Advancing Sustainability During Campus Closure

CSUMB’s doors have remained closed to students, staff and faculty since the beginning of the pandemic, but this hasn’t stopped ambitious ideas from flourishing. Throughout this time, the President’s Sustainability Committee has remained dedicated to promoting sustainability throughout CSUMB and thinking of new ways to advance sustainability during campus closure. The mission of the committee is to promote sustainability throughout CSUMB, in planning, development, operation and innovation of campus facilities. 

Recently, the Economic Working Group of the President’s Sustainability Committee made two recommendations for cost saving measures to implement at CSUMB during campus closure. After reviewing 10 different options, the Economic Working Group identified centralizing the waste bins and reducing “Vampire Loads,” as the top recommendations based on campus goals and the feasibility to implement. 

These innovative measures were presented to the Cabinet and approved on Dec. 3, 2020. They are effectively being implemented while the campus population is low and are supporting a greener return to campus. 

Centralized waste bins have the potential to initiate a behavior change in the campus community. The purpose of the Three-Stream Centralized Waste Bins is to separate landfill garbage, recycling and compost and to promote sustainability in our everyday routines. In order to advance ambitious campus goals outlined in the 2020 Inclusive Sustainability Plan, these bins allow individuals to choose where to place their waste in the landfill, recycling or compost. 

These bins allow CSUMB to work towards zero waste and make achieving a 90% diversion rate from the landfill a tangible reality. Not only does this facilitate education leading to behavioral change, but this also complies with the advancement of statewide methane reduction efforts established through SB1383. Through this implementation, more waste is diverted from landfills and further reduces methane emissions resulting from the decomposition of organic waste (food waste) in landfills. 

The bins further facilitate a safer return to campus in compliance with COVID-19 since they are touchless with no top to lift in order to discard waste. They also improve safety and precautions for janitorial staff by reducing the “touchpoints” they would normally have with individual waste bins. Currently, this recommendation is still in the bureaucratic process, but the plan is to conduct a building by building analysis and remove single-use, deskside bins and replace them with centralized bins. The estimated payback period is one to two years, but cost benefits will be better understood once building-by-building evaluation is conducted. 

The second recommendation made in an effort to reduce energy costs and usage is through the shutting off and unplugging of “Vampire Loads.” Vampire Loads come from devices that use electricity even when they appear to be powered off. The purpose of this recommendation is to save energy while also reducing utility costs. 

After exploring data from a similar effort made at CSU San Marcos, the Economic Working Group estimated that CSUMB could achieve between $20,000 – $108,000 in savings annually! In order to do this, the President’s Sustainability Committee, Department Heads and Assistant Vice Presidents identified spaces for staff to go around on campus and shut off or unplug non-essential equipment that were drawing energy when plugged in, but not in use. When doing this, 435 computers, 357 lamps, over 200 monitors, refrigerators/mini-fridges and microwaves were unplugged. 

A variety of other devices were also unplugged, including shredders, space heaters, digital projectors, printers, toasters and much more. Since campus is currently unpopulated, short term savings are higher. This effort began in November 2020 and since then CSUMB has realized savings averaging out to around $4,773.60 per month. This shocking amount emphasizes how much energy is wasted to power devices not in use and how efforts to reduce energy consumption can initiate significant savings. 

Although these savings are not permanent due to campus being unpopulated, potential long-term cost savings can be realized through unplugging unnecessary equipment each night, weekend and holiday break when the campus is re-populated. The Economic Working Group plans to continue this process into the time when campus is re-populated and track data captured by the reporters, or “unpluggers,” before and after unplugging vampire equipment in order to better analyze cost savings and impact.  Above all, this effort has allowed campus to take another step towards enhancing CSUMB’s ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while also initiating a behavior shift around increasing awareness and energy usage. 

The efforts of the committee have proven successful through their review of campus practices that may prohibit or hinder progress on achieving sustainability goals. These recommendations continue to promote a greener return to campus through building awareness, understanding and a culture of sustainability on campus. 

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