Fueling the EV Revolution

CSUN is set to triple its number of EV chargers by late February 2022

CSUN is currently expanding its present network of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations on campus. EV commuters will soon have access to 88 convenient charging stations in total, as new units are installed and all current Level 2 and Level 3 chargers are being replaced with new “smart” chargers. Installation is expected to be completed by the end of February 2022, and the new system platform will be powered by Chargie, the largest installer of EV charging stations in Southern California.

According to Austin Eriksson, CSUN’s Director of Energy and Sustainability, “EVs are quickly growing in popularity, so it is vital for us to provide the necessary support system required for these vehicles. In fact, our recent transportation survey concluded that 68% of CSUN EV drivers can’t find available chargers. This expansion project is a critical step toward solving the problem while simultaneously helping our campus become more environmentally conscious.”

Based on a June 2021 report by the Department of Energy and the California Energy Commission, it is expected that 14.5% of cars on the road will be EVs by 2030. Following this trend, CSUN can expect to have over 6,000 EVs on campus at the end of the decade, so further expansion plans are already being developed and considered.

These new “smart” chargers will have the capability of providing real time charger availability, load balancing between vehicles on the same circuit, charging status, demand response, and more. In order to cover the program cost and ensure that the chargers remain operational and in good condition,  EV charging will no longer be free. EV drivers utilizing the new Chargie stations will pay only the campus utility rate — with no markups or surcharges — which is currently just 18 cents per kilowatt-hour, representing a significant cost savings when compared to residential rates and off-campus public charging stations. The program costs (maintenance, contract and administration) will be covered utilizing revenue from California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standards Program which credits providers of clean transportation fuels to support low-carbon transportation programs.

Through the easy-to-use Chargie smartphone app, CSUN students, faculty, and staff can set up an account and payment method, preload funds, scan the QR code of the corresponding station, and follow the charging status of their vehicles in real time. A detailed map of the new charging station locations across campus can be found here.

Celebrating CSUN’s Roots

An Indian Laurel Fig tree near Chaparral Hall

No matter where one might be on the CSUN campus, it’s impossible not to feel the presence of trees. With over 4,000 trees across more than 200 different species, CSUN’s urban forest adds incredible value to the campus. These massive living organisms shade buildings and outdoor spaces, provide evaporative cooling, enhance soil health and stability, filter pollutants from the air and water, remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, provide habitats for birds, mammals, and insects, and in many cases, even produce food.

Significant efforts have been made to protect, promote, and expand CSUN’s urban forest by not only the CSUN’s Grounds department, but also faculty and students. The earliest effort to catalog the campus’ trees was made by Dr. Robert Gohstand in 1989 when he created a campus tree inventory. This inventory was recreated and expanded in 2010 by then Institute for Sustainability Director Dr. Helen Cox and a team of students in Geography courses. Since then, it has been updated regularly by Geography students who use the opportunity to expand their skills in GIS while also contributing to a valuable campus resource. CSUN’s tree atlas enables the campus to track the removal and installation of trees, and easily access data regarding the number and locations of a given species, overall number of species and individuals, trees dedicated to or donated by certain individuals, and other attributes of the urban forest.

Closeup of a Bunya Pine south of Bayramian Hall

While CSUN’s public-facing tree atlas has previously been a static document, recent GIS tools have enabled it to be published online, along with other resources including self-guided tree walks, faculty research and student projects, photos, and other educational content. This online resource can also be updated more easily, so that viewers always have access to the most recent version of CSUN’s tree inventory.

For regular campus users, it can be easy to take trees, even 4,000 trees, for granted. CSUN’s new tree atlas was designed to highlight the importance and irreplaceable value that these organisms provide, and inspire even the most seasoned campus members to see them through new eyes.

Explore CSUN’s new campus tree atlas here: https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/526da5fce7e34252b00ef405d6d58573

CSUN’s Lightbulb Moment

Considering the extensive commitments and improvements CSUN has made in its pursuit of climate neutrality, the campus’ lighting infrastructure has left much to be desired. With lighting contributing to roughly 50% of the energy use in a typical building, and an annual electricity bill of over $5.5 million, lighting represents significant opportunity for economic and environmental conservation. The vast majority of the bulbs on campus, while considered energy efficient a decade ago, use around twice as much electricity as their modern LED counterparts. Additionally, lights in some spaces remain on 24/7/365, due to either occupant inaction or a lack of switches or motion sensors. CSUN has made hundreds, maybe thousands, of lighting improvements in the past 5 years, including retrofitting all of its outdoor walkway lights with 75% more efficient LED’s. However, the capital, labor, and opportunity to perform extensive building-wide retrofits of indoor spaces has not been available. Until now.

