Campus energy conservation, recycling efforts show measureable gains

April 22, 2013

by Jill Sakai

As the nation recognizes Earth Day, UW-Madison is celebrating ongoing strides toward improving campus sustainability.

Campus energy conservation efforts put in place during the past several years are continuing to pay off, says Faramarz Vakili, co-director of the UW-Madison Office of Sustainability and associate director of the campus Physical Plant.

Since 2006, total campus energy use has dropped 12.5 percent even as campus building space has grown by 16.4 percent or 2.8 million square feet, adding up to an effective 25 percent reduction in energy use per gross square foot. Vakili says that number should edge closer to 30 percent as ongoing projects are completed.

Last week, UW-Madison was lauded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for its use of "green" power sources. During the 2012-2013 academic year through April 17, UW-Madison purchased nearly 70 million kilowatt hours of wind-powered electricity, representing 15 percent of annual campus electricity usage and contributing to the Big 10 being named the Collective Conference Champion of the EPA's College and University Green Power Challenge.

Students are also a driving force in campus sustainability efforts. This spring, UW-Madison participated in two student-driven national challenges to reduce energy use and waste across campus.

Campus Conservation Nationals, an inter- and intracampus energy savings competition, challenged students living in campus residence halls to reduce their energy consumption for a three-week period. From March 4 to 25, UW Housing units reported electricity reductions of 32,657 kilowatt hours compared to the same period last year, leading to a cost savings for the university of $2,940, according to Mike Henry, assistant director of UW Housing.

Henry calls the outcome — attributable solely to student behavioral changes — incredible. "It enables University Housing to use these funds to improve our living spaces and provide a better experience for residents, in addition to reducing our carbon footprint," he says.

Eighteen housing units participated in the intracampus competition. Susan B. Davis Hall was the best residential hall with a 8.2 percent reduction, and Bradley Hall reported the largest overall unit reduction of 6.7 percent. The intercampus rankings have not yet been determined.

Along with more than 300 universities and colleges nationwide, UW-Madison also participated in the Recyclemania tournament to enhance campus recycling of co-mingled items (glass, cans, paper, cardboard), compost, and electronic waste. Though UW-Madison was not a top contender in the national competition from Feb. 3 to March 30, coordinator Frank Kooistra says the totals provide a valuable benchmark for future efforts.

UW-Madison is included in the 2013 edition of Princeton Review's "Guide to 322 Green Colleges," issued April 16, which focuses on schools that have demonstrated a strong commitment to sustainability and the environment.