USC Housing is looking for ways to decrease its carbon footprint, withouth significantly increasing the cost for students.
USC Housing recently finished an evaluation of Pardee Tower to create a baseline for the university’s efforts to make USC Housing facilities more environmentally friendly.
Mark Ewalt, director of Auxiliary Services Operations, said the university decided last summer to conduct an evaluation of campus housing, and officially began the Pardee Tower’s evaluation in January.
“We picked Pardee because it has a lot of characteristics of some of the other dorms,” Ewalt said. “We’re looking at what kind of appliances and insulation we have and essentially everything you can possibly think of in an assessment. This will establish a baseline for Pardee and a model for how we should approach the complete housing portfolio.”
Ewalt said they want to work toward a Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design certification. LEED is an esteemed, internationally recognized green building certification system. The Ronald Tutor Campus Center is certified LEED Gold certification, which has helped influence USC Housing’s decision to look into LEED Certification, according to Ewalt.
“We were curious about LEED certification and how we might do something similar for existing building inventory after having gone through the Tutor Campus Center LEED process,” Ewalt said. “We are using the Pardee assessment to see if that is something we could feasibly do because LEED is extraordinarily expensive and labor intensive.”
The decision to work toward a LEED certification would be a significant one, according to Ewalt. He said housing likely won’t become more expensive if USC takes the steps to become LEED certified, but for now it has yet to be determined.
“We want to create a long-term, systematic approach to all our USC Housing remodels and renovations that incorporates the latest sustainable building and operations practices, but still fits into USC’s overall financial and budget logic,” Ewalt said.
If USC Housing pursues LEED certifications, it won’t be the first university to do so.
Carnegie Mellon University, Vanderbilt University and Washington University in St. Louis already have LEED-certified student housing, while the University of Illinois is seeking LEED Silver certification for one of its residence halls. University of Maryland plans to open a second LEED Gold certified residential facility on the campus, next fall.
“We are considering how feasible LEED certification for management of existing buildings would be,” Ewalt said. “LEED requires that you monitor, measure and report everything.”
LEED is a strict, administration-heavy program, and Ewalt said it will take at least a year and a half to make a decision.
“We might do what Stanford is doing, and create our own LEED-like program. Pardee will help us determine whether we should go LEED or do our own,” Ewalt said. “Whichever we do, that then will give us a roadmap to how we approach the rest of the housing portfolio.”
Ewalt said USC Housing is interested in lowering overall operation costs, and being more closely aligned with USC students, staff and faculty expectations about having a smaller impact on the environment.
In the interim, USC Housing is taking some immediate steps to make student housing more sustainable, though some of those steps have been more noticeable than others.
In 2010, each USC Housing resident was provided a power-saving power strip in his or her room. Those power strips reduced energy consumption an average of 7 to 12 percent each month, according to Ewalt.
USC Housing has also been using low Volatile Organic Compounds, low odor paints, new carpets partially made from recycled materials and installing low flow shower heads, water-efficient laundry machines and toilets that use less water.
“These things are not necessarily measured at this point, but we know that they have a big, positive impact,” Ewalt said.
Ewalt said that environmentally educated students, however, is most important.
“I think students could have the biggest impact by simply setting their heating to a lower temperature and their air-conditioning to a higher temperature,” Ewalt said.
Some students, however, wish the university would be in more consistent contact with students about being green.
“I feel like the school should send out an awareness email on how students can be more environmentally friendly, not just through housing, but on campus life in general,” said Connie Gao, a sophomore majoring in business administration.
Other students, however, feel the university should have other priorities besides going green.
“But I’d like to see USC expand the dorms on campus already and make them more comfortable to improve the quality of living rather than focuses solely on going green,” said Daniel Matloubian, a junior majoring in accounting.
As part of the Undergraduate Student Government’s push to make it easy for students to be green, students in large university-owned housing buildings will have access to recycling bins beginning May 6, in time for move-out.
There will be individual bins designated for food, clothing and shoes and electronic waste. The food and clothing and shoes will be donated to those in need and the “e-waste,” or electronic waste, will be processed through Californina Recycles.
Mikey Geragos, university affairs director, said the program is in place to make recycling an easy option for students.
“It gives students a good opportunity to clean up their dorms or apartment and gives them place where they can donate or drop off their waste,” Geragos said. “It’s not something that they have to seek or search for, because it’s going to be easily accessible.”
Geragos said although USG did not start the program, sustainability advocacy has risen as a priority for USG over the past few years. Both students and the university have expressed that it is an important interest.
“There’s been a big push internally and externally to push for sustainability,” Geragos said. “It’s a direct repsonse to what students want.”
Rachel Bracker contributed to this report.
This story is the first of a series of four stories about sustainability.