Energy efficiency must be a focus in order for institutions to be successful

Savvy business decisions play a role in making campus sustainability a reality Stephen C. Head, CEO, Lone Star College System

What is the value to institutions in making energy efficiency a priority?
At the Lone Star College System, we have made it a priority to be as energy efficient as possible for a few reasons: We believe that if we can have the budget stability and predictability that results from being more efficient, we can redirect saved funds to our core mission of educating students. Also, despite the fact that our institutional mission is focused on students and teaching and learning, the focus of our board is to make sure our long term finances are in good shape. Being energy efficient helps facilitate that.

As institutions aim to become more sustainable, what areas are most important to consider?
When we look at constructing new facilities, we are looking at the long-term investment. We incorporate energy efficient lighting, water conservation and recycling when possible. It is important to balance the sustainability of the facilities with the environment. How the building looks and feels needs to be taken into consideration along with the predicted carbon footprint.

Looking at the cost of operating facilities is just as important as constructing a building under budget. For example, if you calculate that a building costs $40 per square foot to operate, and the building is 100,00 square feet, make sure you add $4 million to your budget to run the building after construction completes.

How do energy upgrades to buildings contribute to institutional success and student satisfaction?
When we construct buildings, we have a business model that is dependent on building utilization for X amount of time. If the space is not comfortable, from the business perspective we will be failing because the building will be not used. We want system integrity to maximize building usage. And, if the building is running efficiently and comfortably, we don’t need to devote funds to improving it.
Students and faculty today tend to be energy conscious, and we are responsible for delivering high quality air and water to them. And the practical reality is that we want to do our part to not use more than our share of nature’s resources.

When working with an energy partner, how can institution leaders ensure they are getting the most value for a dollar?
We are always looking at making sure we validate the merit of projects. Investment and ROI analyses prevent us from going ahead with a building and saying “this is what we think we’ll spend.”  This practical, business way of looking at every project helps manage expenses and keep our focus on the students. Achieving financial predictability also sends a message to the general public—many of whom do not believe money at higher ed institutions is spent wisely—that smart investments are a priority.

Many colleges cannot afford to keep their buildings as updated as they want or need them to be. How can performance contracting help with that?
Performance contracting—where cost savings from more efficient energy consumption are directed to repaying the cost of installing energy conserving measures—allowed our institution to move forward in a progressive way. We tinted windows, improved lighting standards, increased restroom efficiency and adjusted A/C valves. This allowed us to have a set amount of money to do all of our desired projects at once, expediting our chance to save money and increase efficiency.

Hear more from Chancellor Head and other educational leaders in the upcoming panel discussion:

“Creating a college of choice: overcoming infrastructure challenges to make it possible”

April 21 at 11:05 a.m.

SACUBO Annual Meeting in New Orleans


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