David McKinney/University Relations

Students play basketball in the gymnasium area of the Ambler Student Recreation Fitness Center. The facility will soon install new, energy-efficient lights as the first project of the Green Revolving Fund, a pool of money dedicated to sustainable energy projects.

Passing the savings around

New Green Revolving Fund to support campus sustainability projects

Visitors might not realize it, but the lights above them while they play basketball, run on the track and work out are saving money at the Ambler Student Recreation Fitness Center and will help fund sustainable energy projects across the university.

The fitness center will install new high-efficiency lights through the Green Revolving Fund, a new project that will help improve energy efficiency in projects across campus through a pool of money that replenishes itself through money saved on utility costs. The fund, a student initiative, was born when Student Senate and Student Success contributed $10,000 each for its launch. The Provost’s Office contributed $20,000.

Jeff Severin, director of the Center for Sustainability, said the fund works by paying for initial upgrades, such as the higher efficiency lighting at Ambler. Units will then pay back 85 percent of what they save to the fund, which will then pay for future projects.

“The idea is to capture some of those savings,” Severin said. “They (Ambler) are immediately seeing 15 percent savings and they’re going to help grow the fund.”

Mary Chappell, director of Recreation Services, which is contributing $10,000 specifically for the lighting project, said they were approached about the idea of upgrading their lighting system, and jumped at the opportunity.

“It’s really important for us that we use our student dollars in the most efficient manner possible,” Chappell said. “If we can see a decrease in our energy use while doing that, it’s a positive as well.”

The project is replacing lights in the gymnasium areas, both in the original wing of the building and the Oread side, the expansion that opened in 2008. The area includes basketball courts, a track and space for numerous other activities. The area housing exercise equipment and weights will not be affected. The new lights are expected to have a life of 15 years and save an estimated $8,400 in energy and about $720 in maintenance annually.

The initial project will help determine how the fund is used in the future. Severin said a committee that oversees the Green Revolving Fund will monitor the project and determine what kind of future initiatives to invest in. The goal is to increase the frequency of funded projects and potentially draw in more investors.

The fund is still in its infancy, but it has already garnered KU national acclaim. The university was one of 52 institutions to land a spot on “Greening the Bottom Line: The Trend toward Green Revolving Funds on Campus,” a recent report by the Sustainable Endowments Institute.

Such funds have proven successful at increasing efficiency, easing the burden on tight university budgets and garnering a return for investors.

“The trend is clear both in terms of money saved and reduced energy consumption,” said Mark Orlowski, executive director of the Sustainable Endowments Institute. “The number of green revolving funds has more than quadrupled since 2008. A major incentive is the financial benefit. Our survey found a median annual return on investment of 32 percent.”

Some schools have had even more success. Western Michigan University has financed 101 projects in just over a decade with an average annual return on investment of 47 percent, the report said. Stanford University estimates it has saved more than 240 million kilowatt-hours of electricity since it implemented a similar fund in 1993 and prevented 72,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

Chappell said Recreation Services is proud to be part of the Green Revolving Fund’s first project and looks forward to seeing future initiatives grow from it.

“Any time it’s a student situation and project like this it’s exciting for us, because that’s who we’re here for,” she said. “But in this day and age anything that can help the whole university is a good thing.”

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