The Commercial Lighting Incentive Program (CLIP) offered by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) provides financial incentives that significantly reduce the cost of certain approved lighting improvements. In March of 2019, an outside contractor utilized this incentive program to retrofit the B5 and G3 parking structures at no cost to the university, reducing CSUN’s annual electric bill by over $40,000. The same contractor created a proposal to retrofit the entire University Library for $68,000, achieving annual electricity savings of $293,000. With this proof-of-concept, CSUN’s Energy & Sustainability team received $224,000 as seed funding for additional lighting retrofits, with plans to continue investing the utility savings in further lighting upgrades until the entire campus is complete.

The sudden reduced building occupancy due to COVID-19 significantly accelerated the project’s timeline, enabling the University Library to be completed by the end of 2020. To date, Nordhoff Hall, Noski Auditorium, Monterey Hall, the Education Admin building, Santa Susana Hall, Jerome Richfield Hall, and the Art and Design Center have also been completed, and projects in over 20 other buildings are underway.

In addition to reduced energy use and costs, CSUN will also benefit from the longer, 5-year minimum lifespan of the new LED bulbs. Fewer bulbs burning out and needing to be replaced will reduce annual maintenance and material costs, and waste disposal costs associated with older mercury-containing fluorescent bulbs. Building occupants will also enjoy higher-quality lighting, with no flickering caused by failing fluorescent bulbs, and a color temperature that more closely matches natural daylight.

Once completed, the total annual electricity cost savings from this project are expected to be around $1.2 million. Some of these savings will be reinvested in further energy efficiency projects to continue achieving cost savings and greenhouse gas reductions in alignment with CSUN’s goal of climate neutrality by 2040.

The Energy & Sustainability team has compiled a summary of the project, which contains the projected costs, savings, greenhouse gas reduction, and ROI at a building level, as well as a project timeline. This summary is updated on a weekly basis, and is available online at the following address: https://sway.office.com/YzW7YXCCWspG3rt7

CSUN Students Shooting for the STARS

The STARS® program is intended to engage and recognize the full spectrum of higher education institutions, from community colleges to research universities. It encompasses long-term sustainability goals for already high-achieving institutions, as well as entry points of recognition for institutions that are taking first steps toward sustainability. STARS provides a framework for colleges and universities to measure their comprehensive sustainability performance (From the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability’s Sustainability Tracking Assessment & Rating System website).
Institutions can earn a bronze, silver, gold, or platinum rating depending on their score. CSUN has achieved a gold STARS rating, and currently has the highest score in the CSU.

This semester a group of students from a SUST 401 Applied Sustainability course were tasked with creating a comprehensive report that will serve as a formal guiding document for CSUN’s sustainability staff as they submit a new STARS report. The group addressed existing gaps within the 63 available credits, each with their own point values, that describe actions for
institutions to pursue. CSUN’s current score is about 75 points, ten points shy of the Platinum rating. The report created by these students will guide CSUN in implementing programs, policies, and procedures to help the campus earn those last ten points. Earning a higher score on the STARS rating system demonstrates CSUN’s leadership in the field of sustainability, as well as the campus’ advancements in resource efficiency, economic growth, and equity.
The students also compared gaps in CSUN’s STARS report to the goals outlined in the university’s existing Sustainability Plan, Climate Action Plan, and Zero Waste Plan. By doing so, they laid the groundwork for CSUN to update these planning documents to bridge these gaps, ensuring that the campus can deepen its commitment to sustainability in the years to come.

Zero-Waste Shopping During COVID-19

By: Danielle Levy

Photo from Prostainable

Go outside (with a mask) and look down; what do you see? Probably trash made of plastic. As most millennials are very aware of, plastic waste is a huge issue facing today’s generation. While banning plastic bags, recycling and avoiding unnecessary plastic are a step in the right direction, zero-waste and refillable products are the way of the future. Many stores that buy products in bulk and allow customers to fill up their own containers have been popping up around LA, but the San Fernando Valley has been slow to secure one of these stores.

