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Michael Catanzaro
Alumnus works to reduce USD's carbon footprint

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Michael Catanzaro works hard to improve his Alma Mater. In 2001 he graduated from USD with a B.A. in Political Science and in 2007 he completed his M.S. in Leadership Studies. Now he works to promote sustainable practices campus-wide. As Director of Sustainability he has overseen a number of projects including a large-scale solar panel installation.

Michael Catanzaro

"The liberal arts education gave me an excellent holistic education in many areas, so I can understand the philosophical, political and environmental aspects surrounding any given issue as opposed to knowing too much about only one aspect."

Michael Catanzaro

When did the solar panel project begin? When will the panels start to generate energy for the campus?

The project began more than a year ago and arose out of the Student Life Pavilion seeking LEED Gold certification. The solar panel project was initially a part of how that building was going to be able to reduce its fossil fuel energy consumption. We went from looking at installing a system of about 220 kilowatts to what we have today, a 1.23 megawatt system (about 6 times the size). The panels are already generating electricity for the campus at a savings of nearly 30 percent on the cost of the energy purchased.

How will the panels impact the USD community?

In addition to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, we've partnered with AMSOLAR, the Solana Beach based company that provided the solar panels for our campus, to offer learning and teaching opportunities to faculty and staff. Instead of panels being placed on top of the buildings and forgotten about, we intend to incorporate the panels as part of the fabric of discussion for campus. Currently, we're reviewing a potential course that could be taught regarding all aspects of the solar process from the initial contract phase through installation process. It's also great that we're one of the top 10 largest installations on a university campus in the country. It really has created an opportunity to exercise leadership in the field-- now people call USD to find out how to do it.

How was the project funded? Will the panels significantly reduce USD's energy bills?

The project is funded by AMSOLAR. They purchased the panels and we buy the energy that is produced from the system (and we receive the carbon credits for the clean energy production) at a rate that is almost 30 percent less than we currently pay.

Michael Catanzaro

"Making a difference in people's lives-- whether its helping to change habits, informing them about new ways of doing things or making them laugh with a friendly joke, smile or catchy slogan-- is very rewarding."

Michael Catanzaro

What else is USD doing to improve campus sustainability?

We are in the process of completing $8,200,000 worth of energy and water conservation projects that will save the university about 20 percent of its total energy consumption and almost 1/3 of its water usage (40,000,000 gallons). More than just those technical installations, though, I'm most proud of the work being done to incorporate sustainability into the curriculum by the amazing professors around the university and colleges. Last semester Colin Fisher had students create short documentary films covering an aspect of sustainability for a nature and visual culture class. Students examined everything from transportation on campus to taking a trip to the Waste Management facility to find out what really happens once something goes into a recycling bin. This project served to cover some of the general areas of sustainability on campus, but a much more comprehensive list is available at www.sandiego.edu/gogreen.

What are your personal goals for the future of the campus?

Now that we've taken care of some of the technical pieces, I really need to focus on a campaign to inform and empower people to make better choices about the energy, water and other resources they use. I think the strength of our infrastructure (as a society) can often leave people with the misunderstanding that resources, especially water, are abundant, when in fact we need to be very conscious of what we use. There are many other areas such as food/dining, waste and recycling, among many others that can benefit from increased awareness and some technical training and education so we can make the best choices possible. As my contact from Waste Management says, "When in doubt, recycle!" Items will be properly removed if they aren't recyclable; however, if you put them in the trash, there's a good chance they won't be moved to recycling during a sorting process.

Michael Catanzaro

"We're one of the top 10 largest installations on a university campus in the country. It really has created an opportunity to exercise leadership in the field-- now people call USD to find out how to do it."

Michael Catanzaro

Do you feel that your liberal arts education from the USD College of Arts and Sciences prepared you for your career? How?

I know enough to be dangerous in many areas! With a field like sustainability it is nearly impossible to be an expert in anything, let alone everything. Take energy as an example; if I knew everything there was to know about it, it wouldn't necessarily help me out when it comes to my job. Creating contracts, negotiating items and promoting awareness are all critical pieces of the sustainability equation. If I only knew about the process of energy conversion from direct current to alternating current it would leave many aspects of the initiative untouched. The liberal arts education gave me an excellent holistic education in many areas, so I can understand the philosophical, political and environmental aspects surrounding any given issue as opposed to knowing too much about only one aspect. Sustainability is something that I can tie back to almost any department and any major on campus. It really does affect so many aspects of our lives.

What do you find most rewarding about your job?

I really love USD – It feels in some ways like I've been here forever. I enjoy working with everyone from students and interns to high-level administrators, staff and outside vendors. I get to be creative and think outside the box, come up with crazy ideas and see if they can really pencil out. Making a difference in people's lives-- whether its helping to change habits, informing them about new ways of doing things or making them laugh with a friendly joke, smile or catchy slogan-- is very rewarding.

Michael Catanzaro

"I think the strength of our infrastructure (as a society) can often leave people with the misunderstanding that resources, especially water, are abundant, when in fact we need to be very conscious of what we use."

Michael Catanzaro

Who are some inspiring faculty and how have they impacted you?

There are obviously many. Part of what has been amazing and kind of surreal is transitioning from having faculty as professors to working with them as colleagues. I'm not entirely sure if Dr. Norton and Dr. Dickson from Political Science are more amazed that I'm an adult now or if I am. Working with them on projects for work now seems so funny. In this current role, several professors and faculty have been particularly helpful. Dr. Chung is always an amazing sounding board for issues and ideas-- she won't hesitate to tell me what I'm doing wrong! Dr. Boudrias, the academic coordinator for sustainability, is often very helpful in his role as well. I also have to say that I appreciate all of the support and authentic enthusiasm from Dean Boyd!

What advice do you have for students who are interested in sustainability?

Volunteer or intern! The best way to get hands on experience and get involved in sustainability efforts and projects is to offer free work. There are always opportunities to make a difference and see if there is something you are really interested in or passionate about. One program we're working on is in collaboration with the City of San Diego and SDG&E as outside partners along with the Experiential Learning and Adventure Center and Community Service Learning. Students have already gone out into the Linda Vista community and identified opportunities for savings and placed residents in programs they didn't realize they qualified for that will save them both energy and money. It is a great example of community service making a difference when it comes to sustainability.

- Anne Malinoski '11

Watch the Michael Catanzaro Interview

Video: Interview with Michael Catanzaro

Quick Facts

  • My best memory of USD was O-Week [Torero Days], which I later chaired in 2000.
  • My favorite place on Earth is Disneyland.
  • I stole chairs from USD's old deli (when it was demolished for the Student Life Pavilion) for a keepsake of the glory days-- they are currently my dining room chairs.
  • It makes me pull my hair out when people leave their lights on and leave a room.

Useful Links

www.sandiego.edu/gogreen

www.sandiego.edu/cas/hallmarks/sustainability/

www.sandiego.edu/publications/usdmag/human_touch.html

www.sandiego.edu/cas/polisci/