Posted 9:42 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022
Campus efforts paying off
UW-La Crosse continues to improve its carbon footprint.
Since 2005, UWL has reduced heating and electricity emissions by about 30% — despite growing in building space by about 40%. The additions included Centennial Hall, Eagle Hall, the Student Union and Prairie Springs Science Center. Centennial, Eagle and the Union are Gold LEED buildings, an indicator of environmental responsibility and efficiency.
Those numbers are important to the university’s new sustainability coordinator, Andrew Ericson who began the new position on campus in July.
“It was reassuring that we are in fact responding,” says Ericson. “At the same time, I started questioning how we got there and more importantly how do we keep this trend going.”
Ericson says three factors drove the improvement: switching from coal to methane in the Heating Plant, greening of the grid, and energy efficiency upgrades.
UWL’s Heating Plant used to burn coal and switched to methane, with a diesel fuel backup. While methane is a fossil fuel, it has a higher energy density, so less is needed to produce the same amount of heat, emitting less carbon.
“Greening of the grid” refers to electricity becoming cleaner or reducing the carbon emissions generated via electricity production. Xcel Energy, UWL’s electricity provider, when compared to other utility companies in the state is far cleaner by transitioning from coal to methane as a fuel source, efficiency upgrades and the addition of wind and solar power.
Energy efficiency upgrades have come in a range of areas. Among the recent improvements: changing to LED lights, updating building automation systems, using sustainable building designs and changing to low-flow plumbing fixtures, along with upgrading to high-efficiency boilers and modernizing building façades.
Ericson says the university will continue to strive for improvement across all emission sources. While changes such as the Heating Plant are more complex, more “low-hanging fruit” can be pursued, such as additional LED change outs, upgraded water heaters and steam traps.
“Those are the easiest things to do, and we should work to maximize the efforts that we have control of,” he notes. The UW System will be better able to assist campuses when it hires a sustainability coordinator early in 2023.
Ericson invites students, faculty and staff to play a part in sustainable efforts. He encourages everything from reusable cups and waste recycling to public transportation.
“I tell everyone who will listen to me to ride the bus,” he says.
Students will become even more involved in sustainability, says Ericson. He especially hopes to empower current and future student leaders.
“Getting students involved is at the top of the list,” he explains. “I’m already in conversations with the students I am working with to see how we can expand the opportunities. My goal is to make the entire campus feel like they are a part of the team in this battle against climate change.”
Ericson says continued support from the university’s Green Fund, which has invested more than $1.5 million into campus efforts since its inception, will be key. Students overwhelmingly voted to create the fund in 2008, and they contribute just over $10 per academic year through segregated fees.
“A lot of credit goes to students and their commitment to funding the Green Fund,” notes Ericson. “Students are more and more invested in sustainability every year, so I’d imagine they will only get better at leveraging it to its max potential.”
Ericson says he will take any opportunity to talk about sustainability.
“Invite me to classes, meetings, governance groups and other meetings,” he says. “Staying positive is vital to making progress in this area. Some doom and gloom can be helpful, but I think we will do our best if we keep an open mind and try to stay positive about the future.”
Ericson can be reached in 2255D Student Union or firstname.lastname@example.org.