has also been taking on larger tasks, such as building the Abraham Campus Center and Vista La Verne dorm. Both are Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED) certified. According to its website, LEED is a green building certification program that recognizes best-in-class building strategies and practices. To receive LEED certification, building projects must satisfy prerequisites and earn points to achieve different levels of certification. This helps encourage environmentally friendly projects so builders may receive higher achievement levels. There are currently three levels: silver, gold and platinum. The Campus Center is silver certified, while the Vista dorm is gold certified.

The third project that is in the works is a new parking structure, which will reside over what is now Lot D. “The new parking structure will be a zero carbon footprint building,” Clive says. “There will be solar panels on the top floor so that it provides enough electricity for the lights, the parking, the ground stall and Leo Park.” The facilities department is also planning to use recycled concrete to build the walls of the structure. Recycling is a huge part of all of the sustainable efforts on campus, not only with the construction of buildings but also amongst students and student leaders.

Addressing the planet’s well-being

Another pressing issue in La Verne as well as the rest of California is the drought. On April 1, 2015, Gov. Jerry Brown issued mandatory conservation measures that would go into effect for the first time in history. The order will require urban areas to reduce water use by 25 percent. As staggering a blow as this is to domestic households, the University is confident that they will be able to uphold this new requirement. “We believe that we are already in compliance with water usage,” Robert says. “However, that does not mean we won’t do more. No matter if the governor has a mandate or not, the University will continue to push sustainability forward.”

At the back of the Arts and Communications Building, a large green rectangular mass of metal and gears hums throughout the day. This metal box is called a trash compactor. Within the stomach of the monstrous machine, the gears crush up any trash that is placed inside into little cubes. This reduces the amount of trash and the smell of the decomposing pieces.

The University has implemented a recycling program that tracks the amount of resources saved every month. This program has been recording efforts on the school’s website since 2002. With simple changes to utilities and taking advantage of the recycling bins and cardboard compressor, ULV has saved 329.03 tons of cardboard, 900.31 tons of green waste and 409.49 tons of paper.

A prominent event that involves the entire campus is Earth Day. Created in 1970 by then-Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin to celebrate the planet’s environment and raise public awareness about pollution, the day, marked on April 22, is observed worldwide with rallies, conferences, outdoor activities and service projects.

This year students at ULV decided that instead of celebrating the one day, they would draw out earth day activities throughout an entire week, creating La Verne’s first ever Earth Week. “We should be promoting sustainable practices every day, not just one day of the year,” says junior biology major Marina Youngblood, who planned the event. “We wanted to put on events that would instill a sense of activism and passion in students. A lot of students are apathetic towards the environment and we wanted the take-away from each event to be personal and practical for students to integrate into their everyday lives.”

From composting awareness to recycling to transportation challenges, each day brought a new subject to be addressed. On the actual Earth Day, booths were set up all around Sneaky Park to promote environmental awareness.

Campus organizations such as Students Engaged in Environmental Discussion and Service (SEEDS) joined with the Associated Students of the University of La Verne (ASULV) and the Gardening and Botany Club have reached out to the campus community to spread environmental awareness. The students in these clubs gather together and come up with ways that can improve the community around them. “I believe the campus is doing what it believes it can with sustainability, but there are ways it can do more,” senior biology major Diane Bugarin says. “One example would be if there were better advertisement for where students can properly dispose of electronic and battery waste, which can be found within the Mail room. This is one of many small changes that can be made to vastly improve sustainability on campus.”

One of the latest additions to the student community is a sustainable garden, which is located behind the Student Health Center. This garden is maintained by the Gardening Club and is meant to be an encouragement to students to grow their own vegetation and help make the campus a more beautiful place. “There are a lot of environmental things that people don’t even hear about, because it’s not as important as what happened on the Grammy’s, or what the Kardashians did this week,” Cassidy says. “I’d like to get those issues out with the Gardening Club, so that maybe students would just take a little time to think about things, and then make a change.”

Even those who are critical of the university’s efforts admit that ULV has made a lot of progress. However, sustainability on campus is not simply up to the faculty and staff; a huge part of it is the involvement of the students on campus. “We want our student body to embrace sustainability, not just say ‘what are you guys doing about it?’” Clive says. “Its more like ‘what are we doing about it?’” The hope for the future is that along with the school’s Billion Dollar Green Challenge, the students find a green challenge of their own, and by doing so; create a more environmentally friendly community. “Becoming an environmentally sound campus should not be about having the necessary funds,” biology major Yunny Lopez says “rather it should be about educating the campus that our choices do impact the school and the environment as a whole.”

Cassidy is about to tear down the last bit of blue and green streamer when she feels a tap on her shoulder. She turns around and there stands a student. The young woman smiles as she looks up at the gardening president. “I just want to say I really enjoyed your booth,” she says. “I’m glad that someone is willing to put themselves forward and address these issues and how important they are, even to students like us.” Cassidy feels warmth in her heart, and she waves as the student walks away. All of the hard work she put in to make this day happen has been summed up in this moment; that someone was touched by the events and hopefully she planted a seed that will grow into a passion for creating a more sustainable community.

Scott Forsyth from the facilities maintenance department moves the first corrugated board bale early in the morning. The bales weigh between 800-1000 pounds. After producing 10 bales, the facilities management department calls Waste Management, a subcontractor to the city of La Verne, for refuse collection. / photo by Jerri White

Scott Forsyth from the facilities maintenance department moves the first corrugated board bale early in the morning. The bales weigh between 800-1000 pounds. After producing 10 bales, the facilities management department calls Waste Management, a subcontractor to the city of La Verne, for refuse collection. / photo by Jerri White

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