Monthly Archives: March 2021

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:

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: