Increasing sustainability continues to be an issue for universities striving to conduct operations while also staying green.
After a campus shutdown related to the COVID-19 pandemic, how Texas Tech proceeds with sustainability efforts this semester may be different in ways.
When university campus shutdowns occurred across the nation, some university administrations utilized the shutdowns as an opportunity to reassess energy needs, according to pv magazine USA. Some U.S. colleges and universities are wanting to hit carbon reduction goals sooner, while others are looking for new options for sustainability.
After a few months of students being back on the Tech campus, how the university will conduct sustainability efforts could involve different measures.
Carey Hewett, campus sustainability officer and managing director for the Tech Operations Division: Business Services, said the campus closure in the spring impacted the university’s sustainability in several ways.
“We were able to reduce and eliminate steam across campus,” he said. “There was nobody in the buildings for the most part, which allowed us to reduce the operation of our chillers and boilers down in the central plant, so if we’re producing less chilled water and steam, obviously we’re saving energy.”
In addition, Hewett said air handlers on campus did not have to run at their normal schedules while campus was closed. The campus closure allowed the university to reduce the schedules for these air handlers.
“It also allowed us to go in and work on the efficiency and the airflow of the air handlers,” Hewett said. “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic issues, we increased the outside airflow to 30 percent in all our buildings, made sure our filters were changed out during that downtime, so we were ready to go when the campus came back.”
The reduction of some shuttle services, which requires less fuel, and the number of buses running on campus is another way the campus is being more energy efficient, Hewett said.
Along with these changes in energy efficiency, Hewett said the campus closure had other benefits to campus systems.
“Well, I think it has allowed us to open up the campus with all of our systems at peak condition,” he said.
Along with different methods to be more energy efficient on campus, recycling efforts are other factors that could affect a university’s level of sustainability.
Karen Marin, sustainability coordinator at Tech, said there are different opportunities in the city for the Tech community to recycle.
It is encouraged that students, faculty and staff use the City of Lubbock recycling centers, as the Tech Recycling Center managed by Tech University Student Housing still is closed. For some people who do not live on campus, utilizing the city’s recycling centers may be more convenient.
City of Lubbock recycling locations include the Southside center at 1631 84th St., the Northside center at 208 Municipal Drive, the south Milwaukee center at 7308 Milwaukee Ave. and the North Quaker center at 4307 Adrian St., according to the City of Lubbock website. Visit the website for more information on operating hours, satellite locations for recycling, instructions and information on what materials are accepted.
Despite the difficulties the closure of the Tech Recycling Center poses, Marin said should still recycle and be mindful of the different recycling locations in Lubbock.
“But we are still encouraging students and everyone at the Texas Tech community to really notice that we still care about sustainability,” she said, “and even without the recycling center on campus, there’s still other places across the city where students, staff, faculty, whoever can go and recycle their material.”
For individuals on campus, Marin said the use of single-use plastics, such as those used in masks, gloves or wipes, has grown with the rise of COVID-19.
“And so, something that could be done is maybe transition to reusable masks. They can wash at home and not have to worry about throwing them out every time you use them,” she said. “You can also, instead of using gloves, you can move to just washing your hands frequently, or using hand sanitizer and things like that. It kind of is just using small steps to build sustainability.”
Despite the different campus energy efficiency methods or the multiple ways individuals can alter their lifestyles to be more sustainable, recognition of these efforts could be impactful for an institution, especially after facing closures resulting from the pandemic.
The university participates annually in the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s (AASHE) Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) report, Hewett said.
STARS is a self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability and be ranked among other participating schools, according to the AASHE website. Currently, Tech has a bronze ranking that is valid through Feb. 27, 2023.
An institution’s final score will depend on the percentage of points it earns, which can be as high as 100 points, by pursuing relevant credits in areas including Planning and Administration, Academics, Engagement and Operations and by pursuing four additional Innovation and Leadership points, according to the AASHE website.
The bronze rating represents a college or university that has a score between 25 and 44 points, according to the AASHE website.
Tech got the results of a bronze designation this past year. Hewett said.
“Well, it’s measuring our efforts, our recycling efforts; it’s measuring our efforts to have classes that are related to sustainability, degrees that are related to sustainability, programs and projects on campus that go on that are related to sustainability,” he said.
Along with these factors, there can be other reasons why a campus may be considered sustainable.
An institution’s sustainability encompasses the equity and inclusivity of its campus, not just efforts to recycle, Marin said.
“[STARS] encompasses also things you wouldn’t necessarily think of as sustainability, but in order to have a sustainable campus, you do need to consider those factors as well,” she said.
Seeing if a college or university is purchasing from underutilized or local businesses to reduce certain emissions is another factor to consider for sustainability, Marin said.
There always are efforts to be more sustainable on the Tech campus, Hewett said.
“It’s just very important for the campus to realize that there are sustainability efforts going on every day around this campus. It does take a village,” Hewett said.
Highlighting the different sustainability efforts on campus is one task the Tech Office of Sustainability has, Hewett said. The office encourages people to let them know of these efforts.
“So, that’s something Texas Tech can be proud of,” he said. “Being a sustainable campus is important for Texas Tech, and I know it’s important to our students, faculty and staff as well.”
One can share information about campus sustainability efforts via a Tech Operations Division survey or by emailing email@example.com, Marin said.
“Because one of our challenges, right now, is trying to gather data from departments because there could be projects or something going on across campus that we don’t know about,” she said, “and so, gathering information is a big component of what we do as well.”
For more information on sustainability efforts visit the Tech Office of Sustainability website.