Thursday, December 30, 2004

Building a Lasting University Environment (BLUE) Initiative

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Do you conserve energy at home? Do you limit use of your car to cut down on pollution and save gas? Do you pay attention to the amount of waste your household generates and make sure it’s disposed of properly?

Three cheers for you if you do. Many of us align ourselves with the larger goals of environmentalism by adopting some or all of these practices, and when such efforts are taken together they help keep our world liveable.

But think of the difference you could make if the power of your environmentally conscious decisions were multiplied by a factor of ten, or twenty, or even more. That will give you a sense of the impact administrators with the University of Illinois’ Facilities & Services are aiming for with an initiative called Building a Lasting University Environment, or BLUE for short.

The BLUE initiative may be most visible in the ten Global Electric Motorcars, or GEMs, that Facilities and Services bought last year to replace the scooters, pickups, and sedans used by various workers. Although the batteries that power these vehicles do require charging, the vehicles themselves produce no emissions and very little noise as they zip around campus. As an added bonus, it is estimated that each will save a thousand dollars in fuel costs over the course of its lifetime.

Some of the less visible aspects of the BLUE initiative may actually have much greater long-term “green” value. For example, the Division of Planning is working to incorporate sustainable design features in the College of Business’s instructional facility to be built starting in early 2006. The design team projects that these features--which include super energy-efficient windows, rooftop solar panels, extensive use of natural lighting and a finely tuned heating and cooling system--will reduce the facility’s energy use by 25 to 30 percent in comparison to a building with a more conventional design.

Another of the most ambitious BLUE efforts is the environmentally friendly renovation of one of the largest parking lots on campus. Work on lot F-23, at the intersection of Florida and South Lincoln, will be guided by UIUC engineering faculty and others. It is intended as a model and test site for measures to reduce the amount and environmental toxicity of parking lot runoff.

Other aspects of the BLUE initiative are as wide-ranging as the reach of Facilities and Services itself, which employs more than 1400 people on the UIUC campus. They include day-to-day efforts such as using more native species in campus landscaping, to larger scale projects, such as supporting the formation of a local chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council.

Of course energy-efficient buildings and eco-friendly parking lots don’t eliminate the need for individual conservation efforts or for environmental regulations that protect the public interest. But the leadership and employees of Facilities & Services at the U of I are to be applauded for doing their part to promote a sustainable campus.