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Sustainability Success: Electronic Recycling Center; STARS; Energy Savings

The Electronics Recycling Center has been in operation since 2011. It has diverted more than four million pounds of e-waste from landfills.The Electronics Recycling Center has been in operation since 2011. It has diverted more than four million pounds of e-waste from landfills.

University of San Diego President James T. Harris hosted a President’s Forum on March 13 in the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice Theatre. Among a multitude of updates was Facilities Management Vice President Melissa Plaskonos providing a closer look at the university’s focus on sustainability.

USD Electronics Recycling Center

She spoke about USD’s Electronics Recycling Center, a facility located on the far west end of campus that opened in April 2011. 

“The ERC is a 100 percent self-funded operation with the goal of making it easy for people to dispose of old electronics,” she said. “We always try to extend the useful life of the materials we receive and recycling is our last option.”

Items brought to the center, Plaskonos said, are typically put up for resale, get refurbished or, if possible are reimagined or repurposed. Nevertheless, the ERC has diverted more than four million pounds of e-waste since its opening. Its gross revenue has increased annually and we anticipate this to continue.

Plaskonos also highlighted ERC’s community outreach, specifically employment opportunities. The ERC has provided work opportunities for more than 50 volunteers with disabilities; there are work opportunities for a dozen students throughout the school year who work a total of 225 hours per week; and it is developing partnerships with local high schools as well as an AmeriCorps fellow.

One event that just concluded at the end of March was Recyclemania. It is a nationwide recycling event with the goal of collecting and diverting as much e-waste (end of life electronics) as possible. We finished first in 2016 and second in 2017. The ERC hosted a USD Employee Appreciation Day on March 21 to encourage a free drop off for items that the ERC usually charges a small fee, such as batteries and lightbulbs.

Sustainability Tracking Assessment and Rating System (STARS)

Plaskonos stated that the university recently completed a comprehensive benchmarking analysis of its sustainability program through the STARS Program from Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).

She said the university renewed its gold rating and that USD earned among the top 25 scores in the world. The analysis takes into consideration everything from operations, to planning, academics and community engagement, all of which links very closely to USD’s values and the strategic plan, Envisioning 2024, where sustainability is connected by way of the Care for Our Common Home pathway, a nod to Pope Francis' encyclical.

Energy Savings at USD 

The final sustainability focus of Plaskonos’ presentation centered on USD’s energy-saving plans and successes.

Plaskonos said that USD and San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E) are in the third year of a five-year partnership that awarded USD nearly $3 million to support sustainability operations and to kick-start efficiency projects around campus.

One of the partnership’s obligations was the goal of saving 1,500,000 kWh over five years. Plaskonos was happy to report that this goal was reached at the two-year mark with 1,575,525 kWh saved.

The University of San Diego, which implemented a Climate Action Plan (CAP) after it was approved in 2016, has already surpassed one of its 2020 goals. The CAP’s goal was a 20 percent reduction in projected energy use by 2020. Through 2017, energy use was already 26 percent lower than projected.

USD saved more than $600,000 in energy costs in 2017 and is anticipating an annual savings of more than $1.8 million in 2019 and beyond. The savings came from smart purchasing practices, energy efficiency measures and increased campus awareness since 2010. All of these savings help offset increases in the costs of our utilities (with rising rates each year and additional square footage/air conditioning).

Plaskonos pointed out a few other recent projects:

• Fuel Cell saved USD 1,300 mtCO2e in emissions in its first year of operation;

• A pilot project to schedule building cooling based on occupancy hours saved 190,000 kWh annually;

• Installation of “smart” thermostats to save over 550,000 kWh annually;

• A retrofit of lights in USD’s Copley Library and the Pardee Legal Research Center with LEDs is projected to save 410,000 kWh.

— Compiled by USD News Center