All for Energy and Sustainability

By Marcia Faye

Even if Dan Medrano (ARCH/ARCE ’13) had not come in late to the meeting bearing a dozen Dunkin’ Donuts and wearing an apologetic grin, it was easy to see that the group seated at the conference table on the 19th floor of IIT Tower had a genuine camaraderie. Medrano and his colleagues in the IIT Office of Campus Energy and Sustainability (OCES) form such a tight nucleus that sustainability director Dion Manly considers the team as the collective voice for green efforts at the university.

IIT Office of Campus Energy and Sustainability
IIT Office of Campus Energy and Sustainability
Photo by: Scott Benbrook

Manly, who is a relative newcomer to the field of sustainability, splits his role as director with that of financial and business analyst for the university. He therefore relies largely on his student workers both to continue many programs begun under inaugural sustainability director Joseph Clair (M.S. MAE ’95) as well as to explore new ideas.

“It’s been very much a learning process for me, but I’ve discovered that a lot of sustainability directors come from business backgrounds,” says Manly. “To me, all of sustainability is on a learning curve. There’s so much research to be done in the field that I was able to fit in fairly quickly with sustainability directors at other universities, sharing best practices and discussing the challenges were facing at our respective universities.”

OCES was established in 2008 to help guide IIT in becoming “the most sustainable urban university campus in the United States.” The IIT Campus Sustainability Plan 2010-2020 outlines core themes in sustainability, target project areas, and corresponding action plans that OCES continues to implement. Current team members include five project coordinators: Medrano, who joined OCES in 2012 and is pursuing a professional master’s degree in structural engineering, heads green buildings efforts; Stephen Pepper (BA 5th year), another two-year OCES veteran, heads emissions projects; John Spearman, who joined OCES last year and is pursuing dual masters degrees in business administration and environmental management/sustainability, oversees efforts in water, landscaping, and transportation; Sunny Patel (MAE 5th year) handles outreach and education and identifies grant opportunities for the office; and Tim Weaver (BA 3rd year), who joined OCES in January, heads efforts in  waste/food management. OCESs only other full-time employee, Maram Falk (AE/ME ‘06), serves as resource efficiency manager, overseeing all of the energy and utility projects and efficiency work, in addition to helping Manly manage some day-to-day activity in the office.

In a group interview shortly before the start of the 2014-15 academic year, Manly and his project coordinators summarized major ongoing and new OCES efforts:

  • Recycling and collection programs for ink/toner, junk mail, and e-waste, such as copiers, fax machines, and computers
  • An organic waste-reduction program with IIT Dining Services
  • A joint project with IIT Boeing Scholars Academy to design a recycling-education game to be launched in 2015
  • A Main Campus emissions inventory that determines the carbon footprint of activities ranging from the power output of IIT’s cogeneration plant to the gas consumed by its fleet vehicles and lawnmowers
  • A Surplus Program, which would connect offices that have surplus furniture with other offices in need of furniture
  • A Green Revolving Fund, which is an internal fund that would provide financing to offices within IIT to implement sustainability projects that result in cost savings
  • Lighting retrofits in various buildings to increase efficiency
  • Continued efforts to bring LEED certification to Wishnick Hall, which is serving as a pilot project for other buildings on Main Campus
  • A Main Campus tree inventory to assist in the preparation of tree management and water conservation plans
  • An annual transportation survey
  • The installation of software that will electronically connect Main Campus water fountains to monitor filter use and tally the number of water bottles saved
  • The resurfacing of the parking lot behind State Street Village to incorporate permeable pavers as a method of stormwater management
  • Participation in the Urban Green Loop, a multidisciplinary project that aims to develop a waste-to-resource facility for Chicago’s Bronzeville community

With a limited annual budget, OCES creatively seeks funds from additional sources. The office recently netted a $60,000 recycling grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to upgrade trash compactors on Main Campus, which will reduce the university’s waste-hauling costs. Through the annual student class gift, the Office of Institutional Advancement obtained OCES funding for 19 new bicycle racks this fall, increasing on-campus storage capacity by 35 percent. The student gift also funded two new bicycle fix-it stations each featuring an air pump and basic tools, doubling the number of fix-it stations on campus. And emissions coordinator Pepper says IIT has become a go-to school on energy rebates offered by ComEd and other utility companies.

“We’ve utilized tens of thousands of dollars in energy rebates and have had other universities approach us with the question-‘How are you guys doing this so well?’ he says. “So we’ve been helping them discover the ways that they could be getting this money to upgrade their lighting fixtures, steam traps, and more.”

Besides relying on a dedicated core team of innovative student-workers, Manly says that students enrolled in IIT’s Interprofessional Projects (IPRO) Program can be a great resource for brainstorming real-world issues right on campus. He notes that one IPRO group laid the foundation for OCES’s parking lot paver recommendation.

“The stormwater project that former IIT College of Architecture Studio Assistant Professor Mary Pat Matson and Associate Professor of Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering Paul Anderson spearheaded was essential in our plans for the parking lot,” Manly explains. “Their IPRO class last summer explored ways to implement stormwater management across campus. They came up with a range of interesting suggestions and we used their materials to help us pull together some of our ideas. It was instrumental in helping us develop this project, which we expect to implement by spring 2015.”

With more than 1,000 “likes” on the OCES Facebook page, Manly and his team know that the office has a significant following, which he hopes will contribute to a sea change at IIT.

“We need to establish a culture of sustainability at IIT, where sustainability is a key characteristic of everything we do-from hiring personnel to renovating our buildings to selecting campus vendors,” he explains. “To be sustainable should be business as usual. We need to ingrain ourselves with a sustainability mindset.”