Operations and Maintenance

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Sustainability in Operations and Maintenance

Northwestern University has 118 owned buildings totaling almost 11,500,000 sq. feet between tow campuses in Evanston and Chicago.  These buildings are heated and cooled primarily by central utility plants in each location burning clean, natural gas and, in the case of the Evanston campus, utilizing lake water to provide a highly-efficient cooling mechanism for the plant.

The watchful stewardship of these facilities and the grounds around them is heavily influenced by Northwestern University’s commitment to sustainability. Members of the Facilities Management and Operations team are attentive to implementing practices in their operations and maintenance activities that support and advance the preservation of the campus grounds and the reduction of energy consumption and the accompanying greenhouse gas emissions. These measures are undertaken in order to provide attractive, safe and healthy teaching, learning and work environments. The guidelines that follow summarize the practical steps taken by Northwestern’s Facilities team, as well as the campus community, to demonstrate and practice our ethos of sustainability in everyday living.

Energy Efficiency and Alternative Energy

Northwestern University is committed to leadership in sustainability and addressing the global challenges around energy and climate change. As a part of this commitment, Northwestern has launched one of the most ambitious University energy efficiency programs to date. Facilities Management and the Office of Sustainability working closely with University Leadership have created the Northwestern Energy Retrofit Fund (NERF) which commits almost $40M over the next three years to impactful energy conservation projects which have a significant environmental and economic benefit to the University.

Energy Efficiency is core to the design, operations and maintenance of our built environment. To identify and address energy use in our buildings, Northwestern has worked closely with leading engineering and energy firms to identify and prioritize energy related projects. Now their teams are implementing these projects across the Evanston and Chicago Campuses and the University is already tracking the savings and environmental impact. Examples of projects include updating our lighting across our university and significant updates to our central utility plant and campus-wide central heating and cooling system. One unique and highly impactful project is being implemented at the Center for Comparative Medicine at Laurie Hall on the Chicago Campus. The project teams identified an opportunity to move to a sophisticated automated demand-controlled ventilation system which lowers the volume of highly conditioned air that needs to be moved and actually increases safety.

And every project from renovation to repair and maintenance considers sustainability. The Operations team uses a Sustainability Impact Tracker tool to assure that environmentally preferable materials and methods are used and to assess the positive impacts of their projects – energy conservations, water conservation, waste reduction, etc.

One of the most exciting projects in the works is an analysis of the opportunity for on-site generation of energy and increased efficiency on the Evanston Campus through cogeneration, geothermal heating and cooling and other alternative and renewable technologies. The study, being conducted in partnership with Burns and McDonnell, one of the world’ most recognized engineering firms, will identify the portfolio of options which has the best long term economic and environmental impacts and when it’s recommendations are implemented they should add to Northwestern’s clear leadership in energy and sustainability.

Sustainable Sites

Northwestern University is challenged by special constraints on both of its campuses but it has maintained a focus on growth with a minimal its impact on its environs and the surrounding communities. To accommodate the growth in enrollment and research, the campus infrastructure and facilities have grown in accordance with the campus master plan. Planners have recognized the importance of open green space and mature trees in their capital planning and have preserved and incorporated these natural features into the current campus landscape.

Stormwater collection and management is a focus, particularly in Evanston where our lake frontage makes our potential impact significant. The use of synthetic fertilizer is kept to a minimum through the use of frequent soil and tissue tests and custom blended fertilizer to provide only the nutrients found to be deficient. Further, the use of slow release nitrogen components (polymer coated, sulfur coated urea’s) are primarily used as they require both moisture and high soil temperatures to become available, virtually eliminating leaching or run-off concerns and provide a slow nutrient release.

Around each campus building, landscaping is provided to enhance and soften the stark features of brick and mortar. Grasses, shrubs and flower beds are created to be low in maintenance with a preference for perennials where possible and in accordance with sound horticultural designs. Other landscaping design considerations include the use of drought tolerant species, inclusion of convenient sidewalks to encourage walking, sidewalk recycling containers and wide sidewalks which facilitates physical removal of snow and ice with equipment, thereby minimizing the use of deicing materials.

New parking lots are constructed on the campus perimeter and bicycle racks are conveniently provided at most buildings to discourage driving and promote biking and walking as the preferred mode of transportation.

Water Usage

Throughout the campus, toilet and shower fixtures are fitted with low flow water devices. In newer buildings, water closets are specified with dual flush valves for solid (high flush) or liquid (low flush) wastes. Shower heads are rated at 1.6 gallons per minute (gpm); residential lavatories at 1.5 gpm and lavatories in office/classroom buildings are rated at 1.0 gpm. Commercial or residential kitchen sinks are rated at 2.2 gpm.

