UF President Bernie Machen Sustainability Address

Posted by Trish Riley, May 23, 2009

Thanks to Ed Kellerman for passing this  along to us – Bernie Machen’s sustainability report:

Sustainability at UF Earth Day – Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Students, faculty, staff, members of the community:

Good morning!

I am glad to join all of you on this gorgeous spring celebration of Earth Day! The audience here, the 1,500 people who turned up to see author Jared Diamond’s speech, the 25 student organizations who are part of today’s fair…all of it confirms my sense that we are part of a historical movement much bigger than this university, this state or this country.

I just returned from Washington D.C., where I had a chance to hear Energy Secretary Steven Chu discuss the very real problem of global climate change. Secretary Chu sees energy consumption as a major issue when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Buildings account for a startling 40 percent of total energy consumed in the U.S., including about 22 percent from private homes and 18 percent commercial.

That is why one of our major areas of emphasis in sustainability has been on improving building efficiency. I want to tell you, we have had some real success in this effort.

Since 2003, we have added 675,000 square feet of building space, including the Cancer & Genetics Research Complex – one of the largest research buildings in Florida. But over that same six years, we have reduced energy use by nearly 1 percent.

More laboratories and classrooms. Less energy.

That seeming contradiction has been helped by our switch to highly energy efficient new buildings. We have eight Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, buildings, as well as two gold and one silver. An additional six have been submitted for LEED certification.

Our LEED program is such a success that we committed in January to designing all future new construction to LEED Gold standards – everything, LEED Gold. We have also ramped up renovation of energy hogging existing buildings.

Just this month, workers began the first big project in our LEED Existing Building initiative: major efficiency improvements to the Reitz Union. That is an important milestone. We think that 70 percent of the efficiencies we can gain at UF will come from retrofits.

We are also ramping up campus conservation.

Dimming the lights or moderating the air conditioning can be a tough sell when someone else is paying the light bill. So, to let staffers wrap their arms around how much power they consume, we have pioneered our own technological motivator: Flat screens that display energy consumption in real-time. We are piloting this effort in two buildings to gauge the impact.

This is the public face of a more behind-the-scenes program to meter all our buildings individually, allowing us to ID the biggest users so that we can rework their HVAC systems or make other upgrades. Our information technology staff are hard at work on ways to “green IT,” while a growing Green Team Network is promoting conservation campus wide.

Conservation is needed and important, but we also need more efficient, cleaner, energy production alternatives.

As a research university, we are uniquely positioned to make contributions in this area. UF faculty is very active in research into nuclear, biofuels and solar energy. We also head a statewide energy research consortium, the Florida Energy Systems Consortium, and we are operating a biofuels pilot plant right here on campus.

The Association of American Universities in April adopted a resolution urging the federal government to initiate a new government-wide, multi-agency effort to support innovative energy research at U.S. universities. The goal: To make university-based energy research and education a priority across federal departments and agencies. As an AAU member, we fully support this idea. We stand ready to work with the federal government on all areas of energy security and sustainability.

Now I want to turn to another key sustainability issue, transportation.

UF continues to buy electric, hybrids and flex-fuel vehicles, all with the goal of increasing fuel efficiency. We have also seen real growth in alternatives, such as the Zipcar car sharing program. Zipcar membership this year ballooned 124 percent, from 199 to 466 people.

Student government made taking the bus a cinch with its sponsorship of the GatorLocator RTS bus tracking program. We can also thank Student Government for spurring the addition of B20 biodiesel to RTS buses.

Better yet, people are releasing their grip on motorized transportation altogether.

Some 1,800 students, staffers and faculty signed up for the fall “One Less Car” campaign. Swapping biking or walking for driving, they avoided nearly 500,000 pounds of carbon dioxide, the equivalent of taking 42 cars off the road for a year. Chris and I rode bikes from our home to campus this morning. Chris took a traditional bike, while I rode our electric bike. Of course we both wore bike helmets – it’s important to be safe!

Is there a cost savings here? When UF and its community members spend less on gas, the answer is obvious. But commuters also reduce CO2 and time wasted hunting for a parking space.

A third important element of sustainability is recycling and reuse.

This year we added indoor can and bottle collection to 22 more buildings on campus. We maintain paper recycling bins in every building and key outdoor locations. Still, according to a recent audit, paper comprises over a quarter of UF’s waste.

In 2007-2008, this campus generated just over 16,000 tons of refuse. We recycled nearly 5,200 tons, or about a third. We are exploring opportunities to work with Alachua County on an anaerobic digester or organic waste compositing facility for our campus food waste.

We can do more. We have big challenges.

But clearly, we have made progress on energy, transportation and recycling – all big parts of creating a sustainable campus.

Where do we go from here?

Over 80 departments or units have appointed Green Team Captains, charged with whatever tweaks make the most sense in their locales. Measures like removing desk-size trash cans to reduce the number of plastic bags heading to the landfill at Shands Hospital. Or slightly modifying water fountains, so it’s easier to fill a water bottle, thus avoiding buying bottled water. Or switching to tap water altogether, which happened in my office. Any single step sounds may sound small, but they add up.

These changes are spurred in part by our Office of Sustainability – but they are also occurring completely on their own. Organically, if you will.

The good news is, for the first time, we are equipped to direct this momentum.

This past year, the Office of Sustainability brought together over 100 decision-makers in 14 sessions to craft three-year implementation plans for various aspects of sustainability. The plans are in place — but what’s just as important, we now have what amounts to a sustainability infrastructure and sustainability strategic plans for this institution. You don’t get anything done at the university without a strategic plan.

I want to pause here for a moment to say a word or two about how all this happened.

People have been working on sustainability at UF since at least the 1990s. Many share the credit for the progress so far. But our first big institutional investment came when we created the Office of Sustainability within the Office of the Vice President for Business Affairs and hired our first director, Dedee Delongpré  Johnston, who arrived nearly three and a half years ago.

Many of you may know that Dedee is leaving us this summer for an opportunity in North Carolina. I know I am not alone in my feeling that she has done a standout job.

Somehow — and I am still not sure how — Dedee brought together the many passionate and opinionated personalities devoted to this cause. From their varied and colorful ideas, and from the sundry elements of an organization only just emerging, she assembled a team, an agenda and a battle plan.

It wasn’t long before sustainability, once an obscure word even in academic circles, acquired household-name status here on campus.

Dedee’s success at promoting the initiative, and achieving its goals, also won UF attention statewide and nationally. Her leadership is a major reason that the Sierra Club last fall named UF among its top ten “green schools,” one of many recognitions we received from the national sustainability community during her tenure.

Dedee, I am sorry to see you go. I wish you and your husband, Luke, the best in your new endeavors.

While we will never fill Dedee’s shoes, we are already in the process of hiring her replacement.

We will remain committed to this cause.

Think about it: The UF-wide Minor in Sustainability Studies went online this year. The College of Design, Construction and Planning has launched its sustainability major. Students, faculty and staff all over campus are embracing what, in this miserable economic downturn seems to be one of the few reasons for hope and optimism. And both UF and its employees are finding that the benefits of sustainability are green in more ways than one.

You don’t toss that progress over the side of the ship when the seas get choppy. You join hands with everyone aboard, and you grip it tighter.

Thank you and have a great day!