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University saves with green fund

Nicole Toczauer | Friday, February 25, 2011

The Sustainable Endowments Institute recognized Notre Dame on Feb. 9 as a one of 52 national universities saving money through sustainable funding.

“Greening the Bottom Line,” is the first survey conducted on green revolving funds (GRFs) in higher education. The survey noted the Green Loan Fund at Notre Dame, which financed a transition to compact fluorescent lights (CFL) in all 29 residence halls. The switch, beginning October 2008 and completed September 2010, has saved $529 per month. Ultimately, this resulted in a 75 percent return on investment.

Erin Hafner, programs manager of the Office of Sustainability said the Energy and Environmental Issues Committee, a group of faculty and students formed in the 1980s, initiated the Green Loan Fund in 2008. This $2 million fund allows the Office of Sustainability to manage projects proposed by students and staff.

Principal author Dano Weisbord said in “Greening the Bottom Line” the most impressive feature of this fund is its ability to provide money from previous investments for future green upgrades.

Contributing author Mark Orlowski, executive director of the Sustainable Endowments Institute, said in the report that other schools also have paid more attention to sustainability.

“The trend is clear both in terms of money saved and reduced energy consumption,” he said. “The number of green revolving funds has more than quadrupled since 2008.”

Hafner said Notre Dame has made major strides in this area.

“Look back to the green report card of 2007 and 2008, we had a D-,” she said. “Now we have a B+, which we’ve done with programming, outreach and training.”

To achieve this grade, the Office of Sustainability has revamped many of its programs and transportation systems, as well as introducing new events on campus, Hafner said.

“This Friday we have our annual spring semester Green Summit. The University is also in the middle of an energy conservation program and upgrading lights in older buildings,” she said.

Hafner said the University is incorporating eco-friendly vehicles into its transportation system. Most recently, the Zip Car appeared in the Notre Dame fleet and is available for students and faculty use.

Other transportation alterations include hybrid vehicles for students, faculty and staff to rent for travel to meetings and conferences. To accompany this change, a low emission vehicle parking program for Low Emissions Vehicles (LEVs) has been established.

“We’ve been working with a couple of companies for the electric vehicle charging stations,” Hafner said. “We had some trials in the fall semester and are hoping to pilot some others.”

In the next few months, Hafner said these should be available in parking lots. Additionally, the University is researching how to replace service vehicles with electric substitutes.

“We’re really excited because it opens a lot of doors. If this happens, we can add to our fleet,” she said. “We’d retire work trucks and replace them with the electric ones.”

The biggest component of what the University is working on with sustainability, Hafner said, is education. Along with introducing a sustainability aspect to freshman Contemporary Topics courses, the Office of Sustainability is promoting current and possible minors.

“[The Office of Sustainability] in the process of creating courses for a sustainability minor for the broader campus,” she said. “We’re trying to work more with the academy on opportunities that just haven’t been called out yet.”

At Notre Dame, there are unique difficulties other schools are not forced to face, Hafner said. Energy on campus is extremely cheap, while on the East and West Coasts cost is higher.

“To justify energy programs on campus is difficult because it’s so cheap,” she said. “We’re trying to formulate programming around that.”

A grassroots approach must be taken, with each individual contributing to the cause, she said.

“Educate yourself. People don’t necessarily take time to do so,” she said. “Shut lights off, take shorter showers, recycle and purchase fewer items so less natural resources are used.”