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Thursday, November 27, 2014

UNM wins award for sustainability efforts

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By William Aranda / New Mexico Daily Lobo

Facilities engineer Hans Barsun stands by one of the tanks in the chiller room at the Ford Utilities Center at UNM. UNM recently won an award for its sustainability efforts.

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A local Sustainable Business Summit recognized UNM with a special Judges’ Award for achievement in sustainability. Mary Clark, sustainability manager at UNM, said there were several categories at the Aug. 29 summit.

“The second annual Sustainable Business Summit, which was run by Albuquerque Business First … and the New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce, had five categories,” she said. “So we (nominated ourself) in the category of sustainable business and that’s the category that we won.”

Clark said former UNM President David Schmidly officially recognized sustainability initiatives when he signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment in 2007.

“That made us formalize a lot of our efforts because we had to write a climate action plan that would show how we were going to go to climate neutrality by 2050,” she said. “But, prior to that, the University had been doing many things. Our recycling program started in the 1990s.”

One initiative that aims for sustainability is the University’s District Energy System, which allows UNM to have its own energy source, Clark said.

“We produce our own energy from one place, and that’s (Ford Utilities Center),” she said. “The original boiler plant was built in the 1940s. So we’re able to find ways to use energy very efficiently, including making steam, chilled water and electricity.”

Clark said other initiatives include expanding the University’s ability to use solar energy. The Mechanical Engineering Building, the Science and Math Learning Center, the College of Education building and the Yale Parking Structure all have solar panels that provide energy for UNM, she said.

Clark said UNM has “significantly reduced” water usage on campus.

“We have equipment here at the utility plant that captures water as it goes through the system and comes back,” she said. “So we chemically treat it and send it back out again. We try to use water as many times as possible before we dump it into the (city) system.”

UNM has also reduced landscape watering and is looking to find a way to pump reused water up to the golf course, Clark said.

Hans Barsun, a facilities engineer at the Physical Plant Department, said some of UNM’s other sustainability initiatives include more efficient heating systems and upgrades for old, inefficient buildings that waste power.

“We’ve been installing new controls in these buildings so that they’re a little bit smarter,” he said. “So that at the end of the day, when people go home and there’s nobody in the building, it says ‘Well, I can go to sleep.’ In the summertime, instead of trying to keep it nice and cool, it will get kind of hot overnight.”

Barsun said UNM installed variable speed systems, which slow down water and air flow in order to save power. UNM has also switched to more energy-efficient light bulbs, added insulation in some new buildings and has begun to monitor where energy is being used, Barsun said.

“We’ve been able to expand the campus and add a bunch of buildings,” he said. “And our energy use has not gone up as a result of that. We’ve been able to keep it flat.”

Clark said the initiatives do not take additional money from what is given to the University from the state.

“We’re not spending extra money,” she said. “Instead we’re trying to use resources more carefully. And that’s really what sustainability is. It’s about best use of resources.”

Clark said that in the future, UNM students can expect the sustainability department to reach out more to the University community. She said she encourages students with ideas for on-campus sustainability initiatives to do the same.

“The faculty and staff that are already here know of recycling, know of energy conservation and all that, but we have a new crop of students each year,” she said. “So we have to constantly keep trying to find ways to educate the students on what UNM does.”