10 years’ progress in getting to green

In the beginning there was (some) recycling.

But there was no zero-waste target or green-department certification process. No Cal Dining sustainable-seafood certification or Green Initiative Fund. No climate-action, bicycle or water-use reduction plan. No greenhouse-gas inventory. No energy-incentive program, Power Agents or LEED-certified buildings.

The list goes on. There was no campus Energy Office and no Office of Sustainability. No waterless urinals or water-bottle refill stations.  And, of course, there was no annual sustainability report.

Isolated campus-sustainability projects existed, recalls Lisa Bauer, former recycling and refuse manager. “But there was no overarching concept of how they fit together” and little effort “to use Berkeley as a test tube, to take the brilliance we have at Cal and apply it to greening our own campus.”

All that has changed since the launch 10 years ago of the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability, which many mark as the beginning of a concerted campus effort to go green. A formal and deliberate committee with a student co-chair and many stakeholders at the table, CACS has managed to “stay out in front,” notes Director of Sustainability Lisa McNeilly, and thus to help institutionalize sustainability at Berkeley. (See this timeline of major campus sustainability accomplishments.)

Measures big and small

“We’re asking better questions, coming up with more sophisticated action and have more people involved,” she adds. “We have a centralized approach to big-picture infrastructure, which captures major sustainability projects. And we have The Green Initiative Fund,” a.k.a. TGIF, “to capture the majority of smaller projects.”

Sustainability summit: April 22

EarthThe campus’s 10th annual sustainability summit will be held on Earth Day, Monday, April 22.

Hosted by the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability, the event is set for 2 to 5 p.m. in Sutardja Dai Hall’s Banatao Auditorium and the adjoining hallway.

Check here for more information.

The latter, funded by a self-imposed student fee, allows students and staff to jump-start innovative campus sustainability projects with minimal red tape. To date, TGIF has supported more than 70 campus projects and 165 student internships with $1.3 million in grants.

Graduate students Elliot Nahman and Lindsay Miller, inspired by a course on water-infrastructure issues, did just that. The two secured TGIF funding, and with the help of Physical Plant staff digitized Wurster Hall’s main water meter and installed sub-meters in parts of the building.

Their goal: to gather better data water-consumption data and identify water leaks. A relatively simple project, Nahman says, but one they hope may make “an important contribution to future sustainability measures, and to researchers doing analysis in this space.”

As head of Capital Projects’ green-building program, Judy Chess has witnessed the paradigm shift first-hand. When the old Stanley Hall, for example, was demolished in the early 2000s to make way for the new Stanley Hall, its materials went to landfill. Today, concrete, rebar, glass and other building materials are routinely sorted for resale and recycling during campus demolition and construction projects.

Chess credits UC’s 2003 sustainability policy, an emerging campus ethos and new industry standards for the change. Though “there’s always room for improvement, sustainability is now our normal way of doing business,” she observes.

Partners in action

The sheer number of student-run environmental organizations at Berkeley  — more than 30 — suggests the extent of students’ concern about the planet, and of their desire to walk the talk right where they live and study.

water refill station

Refill stations (this one in Dwinelle) help reduce use of commercially bottled water. (Annie Frantzeskos photo)

“Students expect it,” TGIF coordinator Katherine Walsh, 27, says of campus sustainability. “When I was in high school, the environmental clubs weren’t quite there yet; now such groups exist as early as elementary school.” She cites a report that nearly three-quarters of college applicants nationwide consider a campus’s sustainability reputation when deciding where to enroll.

Environmentally conscious students can’t do it alone; they need reliable campus partners to move the institution in significant ways. In Walsh’s experience, the support is there. “The staff, students and faculty within Berkeley’s sustainability community — it has a very strong feeling,” she observes.

student holding award for sustainability thesis

Kelley Doyle ’12 won a national award for her senior thesis calculating the campus’s supply-chain carbon footprint.

The messenger matters. When undergrads suggest to staff that they adopt a green measure  — be it two-sided printing or energy conservation — they tend to get through, Chess observes. In students, staff “see the future; it lets the message be heard.”

She tells the story of a Building Sustainability @ Cal student intern handing a box of faucet aerators to the head of the plumbing shop.

A week later, the water-saving devices were installed in heavily trafficked Dwinelle Hall.

One of the first areas where the students pushed the campus to do more — climate action and reducing greenhouse-gas emissions — is now the largest campus effort, largely under the umbrella of the now eight-year-old Cal Climate Action Partnership (CalCAP).

“We’ve tasked ourselves with reducing emissions by a third by 2014,” says sustainability manager Kira Stoll. Berkeley’s target is “the most aggressive in the UC system,” she notes. “The great news is we’re getting closer to our goal and are now working to set the next.”

The campus’s deliberate approach to sustainability – think baseline assessments, feasibility studies, plans, metrics, reports – has borne fruit. “We try to do projects that fill the campus’s needs and fit in with our culture,” says McNeilly, “not just the latest trendy thing.”

Ensuring “the sustainability of sustainability” is where it’s at, she says.

Related information: Past NewsCenter coverage of sustainability at Berkeley.