UC Berkeley News


Best practices make, if not perfect, pretty darn close

| 14 April 2004

The draft 2020 LRDP looks closely at the environmental impacts of proposed campus development over the next 15 years. Such concerns have translated into action at Berkeley in the form of programs large and small over the years, serving to improve and preserve the campus environment.

The UC system as a whole has begun to address environmental concerns in a concerted manner as well: In a move to reduce the environmental impacts of development throughout the 10-campus system, the Regents adopted a Green Building and Clean Energy Standard in July 2003. In so doing, they effectively set a systemwide agenda in motion and put UC on the national map as an environmental steward.

To comply with the standard, all campuses will need to meet the equivalent of a rating defined by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), obtaining 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2017. LEED’s consensus-based national standards for developing high-performance, sustainable buildings were developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, whose members represent all segments of the building industry.

Though the Green Building and Clean Energy Standard breaks new ground, the Berkeley campus, according to Jennifer Lawrence, manager of the Environmental and Long Range Planning Group in Facilities Services, “is already studded with programs to arm action with foresight and to protect its treasures.” What follows are highlights from a suite of programs that have reduced the impact of development while, in some cases, garnering awards for leadership in innovation and environmental protection.

Protecting the environment, indoors and out
“Our mission is to protect and enhance the campus environment,” says Greg Haet, manager of Berkeley’s Environmental Protection team, a unit within the Office of Environment, Health & Safety (EH&S).

The purview of Haet and his group also extends to buildings — in terms of both their construction and how their interiors affect their inhabitants. EH&S assists in assessing environmental impacts resulting from campus construction but is also involved in construction-plan reviews, making suggestions on ways in which buildings can promote health and minimize environmental impacts by incorporating green-building strategies.

Not only has the campus committed to designing new buildings to LEED-equivalent standards, says Haet, but his group is working to develop new site-specific sustainability measures. For example, LEED sets criteria for diverting construction waste from landfills back to the manufacturing process or reuse in other ways. “Most of the materials from Stanley Hall’s recent demolition and all of the duct work that came out of the renovation at Barker Hall were recycled,” Haet says. Campus sustainability goals are also focused on air quality, energy efficiency, resource management, and promotion of alternative transportation.

Though Haet admits that EH&S and his team have a “compliance-driven” mandate, his group strives to reach beyond regulatory standards and think creatively. “We need to build healthy spaces for the campus community, and that includes both indoor and outdoor environments,” he says. With the new systemwide commitment to Green Building Policy and Clean Energy Standards, Haet is hopeful that Berkeley’s investment in the new buildings resulting from the 2020 LRDP will pay off in terms of improved health and environmental benefits.

For information, visit www.ehs.berkeley.edu.

Managing — and eliminating — toxic materials
“When mercury is spilled,” says Pat Goff, associate director of the campus’s Hazardous Materials and Radiation Safety unit, “it can get into sinks and drains and end up in the Bay, where it might contaminate fish. Its toxic fumes also pose a personal health risk,” he says.

With a $36,000 EPA grant obtained in partnership with the East Bay Municipal Utilities District, the Office of Environmental Health & Safety began a mercury-reduction program in spring 2003. They visited more than 140 labs and shops in 24 departments, says Goff, and collected more than 3,200 mercury-containing thermometers, replacing them with 1,200 thermometers that use mercury equivalents such as alcohol.

“We were able to pick up and dispose of 1,100 pounds of mercury waste on campus,” says Goff. The results of their efforts are already evident, with a decrease in the number of reported spills.

For information, visit www.ehs.berkeley.edu/whoweare/hazmat.html

Getting the message out about construction impacts
Christine Shaff’s role in communicating with the campus and its neighbors about pending construction begins long before any buildings are knocked down or dirt is excavated. As the communications manager for Facilities Services, Shaff reviews site plans and advocates for set-ups that will minimize construction-related impacts on neighbors.

In conjunction with a site’s project manager, she crafts a description of the upcoming work that will be distributed via doorways, e-mail, or both. Details such as hours of work, expected start and end dates of construction, any expected/anticipated impacts, and contact information for Facilities Services and UC’s Office of Environment Health & Safety are included in most communications. A contact for questions or complaints, says Shaff, is the most important piece of information to help people deal with what is usually unwelcome news.

