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Numbers reveal ND’s environmental impact

Aaron Steiner | Thursday, September 25, 2008

Editor’s Note: This is the second installment of a multi-part series examining sustainability at Notre Dame.

University President Fr. John Jenkins has declared sustainability a major goal for the University, but at this point, energy generation and consumption on campus “is not a strong point,” Office of Sustainability Director Jim Mazurek said.

The Sustainability office recently calculated the University’s carbon footprint, Mazurek said.

The footprint that results from energy generation emissions at the University power plant is currently 172,647 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.

The University’s construction projects have increased energy consumption, Mazurek said, but Notre Dame typically uses more energy than what’s considered average.

“We are generally considered to be higher users of energy per square foot than our peers,” he said.

Director of Utilities Paul Kempf agreed.

“Based on previous benchmarking efforts of peer institutions, we have found that our energy usage is slightly above average for our peer group,” he said.

For example, the University consumes nearly 153,000-megawatt hours in one year, enough electricity to power 15,000 residential homes, according to data from the Utilities Department.

The University has been collecting data from all areas on campus. For example, Notre Dame consumed nearly 900 million gallons of water in the most recent fiscal year, according to the same data.

Facilities Operations data shows that over the past six months the University community threw away nearly 2,200 tons of non-recyclable waste, which primarily went to landfills.

Facilities Operations reports using 89.1 million feet of toilet paper per year, OIT reports that there are 25,702 technological devices (ranging from computers to handheld devices) connected to the Notre Dame network, and Food Services reports handling 287.5 tons of food waste from meal trays in one year.

Notre Dame’s Office of Sustainability is using these numbers to focus its efforts.

Mazurek said his office has identified seven “core areas” to work on sustainability issues: energy, waste reduction, design and construction, procurement, transportation, food services and water.

The Office of Sustainability will continue to compile baseline data like the carbon footprint that will help to quantify the University’s environmental impact. That data will help give a better sense of “where the University stands,” Mazurek said.

Energy generation and use

While higher than usual energy consumption is cause for concern, Kempf said Notre Dame’s methods of on-campus energy generation are relatively efficient and environmentally friendly.

In fiscal year 2007-08, the University power plant generated approximately 52 percent of the electricity used on campus using a process called co-generation, Kempf said.

“This process begins with the production of steam that is then used to drive … generators to produce electricity,” he said. The exhaust steam is used to heat campus in winter or produce chilled water in summer. Coal, oil and natural gas fuel the generation process.

This process has a cycle efficiency of nearly 60 percent, Kempf said, whereas typical generation methods have cycle efficiencies of approximately 30 percent.

“This increased efficiency not only is of economic benefit, but also provides an environmental benefit as it requires less fuel” which leads to decreased emissions, he said.

The remaining portion of electricity used on campus is purchased from the local electric company, Kempf said.

Water usage

Of the 900 million gallons of water Notre Dame used in the most recent fiscal year, nearly 400 million gallons end up as sewage, Kempf said. The rest, he said, goes primarily to sprinkler heads on quads across campus.

“In general, the balance, or 500 million gallons of water, [is] principally attributable to irrigation,” Kempf said. Irrigation systems consume the largest portion of total water consumption, and this portion continues to grow as irrigation “has increased as the developed areas of campus have also grown.”

“We would estimate that … irrigation consumption is roughly two million gallons per day, during the half year irrigation occurs,” Kempf said.

While irrigation has increased over time, water consumption that ends in sewage has remained relatively stable, with only slight decreases.

“Water conservation techniques for toilets, sinks and showers have provided some improvement,” Kempf said.

Waste and recycling

Between January and June, the University disposed of nearly 3,000 tons of waste, according to Facilities Operations data. That’s nearly 16 tons of waste per day, of which an average of about 75 percent, or almost 12 tons per day, goes to landfills.

But nearly 25 percent of that waste was recycled, and Pat O’Hara, Facilities Operations Central Receiving manager, said that percentage will probably increase in the coming months.

“We pick up recycling throughout campus on a daily basis, and it’s just grown by leaps and bounds since students have returned [this semester],” O’Hara said.

Just this week, O’Hara said, a second compacter that was previously used for non-recyclable waste was converted to handle recyclables. He said he expects other compacters to follow suit as recycling continues to grow.

Starting with a student-led initiative in the 1990s, recycling processes on campus now use single-stream recycling, meaning that recyclables need not be separated.

O’Hara said the University made the switch to single-stream after Waste Management, the contractor that handles waste disposal, was able to accommodate the single stream process.

After personally visiting the recycling center outside Chicago, O’Hara said he was impressed with the machines used to separate recyclables. He said this assured him that recycled goods were properly sorted and recycled and the majority of waste should and could be recycled.

“The bottom line is, if you’re in doubt, recycle it,” O’Hara said.

Assessing the total impact, setting strategic targets

In addition to the data collected on waste, water and energy, the Office of Sustainability is gathering and processing data from the other core areas of procurement, design and construction, transportation, and food services.

After compiling a credible set of baseline data, Mazurek said, the Office of Sustainability will develop a set of quantifiable performance targets to work towards.

Mazurek said he is committed to “getting people on board” with the sustainability goals he sets. He said there’s no turning back now.

“Not being sustainable is not an option,” Mazurek said.