UCLA's emissions road map — from AC to Styrofoam

Imagine a UCLA where Styrofoam is banned from campus eateries, telecommuting and compressed work weeks are commonplace, "normal" indoor temperatures are a little closer to outdoor temps and there's not a single one-use bottle of water to be found, even from vending machines.
A compact fluorescent bulb, a flowing water tap, a recycling symbol and a basket of fresh produce.Those are all among the proposals in UCLA's groundbreaking Climate Action Plan (CAP). But it's some of the CAP's requirements that will make the biggest difference, yet also be much harder to notice. They will help UCLA slash its greenhouse gas emissions eight years earlier than anyone originally dreamed possible.
All UCs face a deadline this month to produce their own plans outlining precisely how they will cut their current emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020, as required by state and UC agreements. UCLA is the first of the UCs to produce a long-awaited Climate Action Plan.
"It's an exciting plan about what we have done and what we will do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," said Nurit Katz, UCLA's sustainability coordinator.
The most effective steps to be taken will occur behind the scenes. A massive HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) retrofit of buildings across campus will cut approximately 40,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually – the equivalent of taking 7,000-plus smog-belching cars off the road. Lights will be replaced with ever more energy-efficient bulbs, akin to removing another 1,000 cars from traffic. By 2020, UCLA's efforts will be comparable to removing more than 12,000 cars each year.
The changes will cost about $30 million total, but individual programs will pay for themselves within five years on average, said Jack Powazek, the associate vice-chancellor for General Services.
The plan was created in such a way that completing a large number of these projects just makes good financial sense for UCLA, regardless of their impact on greenhouse gas emissions, Powazek said.

Although the plan sets goals for the campus to meet in three years, UCLA has already made good progress in slashing its emissions over the years. Although the campus' built square footage grew by 34 percent between 1990 and 2007, emissions rose less than 0.1 percent, thanks in part to the 1994 construction of the cogeneration power plant, which is twice as efficient as a typical power plant. Other measures, such as increasing carpooling and converting campus fleet vehicles to compressed natural gas, have also added to its success.
To keep cutting emissions, the plan focuses on seven basic steps.
In addition to the HVAC retrofit and more efficient lighting, the campus will buy more green power; explore the use of solar power; make campus housing more efficient, for example, by renovating kitchens and adding occupancy sensors; and expand rideshare programs.
Instead of creating a mandate, campus officials are also counting on the seventh step: the cooperation of staff, faculty and students to make some changes on their own such as giving up Styrofoam containers for biodegradable ones, easing off their addiction to bottled water and living with thermostats at 68 degrees when it's cool and 76 degrees when it's hot.
These changes won't happen all at once, Powazek predicted. "I think the campus will move in that direction over time, just as it has with recycling. We've been recycling for close to 20 years, and more and more people are interested in it and committed to it every year."
UCLA also plans to increase sustainability research and the work being conducted by its many environmentally oriented research centers, where everything from solar-paneled windows to global solutions to climate change are being developed.
A road map to a greener campus
To get to our goal will involve a broad cross-section of the campus:
Transportation: Emissions from commuters' vehicles and the UCLA fleet are already below 1990 levels. Commuting accounted for 11 percent of UCLA's greenhouse gas emissions in 2007. Commuters' solo driver rates – 55 percent at UCLA, compared to 75 percent countywide – could be reduced further by encouraging compressed work weeks and telecommuting. The development of a bike-loaner program in late 2009 is expected to cut mid-day drives across campus. Much of the UCLA fleet already runs on alternative fuels such as compressed natural gas (All shuttles have run on CNG since 1998, and campus cars are primarily zero-emission vehicles.) Transportation plans to convert the entire fleet to non-carbon-based fuel by 2050, including the more than 150 vanpool vehicles.
Student housing and dining: Between 2009 and 2012, residence halls will be equipped with occupancy sensors, dual-wattage lamps, solar hot water heaters and renovated kitchens. Dining halls already have set up composting; residence halls can expect to see it soon. The dining halls are also experimenting with trayless dining, which has been shown to encourage students to take – and hence waste – less food. UCLA Housing also encourages recycling during move-in days, provides e-waste recycling during the year and organizes an end-of-the-year garage sale/clothing drive. Housing staff plan to encourage students to take shorter showers, join in recycling contests and turn off their lights and computers.