Not surprisingly, the most frequent complaints are related to noise. “On some campus buildings adjacent to construction we’ve been able to put up sound barriers,” she says. “And when underground utility upgrades were underway around Barker Hall, Facilities Services provided insulation to some windows in Koshland by request.” The unit helpfully keeps earplugs on hand for anyone who requests them.

Everyone seems to appreciate advance warning, says Shaff. When especially noisy work is planned, she sends out special notices whenever possible. “When we were going to take out the junipers in front of Sproul Hall, I contacted building coordinators to let them know we would be using chainsaws and a chipper for a couple of days,” she says.

Off-campus neighbors receive a different level of attention. “We’ve made a special effort for off-campus constituents who live in areas where we know we have projects coming up,” says Shaff. “We’ve held open houses where we bring in the architect and project teams in advance of the start of construction, so neighbors can learn about projects and give us feedback.”

For information, visit www.uhs.berkeley.edu/facstaff/healthandconstruction/index.shtml. Christine Shaff can be reached at 643-4793 or cshaff@cp.berkeley.edu.

Many happy returns: Campus Recycling decreases waste
One of Campus Recycling and Refuse Services’ most inspired innovations may be the deskside recycling bins in campus offices. “We generally collect 35 tons of garbage a day on campus, of which 14 to 16 tons is paper,” says Lisa Bauer, the unit manager. “Campus Recycling alone collects 5 to 7 tons of paper a day — I wish we collected all of it.”

“Picking up paper from people’s desksides is pretty innovative,” she continues, “since it means they don’t have to leave their cubicles to recycle.” Bauer credits Campus Recycling’s partnership with Custodial Services as a key reason for the success in this endeavor. Other paper and recyclable materials are picked up in the 120 bins across located across the campus.

Recycling such materials as paper, bottles, and cans is just the tip of the landfill. Bauer points to a less-obvious, behind-the-scenes organic recycling project whereby tree crews diligently chip wood from downed trees for campus gardeners to reuse as mulch.

Some outdoor athletic venues also avoid adding to the landfill by “grass-cycling,” says Bauer. “They mow their grass without collecting it, letting it break down and release nutrients in the soil. It’s a pretty sensible approach to not making garbage.” Best of all, she says, is the artificial turf at Memorial Stadium that requires “virtually no water, very low maintenance, and no chemicals, no pesticides, no fertilizers, no garbage. We love that,” says Bauer.

For information, visit recycle.berkeley.edu

Reducing traffic on campus one vehicle at a time
Later this month, Parking & Transportation will introduce its latest initiative to support employees and students who bike to campus. More than 200 new bicycle-parking spaces in covered, locked cages or under security-camera surveillance will be made available to those who commute to campus on two wheels.

“Having a dry, safe place to leave your bike is a high priority for cycling commuters,” says transportation planner Kira Stoll, “and just one of the many programs we provide to encourage transportation alternatives for use by faculty, staff, and students.”

Other highlights include a program enabling employees to purchase transit tickets for BART or AC Transit with pre-tax dollars; Bear Transit shuttles that carry riders from downtown Berkeley to stops as far away as the Richmond Field Station; and a range of parking-fee reductions for those who carpool or vanpool. The campus also provides free California bicycle licensing, discounts on high-quality bike locks, and campus bike paths and parking.

One program that faculty and staff may not be aware of, the Guaranteed Ride Home Program, offers free rides in the event of a personal emergency. Employees must be using an alternative means of commuting on the day they use the insurance program and are eligible for six such rides each year.

“The purpose of these programs,” says Stoll, “is to reduce traffic and parking demand in order to protect the environment and the community.” At last count, 49 percent of campus employees and 89 percent of students use means other than a single-occupant vehicle to commute to campus. While the campus takes pride in this fact, says Stoll, “it is committed to improving access and making bicycling, transit, walking and ridesharing options convenient and economical alternatives to driving alone.”

For information, visit www.berkeley.edu/transportation.