Insert Prostainable: A zero-waste shop in Woodland Hills with bath and cleaning product refills, kitchen compostables, and bathroom reusables. The walls are lined with a plethora of bamboo utensils, reusable beeswax wraps, and compostable dish-scrubbers while the center houses enormous glass jugs filled with locally sourced shampoos, conditioners, soaps, and laundry and cleaning supplies. You can even buy soaps, candles and tiki torches made either by local, small businesses or the shop owner herself.

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Saving Water Through Better Metering

Automated water meter reading devices

Since adopting its Sustainability Plan in 2013, CSUN has achieved a 28% decrease in annual water consumption. This has been done through a variety of different strategies, which include the replacement of water-intensive lawns with drought-tolerant plants, the injection of algae-based hydrogels into the root zone of fields and lawns to improve water retention, efficient irrigation systems, and the replacement of water faucets and fixtures with low-flow alternatives. CSUN’s newest water conservation initiative uses data analytics to detect leaks, inform optimized equipment schedules, and identify opportunities to capture further savings.

Only about one-fourth of CSUN’s buildings have their own water meter, and these are typically read manually once per month. While this practice is useful for tracking overall usage, it does not reveal water usage trends that occur on a smaller time scale such as days, or even hours. CSUN’s new “smart” water meters connect directly to the existing meter, as well as to an online portal, where once a day they report readings taken every five minutes in the past 24 hours. The Energy and Sustainability team can then log into the portal, and view or download data for any time period. The system also has the capability to send email alerts when a specified usage rate is exceeded, meaning that water leaks can be reported in real-time.

One of these automated meter reading devices was installed in July 2019 on the water main that feeds the USU, with the Sierra Center, Arbor Court, and The Soraya receiving similar devices in July of this year.

CSUN’s Manager of Energy & Utilities, Coleen Barsley, led the effort to integrate these devices, and has already managed to detect and stop one significant issue so far. Establishing normal usage thresholds has been challenging because the campus has not seen normal water usage since transitioning to telecommuting and virtual learning in March of 2020. However, Coleen regularly monitors the online portal to manually identify excessive usage. In doing so, she noticed that one facility was experiencing unusually high flow rates for a period of about twenty hours. Unfortunately, the first time this happened was on a Friday, and it wasn’t noticed until the following Monday. The high usage occurred again two more times after that, but stopped before the source could be identified. The fifth time it happened, the facility manager was quickly notified, and they were able to locate a faulty toilet within the facility that was flushing continuously. By identifying and correcting this issue, facility managers were able to prevent between 35,000-40,000 gallons of water from being wasted for each time it might have occurred again. The data from these instances is visualized in the graph below, with the periods of high usage being very easily identifiable. The second image shows data from a normal consumption period.

Water meter data showing periods of abnormally high water usage
Water meter data showing normal water usage

The devices cost around $300 each plus installation, and they have already prevented over $1,000 in water losses while also providing detailed insights into the water usage patterns of various facilities. The Energy & Sustainability team is also working to establish alert thresholds so that future instances of high water usage will be automatically reported shortly after they begin, enabling them to be identified and fixed more quickly. CSUN’s Sustainability team expects to see them become the new standard for campus water meters going forward.

Upgrading a Campus Fixture (or thousands of them)

With over 230,000 square feet of building space, the University Library is the largest building on CSUN’s campus. During a normal semester, its study spaces, computer labs, coffee shop, and other resources attract thousands of visitors per day, who enjoy spacious lounges and cozy book stacks in the historic building. While the University Library has undergone a number of renovations, most notably after the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, the building’s lighting is still a thing of the past. Over 10,000 fluorescent lightbulbs line the library’s ceilings, each drawing around twenty five watts of power. These, combined with a number of other high-wattage bulbs around the library’s exterior, represent significant electricity costs and greenhouse gas emissions each year.

