Partnership encourages GR, GVSU sustainability push

By Austin Metz | 10/24/12 4:46pm


What began in 2005 with the signing of the Community Sustainability Partnership, has lead Grand Rapids to be named the most sustainable midsize city in the nation, and Grand Valley State University to strive to improve in the area of sustainability.

Rewind back to 2004, when the push for sustainability at GVSU was just beginning. The university had just hired Norman Christopher, who had been in the business sector, to make the campus green.

Having been introduced to sustainability practices by different business leaders, Christopher realized those practices could be used at the college level.

“What became apparent was that sustainability applied to academia,” said Christopher, executive director of the Sustainable Community Development Initiative at GVSU. “It applied to municipal governments, it applied to businesses, so it was the first set of processes and practices that I had seen that could cut across public, private, academic and service sectors, so that is when the process began.”

It was then, in 2005, that GVSU joined the Community Sustainability Partnership, which partnered the university with the city of Grand Rapids, along with the Grand Rapids Public Schools, Aquinas College and Grand Rapids Community College.

With the signing of the new partnership, Grand Rapids began its push towards becoming a more sustainable city.

Sustainability in Grand Rapids

“What started in 2005 with these five organizations, you now have around 210 organizations engaged through the community sustainability partnership in this field of sustainability leveraging and sharing resources and understanding sustainability and how it applies to the community,” said Haris Alibasic, legislative and sustainability director for the city of Grand Rapids.

Although Grand Rapids has achieved a great deal over the past seven years, the ultimate goal is to obtain 100 percent of the city’s energy from renewable resources by 2020.

“We are currently at 22 percent of our renewable energy goal, and our drive toward sustainable energy and really meeting renewable energy and our energy efficiency goals is multi-faceted,” Alibasic said. “Obviously, in order to become more renewable oriented and to offset our energy use to renewables, you or any organization have to start looking at reducing energy consumption.”

The city has done this and has already reduced its energy consumption from 110,000 megawatt hours to less than 100,000 megawatt hours, which Alibasic said is significant when considering that the city owns and operates over 300 buildings.

“That is one facet,” Alibasic said. “The other is we are doing on-site energy production. We just installed earlier this year a large scale solar panel project on our existing LEED certified water department building, so we are actually producing on-site solar energy and then to use a net metering policy which is basically allowing a sale of the energy back to the grid. We are really off-setting our energy cost as well.”

While Alibasic knows the city is still a ways off from its goals, city officials are considering more energy saving methods for the future.

“We are looking at large scale wind projects and other partnership opportunities,” Alibasic said. “We are looking at additional energy efficiency reductions, and we are striving to be at a much lower energy consumption than we currently are, even with the over 10 percent reduction we were able to accomplish over the last four or five years.”

For Alibasic and the city of Grand Rapids, the motivation is simple.

“We are interested in cost avoidance and cost reduction for city operations because that ultimately leads to provision of good quality services to our citizens,” Alibasic said.

As Grand Rapids continues to improve, GVSU is also pushing toward becoming more sustainable.

Grand Valley goes green

“The first few years was, where are we on sustainability?” Christopher said. “Then in the 2008 timeframe, it was how much progress have we made in sustainability, and now the question is, what is the impact that sustainability is having on campus?”

Christopher said GVSU has made progress from the time he began with the school. At that time, the university was recycling at a rate of around 15 percent. Today, that number is closer to 45 or 50 percent.

Another concept GVSU has embraced is the idea of diverting goods from the landfill by waste minimization.

“Instead of recycling all your waste, then looking for ways to divert it from a landfill, we started looking at things like food composting…,” Christopher said. “We are diverting waste from the landfill, we are doing a pretty good job of recycling what we can. Then you get into a very unique area. We started composting food waste in the last couple years which, of course, is the last remaining large area that goes into the waste is our food every day.”

From there, the university has begun to look at other areas where waste can be reduced.

In the Collective Economic Impact of Sustainability Efforts 2012 report released by GVSU, it showed multiple routes the university is taking to continue in sustainability.

The report stated that in 2011, GVSU generated 2,357 tons of waste. Of that waste, 1,005 tons were recycled. To break that down, GVSU recycled 705 tons of paper, cardboard, glass, 15 tons of scrap metal, 248 tons of food waste and 2.4 tons of light bulbs.

Two other areas of sustainability GVSU has focused on is water efficiency and the use of alternative transportation and fuels.

The report showed that in 2011 alone, GVSU saved 1,482,749 gallons of water by “going trayless” in campus dining, which saved $9,490. Other ways the university is reusing water is through irrigation and retention ponds. The irrigation systems and the retention ponds around the university have generated 15 million gallons of water, which have been used to water The Meadows golf course and other sports complexes on campus. Overall, between 2007-2011, the university reduced water use by 25 million gallons, which saved the college close to $162,500.

According to the Sustainability Impact Report, campus dining recycled close to 3,000 gallons of cooling oils in 2011, which have been turned into biodiesel fuel to power mowers, tractors and other equipment at The Meadows golf course.

Also, the partnership with The Rapid has saved students from driving about 36,737,480 miles, which has saved 1,836,874 gallons of gasoline. The graph on page one shows the amount of riders through the years on The Rapid.

Sustainability at the Pew

Terry Pahl is a facilities manager at GVSU who has worked to improve sustainability on the Pew Campus. Pahl explained that something as simple as replacing the lights in the Pew Campus parking ramp can save the university money.

“After reviewing LED, induction and fluorescent lighting we chose the best type for each application in the ramp,” Pahl said by email. “In the main decks, we used fluorescent lights with 2 lamps. One lamp is on all the time and the second is activated by a motion sensor whenever a car or pedestrian walks into the motion sensor area.

“For the stairways we used compact fluorescent and wired them into photo-sensor to capture daylight harvesting since there are windows in the stairways. At the entrance we replaced the lights with compact fluorescent. Phase 2 was mainly replacing the lights on the top deck with LED lights.”
Although the project cost the university $216,700, the anticipated annual savings will be around $94,979 per year.

Other projects Pahl has worked on around campus include changing the heating, ventilating and air conditioning controls, which should save the university $101,726 annually, and scheduling air handling equipment differently to start and stop in different time frames and at variable speeds, rather than at a constant speed which is predicted to save the university $77,398 annually.

As Grand Rapids and GVSU continue the push for sustainability, Alibasic felt that students still can help.

“That really goes to the core of how we move sustainability forward in the future,” Alibasic said. “When students, our future generations, our future leaders in our communities and our organizations can really push sustainability forward. Students can be engaged in it, whether that’s with recycling, energy, whether that’s transportation. Students can really benefit from knowing about sustainability.”

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