Power Down - SEAS Sustainability

February 9, 2016

What’s the deal with that awesome new orange building? How about those water filling stations? What’s a recycling center? For all these questions and more, we took to the engineering quad to discover the sustainability initiatives being undertaken by the School of Engineering and Applied Science. We spoke with Leandra Davis, Sustainability Coordinator for SEAS, and Karema Seliem, Building Interiors Coordinator for SEAS.


Green Campus Partnership: What are your main responsibilities?

Karema Seliem: We work with all of the SEAS buildings, so that includes: the Singh Center for Nanotechnology, Towne Hall, Skirkanich Hall, Levine Hall, Moore, Levine North, a portion of the Laboratory for Research on the Structure of Matter, a portion of Hayden Hall, a portion of Vagelos, a portion of 3401 Walnut, and the 3rd floor of the Pennovation Center. 

Leandra Davis: We run the sustainability program and the design and construction program for SEAS. We mainly manage renovations and new construction projects. Our sustainability mission on larger projects is to make sure that the project obtains its LEED Certification. That encompasses everything from what finishes you choose and what furniture you order, to how we manage waste demolition and where we order materials from.


GCP: What are some of the larger sustainability projects SEAS has done? 

Leandra: Our most recent large project is the Singh Center for Nanotechnology. We received LEED New Construction Gold rating and actually achieved every point we went for, which is [unusual]. In this building, we do a lot of energy heat recovery. We also capture at least the first inch of rain water, store it in cisterns, and use it for drip irrigation on site. We also used a lot of sustainable materials in construction – sourced locally and with high recycled content.

Karema: We also recently completed a four floor renovation of Levine North. We have received LEED CI Silver Certification on Phase 1, and are in the process of submitting for LEED CI Silver Certification for Phase 2. We were able to reuse all exterior walls and windows instead of 100% demolition and installed a new air-handling unit that dramatically decreases energy usage.


GCP: What other sustainability initiatives have SEAS started?

Leandra: We have created a SEAS Green Team for staff and students, with representatives from each of our departments within SEAS on the team. One of the team’s projects was converting our trash room into the SEAS Recycling Center. We recycle everything from cardboard to electronics, books, light bulbs, batteries, furniture, and Styrofoam.

Karema: We also host a lot of events through our Green Team. We just hosted the SEAS Sustainability Fair highlighting engineering and sustainability. We do book drives, e-waste pickups, and plant and smart strip giveaways. We recently had a water tasting challenge to prove that there really isn’t much difference between tap water, bottled water, and filtered water in terms of taste. 85% of people weren’t able to tell the difference between them. In terms of reducing waste, we’ve installed a lot of water bottle filling stations. We are also installing water lines (Quench or Deer Park filters) in office suites instead of using water jugs.

Leandra: Our goal in SEAS is to replace all water bottle jugs with filtration systems within two years. We have saved 171,000 bottles so far by using the water bottle filling stations in common spaces.

Leandra: SEAS also has a furniture reuse listserv. 90% of the furniture that used to be trashed is reused within our school. If we are unable to reuse it, we either give it to other schools or companies who can use it or recycle it. Now all of our carpet gets recycled, too. We have reached the point where all of our projects have at least an 85% waste diversion rate.


GCP: What about any upcoming initiatives or areas where you see SEAS becoming more sustainable?

Leandra: We’re working to replace all the trash bins around the SEAS campus, because there is inconsistent signage and there are many different bins across our buildings. This causes confusion and items are not placed in the correct bins. The idea is to standardize bins and signage, and to make sure there is always a recycling and trash bin located together. This makes it as easy as possible for all users to recycle.  

Karema: We’re also educating office staff to use smart strips. These strips reduce plug loads by turning all unnecessary ghost loads off when the space is unoccupied. Those are very popular. We’re also working on a program with our Green Team to bring more plants into our complex.

Leandra: We are working on other initiatives on the academic front, as well. SEAS and SAS are partnering to create a group of faculty and staff who are interested in energy. We are coordinating monthly energy talks for those interested across campus. Half of the talk would be a discussion with a specialist and the other half dialogue among participants increasing multi-disciplinary collaboration. We’re also collaborating with FRES [Facilities & Real Estate Services] to work on energy related initiatives with faculty.


GCP: What can students and building occupants do better when it comes to energy conservation?

Leandra: Be mindful of what you do in your office or workspace. You think one person doesn’t make a difference, but they do. Think about the energy one staff member can waste or save when their office lights and monitor are continually left on or off. For students, get involved with other student initiatives. Engage and participate at events, speak up when you see issues or have ideas, and help with awareness campaigns within your circles.

Karema: Know that your voices are important to us and speak up if you want change! We’re here to listen. The student voice is very important.


Now you know all about SEAS sustainability! Come to Levine lobby on Power Down Day, February 24th, from 10-2 and see if you can power your cell phone with a bike. Check our social media and website for more information.  

Image Copyright: Singh Center for Nanotechnology

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