CSUN has been taking steps improve its lighting efficiency for years, upgrading numerous indoor spaces as well as the campus’ outdoor walkway lights. The ability to retrofit an entire building at once, however, is a more recent development. The Commercial Lighting Incentive Program offered by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) reduces the overall cost of lighting efficiency projects, enabling CSUN’s Facilities Planning department to take on building-scale LED lighting upgrades. At the same time, the closure of the University Library due to COVID-19 has allowed work to proceed quickly inside the building. By the end of this calendar year, the various fluorescent and other bulbs throughout the building will be replaced with LED alternatives averaging less than half the power consumption of their current counterparts. This change is estimated to reduce annual utility costs by over $275,000, as well as reduce CSUN’s annual greenhouse gas emissions by 511 metric tons of CO2, a 0.8% reduction.

In addition to these benefits, the LED replacements have a higher color temperature than the current fluorescent lights. Higher color temperature lighting is closer to the blue part of the color spectrum, while low color temperatures are closer to the yellow part of the spectrum. Higher color temperatures have been associated with reduced daytime sleepiness, increased alertness and work performance, and improved mental health, perhaps because they more closely mimic natural light. Similar lighting upgrades have already been completed on the B5 and G3 parking structures, University Bookstore, and Associated Students Children’s Center, with LADWP’s lighting incentive program reducing the cost of these projects by a total of over $96,000. CSUN’s Director of Energy & Sustainability, Austin Eriksson, says that “These types of projects have a great payback from both a financial perspective as well as a greenhouse gas standpoint.” He plans to reinvest the utility savings from the University Library into future lighting efficiency projects. Facilities Planning officials are already making preparations for additional buildings after the completion of the University Library, including Nordhoff, Cypress, Monterey, and Bookstein Halls, as well as the Education and Education Admin buildings.

With these exciting changes on the horizon, CSUN is poised to greatly reduce its utility expenses and greenhouse gas emissions, and improve the quality of life on campus for years to come.

From A to B, and the GHG’s in Between

Transportation is responsible for over 55% of CSUN’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHG’s). Some of this is university-funded travel, such as employees traveling to conferences or meetings off-site, or faculty presenting research at a conference. Another portion is on-campus transportation, including maintenance and delivery vehicles. The vast majority of these emissions, however, come from student and employee commuting. With a population of over 40,000 students, faculty, and staff, CSUN is a major contributor to traffic and air pollution in the San Fernando Valley. Each year, CSUN surveys its employees and students to better understand commuting habits, perceptions, and impacts. The results of these surveys help CSUN create an accurate picture of the university’s greenhouse gas emissions. They also provide insight into how the university can further develop policies, programs and infrastructure to expand and support more sustainable transportation systems.

Previous survey results were compiled into an annual commuting report, which contained maps, graphs, and analyses of the commuting habits of various populations. This year, for the first time, CSUN’s transportation survey results have been used to create an interactive online dashboard. This format will allow viewers to interact with the data in new ways. Users can view commute distances, times, and percentage breakdowns for different transportation modes, and explore more in-depth statistics for different subsets of the campus population.

This new tool highlights the importance of supporting diverse transportation options, and will be an invaluable resource for student projects, planning efforts and engagement activities.

Explore CSUN’s transportation dashboard here: https://app.powerbi.com/view?r=eyJrIjoiZDY4MzE3ZjAtYWFkZS00YmM0LTgwMjYtMTkyZTllZDQxNjkxIiwidCI6IjdmZjE1NTIyLTYwOTYtNDdkYy04OWJmLTM4OWJiZTEzY2Q2OCIsImMiOjZ9

What’s in CSUN’s Waste Stream?

CSUN students perform a waste audit as part of a Sustainability 310 course.

Having access to data is a critical part of any zero waste goal, as it provides valuable insight into waste stream compositions helps measure the impacts of problem-solving strategies. Obtaining data about trash, food waste and recycling is both a time- and labor-intensive process. Garbage trucks must be equipped with onboard scales, and calibrated with the weight of each dumpster to determine the weight of the waste inside. CSUN was able to achieve these steps in 2015 through a new campus waste hauling contract, causing CSUN’s hauler to collect weight data on each dumpster lifted by the company’s trucks. Since then, CSUN’s waste data has been available in an online dashboard. However, new functionality within CSUN’s Energy Information System (EIS) has enabled the creation of a new interactive waste data dashboard, which allows viewers to explore more data in more detail than ever before.