Water utility billings are closely monitored and any anomalies in water consumption are immediately referred to the Plumbing Shop for investigation and or correction.

In order to minimize the purchase of plastic bottled water, Northwestern encourages the refilling of reusable water bottles by specifying water coolers with bottle filler features such as the Elkay Model EZSTL8WSLK or “gooseneck” units. These units are installed in high traffic areas for accessibility and as a visual reminder to make sustainable choices in our everyday lives. In addition, Northwestern has given refillable “Nalgene” style water bottles to all incoming undergraduate students and has provided incentives to encourage their use.

Energy Usage

Material and Resource Usage

CleaningNorthwestern has, though their vendor Aramark,  a “blue cleaning” program that covers all normal cleaning activities undertaken in the course of managing University facilities and addresses the following: Cleaning Chemicals, Janitorial Products and Equipment, Entryway Systems Maintenance, Waste and Education. More details about Aramark’s “blue cleaning” can be found here - http://www.aramark.com/PressRoom/PressReleases/ARAMARK-Blue-Cleaning.aspx

Non-toxic and bio-based cleaning products are beta tested in our efforts to develop our “green” cleaning protocols. The initiative for green cleaning provides considerable benefits to the health of building occupants as well as our custodial staff. In our testing, product effectiveness is the primary criterion.

Low moisture carpet cleaning agents and protocols are used. Typically, less than five gallons of water are utilized when cleaning +/- 2,000sf of carpeting compared to an average hot water extraction method that can consume over 150 gallons. This same area will hold over 10 gallons of water following extraction cleaning which contributes to long dry times, and even the potential formation of mold/mildew. Cleaning agents are effective when mixed with cold water, eliminating the need to waste energy and water heating them. Our dry compounds are completely bio-degradable and contain no harmful solvents. In most cases, carpets are 95%, if not completely, dry when we the job is completed.

Paint and adhesive products are reviewed and chosen based on their VOC levels, with the goal of using the products with the lowest VOC possible.

Carpeting that is removed is recycled and new carpeting is required to have a minimum of 10 percent recycled content.

Recycling and Waste Management

Campus recycling is an on-going activity and is introduced to all students during Wildcat Welcome, our New Student Orientation. Annual participation in RecycleMania further cements the practice for the first-year and other students. Recycling stations are conveniently located throughout all residence halls, classrooms, offices and around the campus grounds. Waste reduction and recycling is further promoted as convenient with the single-stream concept, thereby eliminating the need for sorting glass, metal and plastic products. Over 1300 tons are recycled annually.

Composting organic waste products also serves to maximize our operational sustainability. Through partnership with our food service provider (Sodexo), pre and post consumer food waste is collected and composted. As a pilot program (with hopes of expanding it to all food service locations), we have been focused on “back of the house” composting, where bins are placed in locations that are available to kitchen staff who scrape the used plates and tray.

Indoor Environmental Quality

As an institution of higher education, it is critical that the classrooms, labs and offices facilitate and enhance the processes of teaching and learning. Additionally, daily operations and maintenance activities are evaluated to ensure that the buildings, building occupants and the environment are safeguarded.

All heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems are routinely maintained to provide environmentally controlled conditions for occupant comfort and health. Outside air intakes provide fresh air and are located away from harmful emission sources including building exhausts. Temperature and relative humidity levels are monitored and set to inhibit the formation and presence of mold and mildew. In the event that mold or mildew is detected in a building, the HVAC shop and Office of Research safety will be notified and the incident will be investigated to determine and eliminate the causative factor(s).

To the maximum extent possible, natural day-lighting will be used before artificial lighting is turned on. Window treatments shall also be utilized to minimize glare as well as heat gain.

Noise levels inside classrooms and offices can be adversely affected by outdoor ground maintenance equipment. In order to minimize this impact, leaf blowers, lawn edgers, mowers, chain saws, etc. shall not be operated in proximity to classroom or administrative buildings when classes are in session or during the normal business hours.

Only paints with low VOC levels are to be used for maintenance. Environmental Services, to the extent possible, will use green cleaning products. Food wastes and other odor producing wastes are to be removed daily. Soap and paper products shall be supplied in every public restroom; each building will have hand sanitizer available as well. Our soap is a type of foam that supports using less water and less waste. In addition, the paper towels used on campus are made from recycled paper.