Facilities Management: UCLA's cogeneration plant is twice as efficient as a normal electricity-generating plant. It has provided 70 percent of the campus' energy since 1994, in addition to most of the steam heat, chilled water for air conditioning and other forms of energy. The plant runs on a combination of natural gas and landfill gas. For the rest of its power, the campus relies on the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, including as large a percentage of green power as the DWP will offer. UCLA anticipates that working with DWP will allow the campus to buy more green power by 2010. Facilities Management will also oversee the HVAC retrofit and replace indoor and parking structure lighting with more efficient bulbs. Occupancy sensors have been installed in most rooms on campus, and recycling of every kind – white paper, mixed paper, batteries, soda cans, plastic bottles and more – is available in any office that requests it.
Campus laboratories: Although labs take up about 10 percent of campus space, they use about 60 percent of the campus' energy. Among the power-hungry culprits are fume hoods, which prevent a build-up of noxious chemicals used in research. UCLA is looking at installing fume-hood occupancy sensors and has begun training researchers to turn the hoods off when they aren't needed and to pull them lower to reduce the amount of suction needed. UCLA has already held the first of many planned fume-hood competitions rewarding decreased energy usage. A new lab energy efficiency program keeps lab users up-to-date on how to reduce emissions without compromising research.
ASUCLA: This student-run organization, which runs campus bookstores and most campus eateries, offers biodegradable eating utensils and incentives for customers who bring in reusable mugs and reusable shopping bags. ASUCLA has also pursued and installed motion sensors, low-flow toilets and high-efficiency hand dryers. A new "green corner" in the student store offers everything from laptop cases made of recycled bottles to recycled-content Post-it Notes.
Purchasing: UCLA created a paperless purchasing system in 1993, and 80 percent of the campus already buys paper with at least 30 percent recycled content. A campuswide contract is in place so that departments can buy low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) carpet, low-VOC paint and Energy-Star appliances and computers whenever possible. Campus Purchasing will explore whether there are ways of consolidating vendors' trips to campus, whether to halt the purchase of Styrofoam food containers and replace them with biodegradable options, and whether to eliminate individual bottles of water on campus and in vending machines.
Other ideas are also on the table.
Counteracting airline emissions: To make up for emissions caused by UCLA-related airplane travel, the plan proposes creating an air-travel fee that would go toward purchasing carbon offsets or funding campus climate research. Increased telecommuting and replacing short-hop flights with driving to places like San Diego are also under consideration.
Winter closure-style energy downtimes: UCLA closes for a week between Christmas and New Year's, allowing most campus buildings to go dark and saving an estimated $250,000 in energy costs. The university takes similar measures on summer Sundays, and the plan calls for expanding the program.
Consolidating server rooms: To save energy, UCLA could consolidate its scattered computer server rooms – which require constant air conditioning to keep the servers from overheating.
Green building: All new buildings and major renovations will be built to federal green building standards described in the U.S. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program known as LEED.
Office workshops: Green teams will fan out across campus to educate staff and faculty on doing their part, like turning off their computers at the end of the day, taking stairs instead of elevators and using reusable coffee mugs to work.
Research: Finally, UCLA plans to address emissions by doing what it does best: teaching and research. A Sustainability Across the Curriculum workshop will help faculty find new ways to incorporate sustainability in their courses. Student research teams organized under the Education for Sustainable Living Program will be expanded. The environmental science major is one of the fastest-growing majors on campus, and new classes will be added. More than 160 faculty already do climate and sustainability-related research, and CAP proposes setting aside funding specifically for research and development of non-carbon-based fuels.
Of course, all of this is just a prelude to CAP's next big goal for UCLA: "Attainment of climate neutrality as soon as possible." That will require action by more than just UCLA – it calls for "a technological shift in how the world produces power," CAP acknowledges.
But who's to say, the plan suggests, that UCLA can't use its world-class faculty and students to develop that technological shift right here at home?
Visit the CAP website to read the plan, watch a video about the CAP, and take a quiz about it for a chance to win and iPod Nano. To learn more about the Climate Action Plan and meet other Bruins interested in sustainability, attend the Feb. 5 CAP panel, "Our Solutions to Climate Change: Unveiling the UCLA Climate Action Plan." The event begins in De Neve Auditorium with a 4 p.m. reception with refreshments and a resource fair, followed by a panel discussion about CAP. RSVP online.