Since beginning a new waste hauling contract in August of 2019, CSUN now receives weight data for trash, recycling and food waste in a monthly report. This data is uploaded to CSUN’s EIS, where it can be used to create reports, identify trends and create data visualizations. Data is also provided from a variety of other on-campus groups that handle material disposal. Associated Students Sustainability, the Food Recovery Network, The University Corporation, and Asset Management all share data on the items they collect, donate, sell, or dispose of to create a complete picture of waste reduction, diversion and disposal on campus.

               Using CSUN’s new waste dashboard, viewers can sort through historical data going back to 2015, and view reports for customized time periods and material types. Have you ever wondered what percentage of CSUN’s waste goes to the landfill? Or maybe how much leftover food the campus donates to those in need? The campus’ new waste dashboard makes it easier than ever before to access this information and more!

Some highlights include:

  1. Diversion Summary: See how many tons of material were landfilled, recycled, reused and composted by year
  2. Waste insights: Learn more about how zero waste progress is measured, as well the definitions of common terms such as “inert materials” and “municipal solid waste”.
  3. Total diversion by material: Learn what materials comprise CSUN’s different waste streams, as well as their percentage of the total.
  4. Waste breakdown by entity: See how the main campus, Student Housing, The University Corporation, University Student Union and Associated Students compare with one another.
  5. Environmental Benefits: Learn about the positive impacts of CSUN’s zero waste activities.

Improving access to data invites campus users to learn more about CSUN’s waste stream, and take action and help the campus move towards its zero waste goal. There are dozens, if not hundreds of ways for individuals and campus entities to reduce their waste. You can explore CSUN’s updated waste data here: https://app.powerbi.com/view?r=eyJrIjoiZWY3NDkzZWItZmJhOC00YzYwLWI0ZWQtODQ4MDQ1ZjEwYWViIiwidCI6IjdmZjE1NTIyLTYwOTYtNDdkYy04OWJmLTM4OWJiZTEzY2Q2OCIsImMiOjZ9.

What will you discover?

Institute Launches Victory Garden and Seed Program

During World War I and World War II, gardens were planted on both private residencies and public land to supplement dwindling food supplies. With over 20 million Americans participating, 8 million tons of food were produced and morale went up significantly, thus adopting the term “victory garden.” They were part of the WWII effort that raised food—approximately 40% of the fruits and vegetables. Here’s a recent story in the NY Times that highlights this history. 

In light of current events, the Institute for Sustainability launched a “virtual victory garden” program in which we are distributing seeds through our Seeds of Victory Program and holding online workshops with expert gardeners to teach people how to grow their own food anywhere – in kitchens, balconies, and backyards. 

Our goal is to empower and equip individuals with the tools and knowledge needed to secure their own fresh, nutritious food. In doing so, we hope to encourage self-sustainability and a sense of connectedness during a time of isolation. Our Program is open to the entire CSUN community; up to 500 people will receive seeds. Visit the program website to request your seeds!

Our first workshop, “Gardening in Crisis,” was led by organic farmer, Scott Murray. He shared photos of his beautiful garden and gave attendees tips on how to start growing food outdoors or in a greenhouse.

There are a ton of great resources online to get you started with your Victory Garden! Oregon State offers a free Master Gardening Series: Vegetable Gardening. Green America: Climate Victory Gardening 101 provides a toolkit with tangible actions for growing your own healthy food and garden. 

If apps are more your style, check out:
Open Gaarden brings together history and technology to reimagine what it means to live in this urbanized world, revealing public gardens and nature hidden in plain sight.

iNaturalist helps you identify the plants and animals around you. You can use it to record your own observations, get help with identifications, collaborate with others to collect information for a common purpose, or access the observational data collected by iNaturalist users.

Seed to Spoon makes it simple for you to grow your own fruits, vegetables, and herbs in your backyard or patio economically, efficiently, and sustainably! This app offers personalized planting dates, companion planting guides, plant information & health benefits, recipes, organic pest treatments, and information on botanical insects. 

There are also local nurseries open to get garden supplies if needed!
Topanga Nursery in Chatsworth and Green Thumb Nursery in Canoga Park are offering curbside pick-up if you call ahead.

To stay updated on the Institute’s “Virtual Victory Garden” program, please follow us on YouTube to watch all of our videos and on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Tag us in the garden posts with #victorygarden2020 and #sustainCSUN.