Over the decades, the University of New Mexico has been a pioneer in sustainability and conservation, saving the finite resources of the earth, and ultimately utilizing tax payer dollars in the most efficient way possible. This has been accomplished through more than 40 years of conscientious energy savings programs and diligent sustainability awareness from the UNM community. This is part 4 of a series dedicated to telling the UNM sustainability and conservation story.

In 2008, at the University of New Mexico, many conservation initiatives sprang to life. The UNM Sustainability Studies Program began in 2007, catering to the demand for education in the “green” movement for the students.  Parking and Transportation Services began promoting alternative transportation to reduce the carbon emission on campus. The Physical Plant Department (PPD) began investing in the electric GEM (Global Electric Motorcars) for their staff who drive around campus daily, reducing emissions and fuel usage. The ROSE (Reusable Office Sup­plies and Equip­ment) Program began to reuse unwanted office supplies, to encourage staff to buy less and recycle usable office supplies. The culture at UNM was changing.

In 2009, the Sustainability Council, along with the help of Jeff Zumwalt and the Carbon Neutral Task Force, committed UNM to a Climate Action Plan which outlines a plan for UNM to be carbon neutral by 2050. At this same time, UNM also established an institution-wide policy of sustainability, policy # 5100 Energy Management, and also added a sustainable piece to the University’s annual performance reviews under the “University Values” portion of the form. This piece of the evaluation required staff and faculty to think about their accountability in promoting and fostering sustainable and energy efficient practices at UNM.

President David J. Schmidly actively supported all of the initiatives beginning at UNM. “Once I became president, we looked at the strategic plan for the University, focusing on the mission and core values. What emerged is the theme of sustainability, and when you make that part of your core mission, it has to be part of your everyday activities in the way you manage and operate the campus to reflect the value of sustainability,” said Schmidly.

The UNM campus is full of individuals working together toward the carbon neutrality goal. PPD in particular, is full of engineers and technicians who are experts in their field and can use their expertise to further the efforts of other departments on campus. Hans Barsun, PPD utilities engineer, collaborated with Dr. Andrea Mammoli, professor in the School of Engineering, to renovate the HVAC solar panel system and mechanical system on the roof of the Mechanical Engineering building. The engineers at PPD support research through collaboration with professors and students with regard to energy and its efficient use, and are currently working on the SMART Grid research project at Mesa del Sol.

“PPD is constantly offering training and certification opportunities for our staff to stay current in their field and support others on campus who share our energy conscious goals,” said PPD Director Mary Vosevich.

The University of New Mexico was a proud recipient of the 2013 Sustainable Business Award.

The University was awarded two U.S. Environment Protection Agency Energy Star Awards over the course of the new millennium because of its LEED certified buildings. In 2013, UNM won a Sustainable Business award at the second annual Sustainable Business Summit presented by Albuquerque Business First and the New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce. UNM was nominated and selected for this award because of its long history and continued dedication to sustainable practices, including energy conservation. 

Recently, the PPD Office of Sustainability completed the 2013 Greenhouse Gas Inventory, required every two years, for the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. Comparing the 2013 Greenhouse Gas Inventory to the baseline inventory for the year 2006 shows that UNM has reduced overall annual carbon emissions by 26.35 percent, which takes into account staff, students, and faculty who commute to and from campus, and air travel. This noteworthy achievement was accomplished while the campus grew significantly.  Similarly, Lobo Energy, Inc. reports that energy use on UNM’s district energy system has been reduced by 30 percent over the last 10 years, even with the campus growing by 24 percent (approximately 2.4 million square feet). UNM has also reduced the amount of purchased electricity by 38 percent by installing natural gas-fueled turbines. UNM has six separate solar panel installations that produce 320 kW of electricity; the sixth installation was just completed at the Continuing Education building in February 2014. There are plans for more solar panel installations on the campus this year. All the energy saving and greenhouse gas reduction efforts and technologies were carefully planned and managed by PPD and Lobo Energy, Inc. with the long term goal of ensuring that the UNM utilities are provided as efficiently and cost effective as possible.

PPD has been able to manage and maintain UNM utilities without any significant budget increases despite the growing campus and increased electrical rates with PNM.  PPD has not received additional funding for utilities since 2007 for any new  campus buildings utilizing the district energy system (Centennial Engineering  built in 2007, George Pearl Hall in 2008, the Dental Clinic and Casas del Rio built in 2012), and PNM rates have increased by 52 percent since 2008. Overall, energy costs have increased by 39 percent since 2003, but because of UNM’s energy conservation efforts, PPD has been able to drastically reduce the amount of energy used on campus every day with more efficient building controls, lighting upgrades, and utility upgrades. These cost-avoidance measures have allowed the department to delay the purchase of a new chiller because of the reduction of chilled water consumption across campus. These accomplishments could have never come to fruition without the support, innovation, and action on the part of the UNM community. This success story is one that will continue as UNM moves toward its commitment of carbon neutrality by 2050.