BY JESSICA JASPERSON
What began as a way to reduce costs for the campus budget turned into a more sustainable effort by MSUM administration, faculty and staff.
AASHE, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, officially launched STARS, Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System, in January 2010 to rate campus sustainability. STARS is the only comprehensive sustainability reporting framework accessible to all U.S. and Canadian higher education institutions, according to STARS 2013 annual review.
Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum may be earned, based on the number of points the campus receives. MSUM’s Silver STAR rating means it fell between 45 and 64 points out of 100 possible points. Fifty percent of the 300 reports entered in 2013 received the Silver STAR rating.
STARS is made up of five categories: academics, engagement, operations, planning and administration and innovation. These categories are further broken into subcategories. There is a lot of data to cover in order to determine a campus’ sustainability level.
Sustainability Coordinator, Joe Herbst, said it took about a year to compile all the data for the report. All of the hard work was not taken for granted after hearing the news.
“One of the fun things going through this assessment is really taking a hard look and seeing what are the sustainable attributes of the things that we’re doing here,” Herbst said. “So, it’s been really fun to see it because there’s so much of it going on. To the trained eye, myself, it’s everywhere. So this is just another fun way to bring some light to it really.”
Some of the major improvements to save energy and reduce waste includes nearly a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas over the past three years and water consumption reduced by 10 million gallons.
What helps greatly with decreasing energy demands is the updated software of control systems put into place in 2010. This updated software allows every room’s airflow on campus to be scheduled to turn on only when classes meet. When no one uses the room, the doors lock and the air turns off.
“It’s all handled seamlessly,” physical plant manager Jeff Goebel said. “So, the benefit of that work really has been a huge energy cost reduction on campus. We were actually reducing, not just the usage, but the number of dollars we were spending on energy for 2010, 2011 and 2012.”
Around the same time as the software update, Goebel and his team worked on reducing water consumption by replacing faucet aerators and shower heads in both dorms and athletic buildings and spray heads used for dishwashing both in Kise and in the science building for cleaning glassware.
Even before Herbst started his position as Sustainable Coordinator in June 2012, MSUM was working towards reducing energy usage.
“This Silver rating is not by any means a reflection of what I did,” Herbst said. “A lot was already in place, or the ‘seeds were planted’ before I got here. I just have to be lucky enough to be the guy that gets to pull it all together and show the world, ‘hey, we got this silver rating.’”
There’s always more to be done when discussing and creating a more sustainable institution. Transportation is the biggest area where Herbst thinks MSUM can work towards being more sustainable.
“We’ve got MATBUS. We’ve got bike racks. We’re putting in a bike fix station this spring, but we really haven’t done a lot with transportation,” Herbst said. “Car sharing services; electric vehicle charging stations to get hybrids in our fleet; to even just do a transportation study to understand the environmental footprint related to commuting. Not just with students either, this is with staff and faculty as well.”
Capital renovations of buildings on campus add to what MSUM can do with sustainability as well. It’s important MSUM continues to receive access to state funding in order to renovate.
“Every building that is next on our list to renovate usually has poor quality windows, many of them single pane glass windows, very little insulation in the walls, not very good insulation in roofs,” Goebel said. “So, as we renovate we save energy, and we can continue to go after that.”