UW Today

This is an archived article.

September 30, 2004

Environmental stewardship: A UW commitment

News and Information

When the UW Tacoma celebrated its recognition for sustainable building design last week, it was only one example of a universitywide commitment to environmental stewardship. The UW has emphasized this commitment by adopting a statement in which it affirms its role, regionally and nationally, as a leading environmentally responsible institution.

The statement is the culmination of three years’ efforts by the Environmental Policy Task Force, appointed by Executive Vice President Weldon Ihrig. The statement is available at http://admin.urel.washington.edu/oop/oop_layout2.asp?articleID=93.

“One of the great things about this task force was the exchange of information among faculty, staff, students and administrators,” said Karen VanDusen, who chaired the group. “We learned that the University — both on the academic and administrative sides — is already doing a lot in many areas of environmental stewardship, sustainability and awareness.”

The statement pledges that the UW is committed “to practicing and promoting environmental stewardship while conducting its teaching, research and service missions as well as its facility operations.” The University “will promote the sustainable use of its resources, seek to minimize risks to and negative impacts on the environment, and underscore our commitment to protect human health and the environment.”

As part of that commitment, the UW’s activities will meet or exceed the applicable environmental standards and regulations. The UW’s operations will be conducted in a way that minimizes resource consumption. Environmental stewardship will be promoted in land use, development and construction. And environmental concerns will be a significant priority in decision-making.

The statement, which represents a powerful consensus among key groups at the UW, also will lead to the creation of an Environmental Stewardship Advisory Committee. VanDusen hopes this group will move the University along the path of creating an Environmental Management System, which would provide systematic documentation of the UW’s response to environmental issues, both at the administrative and academic levels.

“We have most of the basics here, they just aren’t assembled in a cohesive and structured manner,” VanDusen said. “From the point of view of compliance with federal regulations, it would be in the UW’s interest to move in this direction, as the Environmental Protection Agency is likely to base future enforcement decisions in part on whether major institutions have developed such systems.”

VanDusen said she views the most important element of the statement as sharpening the institution’s focus on environmental issues, and giving environmental concerns a higher visibility in strategic planning. “We have a golden opportunity, also, to explore the complexity of environmental issues in our classes by using real-world examples drawn from the institution’s experience,” she said.

“For example, some of the staff in Environmental Health and Safety are tapped as guest lecturers in the School of Public Health and Community Medicine,” VanDusen said, “but I believe there are many more opportunities, in many disciplines, for exploring how the UW, functioning in many ways as a small city, arrives at decisions involving important environmental issues. As our nation’s population expands, we know that students will be grappling with these issues, whether they are working in business, politics, public health, engineering or urban policy.”

The UW’s regional leadership on many environmental issues is acknowledged by the institution’s peers, although much of this recognition is not widely known. For example, the UW was one of 10 research institutions selected by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute for a special project to develop best management practices for hazardous waste management in research laboratories — a project that helped put the UW in a position to help shape future federal environmental regulations as they apply to universities.

The Environmental Health and Safety Department’s work with campus partners to reduce hazardous waste has resulted in two major awards to the University, including the Governor’s Pollution Prevention Award, and UW expertise in handling environmental issues served as a model for the city of Seattle when it developed its own environmental management plan.

Since 1995, the UW has saved utility costs of more than $35 million through aggressive programs of energy and resource conservation put in place by Facilities Services. Measures to conserve energy have ranged from the simple, such as lowering building thermostats, to high-tech, which included replacing electromechanical relays in elevators with computer logic controls and solid-state drives. Water conservation has included computerized irrigation systems, more efficient clothes washers in residence halls, and the installation of closed-loop chillers in the medical center.

Projects recently undertaken include a roof-mounted energy-generating solar array on Merrill Hall, a pilot project in the Art Building utilizing occupancy sensors to control lighting, and the use of differential pressure valves that help conserve energy in the University’s chilled water systems. UW conservation efforts have resulted in several national awards, including the 2004 BEST (Business for an Environmentally Sustainable Tomorrow) Award for Water Conservation, and a 2004 Honorable Mention Award from BEST for energy conservation and environmental leadership.

The UW Capital Projects Office (CPO) is making great progress regarding sustainability. Several larger projects at the UW are slated to register and receive third party documentation from the United States Green Building Council’s (USGBC) national program for benchmarking sustainability in buildings-LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).

The Tacoma Phase IIB project mentioned above was awarded the USGBC’s LEED Silver rating. This renovation project is not only the first LEED project in Tacoma and the first at the UW, it’s the first in higher education throughout Washington and the 13th such project in higher education nationally. Phase IIB consists of five historic buildings that were renovated as academic and office space. The project, which was completed early in 2004, was recognized for reusing historic masonry building facades, lowering dependence on artificial air conditioning, using renewable or salvaged materials and environmentally responsible finishes and reducing water and power usage.

Two other buildings, Nordheim Court and Merrill Hall, are already in the verification stage for LEED approval. Other projects slated to be LEED certified buildings include Architecture Hall, Guggenheim Hall, and Research and Technology. Still other projects are also being considered, and sustainability fundamentals will be included in smaller projects at the UW.

There are currently four Capital Projects Office project managers who are LEED Accredited Professionals, which requires passing a professional exam from the USGBC. There are about 16 other project managers, engineers and designers who are currently taking a series of classes to prepare them for the exam this summer.

All of the LEED projects plus Bioengineering, Johnson Hall and Conibear Shellhouse have used an eco-charrette process — a project-specific, sustainable, design-intensive workshop to identify appropriate strategies and opportunities during the pre-design phase. The information created is used to confirm that appropriate decisions regarding sustainability are used during the subsequent design and construction phases.

In order to better integrate sustainability into that process, the CPO has several completed and pending initiatives. The revised architectural selection template includes criteria regarding sustainable practice within firms being considered as well as identification of sustainable point person. The UW Facility Design Information manual (FDI) has been reviewed for sustainability and a revised version is anticipated being in released this fall.

A CPO Sustainable Web site has recently been launched at http://www.cpo.washington.edu/html/Sustain.html. This Web site provides information about UW projects, polices and best practices as well as reference outside sustainable resources applicable to UW projects.