Working with the administration and faculty to help make the university as energy efficient and environmentally aware as possible, while guiding student interns as sustainability leaders among their peers, California State University, Dominguez Hills’ (CSUDH) new Office of Sustainability is dedicated to re-casting the university’s ecological footprint into a smaller mold.
The Office of Sustainability is managed by Ellie Perry, who arrived in August 2017 as CSUDH’s first coordinator and assistant energy analyst. The new office helps address the “three major utility pillars” of sustainability on a campus: energy, recycling, and water in addition to other campus impact areas such as landscaping, academic integration of sustainability concepts, and alternative transportation. Her overarching directive is getting the entire campus community more involved in the university’s sustainability efforts.
“This will be a very public-facing office,” said Perry, who is working directly with Kenny Seeton, manager of CSUDH’s Central Plant, to launch the Office of Sustainability. “I have my own ideas, but I’m also working with a lot of stakeholders on campus to get a sense of what the university needs to be considered a green campus.”
To start, CSUDH has received more than $20,000 in utility funding from Southern California Edison to upgrade the lights in Parking Lots 4a and 4b to LED fixtures. Other “needs” Facilities Services is currently addressing include creating a more user-friendly recycling system for receptacles around campus, as well as energy-related retrofit projects in buildings and roadways.
Additional projects include new smart valves in the delivery systems that provide heating and cooling in campus buildings, and installing a 1-megawatt battery storage unit that will improve energy reliability and provide cost savings for the campus.
A more immediate goal for Perry is ensuring CSUDH gets a ranking in the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’ (AASHE) Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS) program. The self-reporting program measures the overall sustainability performance of a college campus.
“AASHE has a certification system that assesses all of a campus’ great sustainability initiatives, and then ranks them overall as bronze, silver, or gold,” she said. “Our goal is to get some kind of ranking this year, for the first time, and then do even better next year. Someday I hope we, as a campus, will go gold.”
To practice what it promotes, the Physical Plant is being transformed into a “net-zero” facility—one that generates as much energy as it consumes—by utilizing solar panels, LED lighting upgrades, and other ways to cut its energy consumption.
Perry’s work experience blends well with her new position in the Office of Sustainability. Right after earning her graduate degree in environmental management from Duke University, she landed a job with the Alliance to Save Energy’s Green Campus Program as a project manager. The utility-funded internship program, which was defunded last year, hired student mentors to carry out energy efficient projects on campus, and at its peak was in operation at 16 California State University campuses. After four years in the program, Perry launched the Santa Barbara-based Sundowner Sustainability Consulting firm, which assists small to medium-size businesses and nonprofits in achieving environmental certifications and reaching their sustainability goals.
“Our goal was to get people involved, so the alliance provided me a good toolkit for engaging students that relates well to what I’m doing here,” said Perry. “At its core, the Office of Sustainability is tasked with connecting people on campus who want to see the university go green to the right resources to make sure that happens. Seeing and building connections is a big part of that, and what I do well.”
Perry’s campus-wide sustainability inclusion goals began with providing student internships her first month on campus. She is currently working with five interns through her office, which she affectionately calls the “Green Cave.” Four are “general sustainability” student interns who perform such tasks and projects as tabling at events and reaching out to students, while another is currently conducting research related to reclaimed water. She has also begun working with faculty to partner on green projects, and to discover ways to integrate sustainability into course work to help make the campus even more of a “living laboratory” for faculty and students.
“Students are very good for working at the peer-to-peer level, and they are the most effective way to get information out to other students, and get them excited about getting involved in projects,” said Perry, who says the Green Cave has an open-door policy for everyone on campus. “I provide the interns the structure, but I rely on them to tell me, as students, what appeals to them. It’s fun work all around.”